Aquitaine is a nebulous region in south-west France, loosely ranging from the Charente river in the north to the Basque region in the south with Perigord, Gascony, Quercy and Bordeaux in the middle. The rivers Dordogne, Lot and Garonne bisect the countryside and have created rich fertile valleys, scrubby limestone plateaux and rolling moorlands. It is largely a pastoral landscape filled with pretty villages, orchards, forests, vineyards and market gardens. The rich cuisine features duck and goose, but the region is also a big producer of garlic, walnuts, truffles and tobacco, as well as seafood and shellfish along the coast and, of course, the great wines of Bordeaux and the brandies of Cognac and Armagnac.
It boasts two great cities, Toulouse and Bordeaux, which are very different in architecture and culture, but both have impressive historic centres and river walks, and are marvellous places to explore on foot.
Aquitaine’s chequered history is noted for the 100 Years War between England and France, followed by the Wars of Religion, resulting in lots of castles and fortified villages, called bastides. However, it is more renowned for its prehistory as its limestone caves and caverns have revealed some of the oldest human skeletons, as well as tools, ornaments and paintings. La Pech Merle has some of the earliest examples of hand outlines and animal sketches and the famous multi-coloured paintings and engravings in Lascaux can now be experienced at Lascaux IV. This is is the new Centre International d’Art Parietal, which has meticulously reproduced the four caves along with “state-of-the-art experiential storytelling technology”.
Gardens of all shapes and sizes are prolific throughout the region, encompassing the very modern Jardins de l’Imaginaire at Terrasson, the classical French Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac, the sculpted cliff-top Jardins de Marqueyssac and the water lily garden that inspired Monet, Latour Marliac’s Jardin des Nenuphars, plus rambling family gardens such as Sardy, Daille and Chateau de Momas.
Aquitaine has a relatively low population and relatively few tourists, plus a mild balmy climate and a long summer season, so it’s not surprising that many ex-pats have settled there.
English couple, James and Diana, moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in the Quercy region over 25 yrs ago and set up the Walking Party in 1996. With a background in the travel industry and a passion for food, culture and nature, James is the perfect host to introduce you to Aquitaine on gentle walks with a back-up vehicle and donkeys to carry the essentials.
Ex-pats from Ireland, Wendy and Peter, own and operate the 5 star hotel barge St Louis, cruising the Canal de Garonne. They offer two gastronomic cruises, Gascony and Bordeaux, for private parties of four to six people. As a whole boat charter the itinerary can be ‘themed’ to accommodate your interests, such as wine, cooking, cycling and painting. The 8 passenger Rosa also cruises the Canal de Garonne and accepts individual bookings for its two double and two twin cabins with ensuite bathrooms.
While the Canal de Garonne is the only canal in Aquitaine, both the Lot and Charente rivers are navigable and all three waterways offer rental boat holidays.