Undiscovered by mass tourism, Aquitaine, the area around Bordeaux still emanates the timeless pace that seems to stem from ages past.
Here you will find shimmering white beaches - the longest in Europe - on which to enjoy the sun and the sea.
Here you can walk and cycle forever through Les Landes, Europe's largest forest. With any luck you'll come across deer, wild boar, and rare birds.
Here are the Pyrenees, high mountains, occassionally desolate, but ideal for skiing, 'langlauf' or simply rambling.
Here too are lakes, rivers, and enormous, almost surrealistic dunes. From the highest dune in Europe - the Dune de Pyla tops 110 metres (almost 400 feet) - the view over the ocean, the bay of Arcachon and the forests is unforgettable. The forces of nature combine to present a truly breathtaking panorama of color, space, peace and quiet.
But there is more to Aquitaine than its variety and occassionally awesome natural beauty: it has a rich culture whose roots go back to the Celts.
Ancient druidic symbols in aging churches bear silent witness to their Celtic ancestry. Various of these Roman churches are on the old pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, one of the most important places of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.
The many castles recall other stirring times, when Aquitaine was caught up in the struggle between France and England.
La Brède, for example, the centuries old family home of Montesquieu, whose living quarters and study can be still viewed there. France is so proud of the author of 'The Spirit of Laws' that La Brède is even depicted on the 200 franc note.
A castle that is well worth visiting with the children is Roquetaillade, a massive fort on a rocky cliff rising high above the surrounding estates. It is exactly as you would imagine a castle when you think of knights in armour, drawn-out sieges and fierce battles: a huge construction with six enormous towers and only a single road leading up to it. A giant size model of the castle near the main entrance shows what a medieval siege might look like.
Food and Wine
Undisturbed, the world-famous wines of Bordeaux - Graves, St Emilion and Médoc, to mention but a few - mature in their casks while the renowned chateaux look out over vineyards extending as far as the eye can see. Names like Margaux, Rothschild and Petrus are just an indication of the quality you can expect in Aquitaine.
The local specialty is 'foie gras'- the famous goose-liver pate - and there are many other culinary delights for you to sample on the coast, where the sea and French cooking combine to bring you oysters, mussels, Fruits de mer fresher than you are ever likely to use.
Basque influences are also evident in the cooking and many a menu presents dishes of Basque origin, such as 'crème brulèe', a kind of cream caramel, 'pipérade', in fact a bumper omelette, and 'gâteau basque', at its simplest a delicious cream cak