Things to Do in Aquitaine - page 2
The Citadel of Blaye, or Citadelle de Blaye in French, is a 17th-century fortress in the town of Blaye north of Bordeaux, France. Due to Blaye's strategic location on the Gironde estuary, King Louis XIV ordered the Marquis de Vauban to build the fortress in order to protect Bordeaux from attack. The citadel is a walled city that covers an area of about 94 acres and was built around a parade ground, a monastery dedicated to the Minims order, and several army barracks. The ruins of many buildings are inside the fortress, including the 12th-century Rudel Castle, the 12th-century Liverneuf Gate, and the 15th-century Éguillette Tower.
At the time when the Citadel of Blaye was built, the range of the cannons was not long enough to cover two miles from one side of the river to the other. Vauban built two more forts, Fort Paté and Fort Médoc, so that the three together could set up cross-fires to prevent enemies from reaching Bordeaux.
Often regarded as one of the world’s greatest and most expensive Bordeaux wines, Château Mouton Rothschild requires very little presentation. The Rothschild family was famous throughout Europe for its financial dealings and interest in philanthropy and wines. The estate was acquired in the early 1800s and soon started to make wine, but it remained largely underrated as Bordeaux wasn’t considered a wine region back then. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Château Mouton Rothschild gained notoriety, thanks to the committed and relentless work of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, whose decisions would not only forever change the Rothschild estate but also the wine industry itself.
The Rothschild estate comprises many attractions, including the vineyards, the 100-meter long Great Barrel Hall, the classical Château, a 120,000-bottle underground cellar, and a Museum of Wine in Art (with an exclusive collection of wine paraphernalia and works of art dating back from the 17th century).
The Port of Bordeaux is a busy river port which offers easy access to the city of Bordeaux and acts as the gateway to Aquitaine. Enjoy views over the city’s 18-century architecture as your ship navigates the Gironde Estuary before docking at the city center Port de la Lune or Le Verdon, a 20-minute drive from Bordeaux proper.
Although Château Plaisance now sells over 150,000 bottles around the world, it started out as a small family production back in the 1870s. Louis Penavayre, however, took the business of his ancestors to the next level in 1971, expanding the land and becoming an ambassador of the endemic Negrette vines in the process. These flavorful vines, which have been growing in Fronton for well over 2,000 years, are characterized by their low acidity levels and dark grapes that give way to the wine's powerful yet supple taste. In 1991, the land was expanded to a whopping 40 acres (16 hectares) before it eventually reached 74 acres (30 hectares) by 2010.
Château Plaisance has recently undergone major transformations and is now an entirely organic production, thus reflecting a desire to let the grapes’ rich flavors take the spotlight. The wines are not filtered; the harvest focuses on ripe, savory grapes, and the production takes advantage of the terroir’s natural wealth instead of relying on pesky additives. This is the result of a notable savoir-faire that’s been in the making for the last three centuries.
The winery produces five red wines (Château Plaisance, Grain de folie, Thibaut de Plaisance, Tot ço que cal and Alabets) and four white wines (Maelle Blanc Moelleux, Collection privée, Grain de plaisir and Lakaat), as well as one rosé (Château Plaisance rosé).
Otherwise known as Palais Rohan, the Bordeaux Hôtel de Ville (Bordeaux City Hall) was built in 1771 in the elegant Louis XIV neoclassical style. It was where celebrated painter Eugène Delacroix discovered his calling in the 1780s, fascinated by the Pompeii-style trompe l’oeil fresco in the dining room. What was simply an archiepiscopal residence at the time would later on be used as a revolutionary tribunal under the Reign of Terror in the 1790s, before it welcomed Napoleon I in 1808 and became an imperial residence in the process.
It wasn't until 1836 that Palais Rohan officially became Bordeaux City Hall. Today, the building is surrounded by lovely English gardens and houses the Bordeaux Fine Arts Museum, one of the largest art galleries in France outside of Paris. It specializes in French and Dutch paintings (including Renoir, Delacroix and Picasso), a number of which were thankfully recovered after being looted during the French revolution.
Found in the sandy flatlands of the Médoc region in southwest France, Château Margaux is today known for producing some of the finest – and most expensive – Premier Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux wines in the world. Unusually for Bordeaux, the Margaux estate produces whites as well as rich, spicy world-renowned reds, and sells around 30,000 cases per year. All Margaux wines are produced organically and the average age of the vines is 36 years old, forming from a mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc grapes.
Although wines have been produced on the estate since the 1580s, it was confiscated from its aristocratic owners in the French Revolution of 1789–99 and its fortunes were only revived with the advent of the Marquis de la Colonilla in 1810. He built the elegant Palladian mansion, to a design by Louis Combes, which still stands at the heart of the estate; since 1977 it has been the home of the Mentzelopoulos family, who are credited with restoring the reputation of Margaux wines and consistently improving their quality. In 2010 an upgrade of the cellars was undertaken by British mega-architect Lord Norman Foster; a new cooperage, visitor center and tasting rooms were added at the same time.
Stretching north and west of Bordeaux along the Garonne River, the Médoc region produces some of the area’s best wines. Renowned for its idyllic vineyards, historic chateaux, and cabernet sauvignon wines, Médoc should be at the top of the list for wine lovers visiting Bordeaux.
In the heart of France’s famous Bordeaux wine country, the Château Pontac-Lynch was built for the aristocratic Comte de Lynch in 1720 as a hunting lodge. Today it is the property of the Bondon family, who have been producing three top-quality, cru Bourgeois red wines on their 10-hectare estate since 1952. The vines thrive thanks to the clay and limestone soils of the region and the vendange (grape harvest) is still carried out by hand; the wines are aged for 12 months and Pontac-Lynch produces 40,000 bottles per year.
The estate is open for guided tours of the cellars and tastings as well as strolls through the garden to admire the views of the neat vineyards sloping into the distance in orderly lines. Wine lovers can also visit the wine châteaux of Margaux, Palmer, d’Issan and Rauzan Ségla, which are all within a stone’s throw of Château Pontac-Lynch.
From gravity-defying waterslides to palm-lined swimming pools and a relaxing spa pool, Atlantic Park has everything you would expect from one of the region’s top water parks. Less than an hour from Biarritz, the park has something for all ages, from adults and thrill-seeking teens to babies and toddlers.
Bordeaux, being settled along the powerful Garonne River and just a few kilometers away from the ocean, is a 2,000 year-old port city characterized by its relationship with water. The city’s quays and bridges are an important aspect of its patrimonial legacy (parts of it are registered Word Heritage sites), and more often than not, remarkable architectural feats. Bordeaux’s quays are roughly 80 meters wide and about 4.5 kilometers long, flanked by elegant neoclassic facades and listed buildings to the west and the Garonne River to the east.
Quai Louis XVIII is a fine example of this. It’s located at the eastern end of Place de Quinconces, between the river and the luxuriant Prairie des Girondins. It is also home to the CAPC Contemporary Art Museum on its northern extremity and acts as a natural buffer between locals-only Quai des Chartrons and the touristy Quai Richelieu and Quai de la Douane. But most of all, Quai Louis XVIII is an ideal place to unwind, take a good dose of fresh air, ride a bike, take a walk or enjoy un verre de vin al fresco. An epicurean setting if there ever was one, Quai Louis XVIII is in the heart of one of the most lively and charming French cities.
More Things to Do in Aquitaine
Frolic and unwind year-round at a vast indoor water park that includes numerous pools, spa and beauty areas, and a botanical garden. Les Antilles de Jonzac, located just a short distance north of Bordeaux, is the largest such facility of its kind in France, and boasts all kinds of aquatic and pampering options under one roof.
The largest water park on the southern coast of the Aquitaine, Aquatic Landes—located in Labenne, just a quick trip from Bayonne and Biarritz—offers thrills and refreshment for visitors of all ages. Home to pools, waterslides, play areas, and lawns perfect for sunbathing, this park is an ideal place to relax and beat the heat.
Spread out over a steep, wooded hillside, the Réserve Zoologique de Calviac houses a number of species, many from tropical areas. The reserve is home to roughly 200 animals from 30 species, ranging from squirrel monkeys to fossas, and boasts many species that aren’t often found in zoos.
Aquitaine’s National Prehistoric Museum (Musée National de Préhistoire) was founded in 1918 by Denis Peyrony on the des Eyzies-de-Tayac commune, in the very heart of the UNESCO Valley of Mankind and prehistoric capital of the world. The site as well as its collections are rich in history. It holds one of France’s most important Paleolithic collections including the first global set of Paleolithic art on engraved or carved blocks.
The museum’s displays enable visitors to see the oldest traces of life left by mankind and to understand the evolution of societies over the last 400 millennia. Objects on display include stone tools, art objects made of bone or ivory, and life-size imitations of prehistoric humans and extinct animals. The museum was expanded in 2004.
On the banks of the Bidasoa river, sheltered by Mount Rhune’s austere peak, Hondarribia is one of the most picturesque towns on the Basque coast. Close to the French border, just east of San Sebastián, this lovely walled fishing village is enjoying a gastronomical moment, with an explosion of noteworthy restaurants.
Often considered to be the very birthplace of Bordeaux wine (with some vines being over 2,000 years old), Graves also happens to be the largest wine-growing area in all of France–120,000 hectares of vineyards to be exact. A top destination for wine aficionados!
It doesn’t come as a surprise that one of the most popular things to do in Graves would, understandably, be the wine route. Visitors from around the world flock to the area to taste new wines, discover the esteemed Grands Crus and talk all things epicurean with lively, passionate wine-growers. The wine route is not only an excellent opportunity to find out more about the longstanding craft of wine-making, but also to get a better grasp of the tremendous amount of work and expertise that is required to produce a good vintage, and of course to visit lavish French estates.
Some of the most popular wineries to visit are prestigious Château Suduiraut, Château Carbonnieux, Château Smith Haut Lafitte and ancient Château la Mission Haut-Brion. Not to forget Château d'Yquem, notorious for its production of Sauternes, an intensely sweet dessert white wine.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since the 1980s, the archaeological site of Saint-Seurin also happens to be the site of Bordeaux’s oldest church, with remains dating back to the birth of Christendom in the sixth century. Because of its religious significance, it is a major stop on the French-section of the Santiago de Compostella route. The basilica has the austere, imposing atmosphere emblematic of Romanesque architecture that is lightened by its notoriously heterogeneous style, with prominent, dramatic Gothic elements that were added over the centuries. The altarpiece in particular is quite remarkable, thanks to its incredibly photogenic 14 alabaster bas-reliefs.
The biggest attraction of Saint-Seurin–other than its impressive history–is its 11th-century crypt, which contains the tomb of Saint-Fort, a marble Merovingian sarcophagus, and a vast Christian necropolis with tombs dating from as early as the fourth century. Rumor has it that the gallant followers of Charlemagne King of the Franks’ (and father of the almighty Carolingian empire, which stretched from Spain to Hungary) were buried in this very place and that Charlemagne placed Roland’s olifant on the altar as he passed by on his way back from Spain.
Perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, the small town of Bourg (also known as Bourg-sur-Gironde) was built in Roman times, invaded by the Visigoths, ravaged by the Normans, fortified by the English, and visited by royalty such as Louis XIV. His time in town even gave birth to the famous Bourg specialty — the King’s Fig —made of marzipan, figs, cream, chocolate, and fig liqueur.
Surrounded by medieval walls in the Aquitaine region, Bourg has been officially recognized as an historic village that’s known for its beauty. In the upper town you can visit the covered market, the Hôtel de la Jurade, and the old castle. You can also wander its tumbledown alleyways which lead to the port via ‘the King’s stairway’. Bourg is also known for the many orchards and AOC vineyards that surround the town.
Pomerol is an undersized, wine-oriented village located about 45 minutes east of Bordeaux. But its relatively small size–just 2,000 acres–definitely isn’t an obstacle to quality; indeed, Pomerol has become one of the region’s most respected Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) over the second half of the 20th century, despite being slightly different from the strictly categorized, upmarket Bordeaux wines.
With a yearly production that edges about 3,000 bottles per winery, Pomerol wines find prestige in rarity. Most of them are produced on small farmlands and insist on remaining a high quality, low volume type of wine, a feature that is unquestionably reflected in their steep prices.
With most wines in Pomerol being of the Merlot kind, the region is therefore a brilliant destination for wine neophytes with a large budget, as Merlot is one of the most palatable red wines present in France. Cabernet Franc also plays a supporting role, a wine that will appeal to those in search of crisp, savory flavors.
The Cimetiere de la Chartreuse, in the center of Bordeaux, often invites comparisons with Paris' Pere Lachaise cemetery. They both offer a tranquil (if melancholy) time-out spot in a busy city and a vision of death and memory as seen through the grandiose lens of the 19th century sensibility.
However, whereasPere Lachaise is crammed with buzz-name celebs like Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, the Chartreuse Cemetery is somewhat more B-grade. Its most famous subject, the painter Goya, isn't even there - his body is in Spain, and his spot is just a memorial.
So stop celeb-spotting (unless you really must, must see the grave of Gaugin's grandmother) and instead enjoy the grandiose 19th century monuments - urns, garlands, pyramids, Grim Reapers and all.
Bordeaux’s main shopping street stretches 1.2 km (0.7 miles) through the city center and is one of the longest pedestrianized shopping streets in Europe, only beaten by Strøget in Copenhagen and ul. Knyaz Alexander I in Bulgaria’s second city Plovdiv. It is bookended by the Place de la Comédie in the north, which is home to the city’s Neo-Classical Grand Theater, and the Place de la Victoire in the south, dominated by a pink marble obelisk and an 18th-century triumphal arch that marks the position of the city’s original gates.
Narrow and lined with majestic four-story townhouses, Rue Sainte-Catherine is a mecca for international, big-name and mid-range brands such as Zara, H&M and the Czech shoe chain Bata. There’s an Apple Store and a vast outpost of FNAC for DVDs, mobiles and kids’ toys, but the biggest draw along the street is the branch of Paris’s glamorous Galleries Lafayette, which sells everything from high-end designer fashion to gourmet olive oils. Another highlight is the elegant glass-roofed Galerie Bordelaise shopping arcade near the intersection with rue de la Porte Dijeaux; opened in 1837, this is a treasure trove of chic cafés and small, independent boutiques.
Visiting during the annual sales – usually lasting through January and February – may well turn up some real bargains in the 250 stores along Rue Sainte-Catherine and the network of little streets that dive off it. By night the street hums to the sound of happy diners enjoying late suppers in the many restaurants scattered along its length.
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