Southwest France is lauded as the land of wine, and rightfully so. From the home of Cognac in Saintonge to the miles upon miles of famous vineyards saturating Bordeaux, this region produces some of the finest and most expensive vintages in the world.
But Southwest France and Bordeaux also play host to a fascinating history — both imported and indigenous — that has resulted in refined cuisine, medieval ramparts, and authentic artisans amidst the gently rolling hills indicative of the region.
The city of Bordeaux still retains much of its wine reputation. The wine museum, La Cité du Vin, and the l’Intendant, the largest wine merchant store with over 15,000 bottles, are both standalone destinations. Yet outside of its wine-laden façade travelers will find a lively and diverse city center filled with such landmarks as the Place de la Comédie sitting atop the ancient Roman forum, the ethereal 11th century Cathedral Saint-André, and the beautiful Grand Théatre, built in the late 1700s and now a venue for opera and events.
Inland from Bordeaux rests the Dordogne valley, noted for both its wine and foie gras, and a hugely popular retreat for many European vacationers and retirees. Within this department, travelers will find such key sites as Sarlat La Caneda, inhabited since Gallo Roman times and once a prosperous city under Charlemagne. Visit Chateau de Beynac, one of the best preserved castles of the region, perched atop a limestone cliff dominating the Dordogne River, the border between France and England during the 100 Years War.
Across the border from the Dordogne into the Lot department is the pilgrimage site of Rocamadour, which offers a glimpse into a millennia’s worth of history with its healing shrine to the Black Madonna and its beautiful, dramatic forest setting full of bird parks and prehistoric caves.
Further inland is the region of Midi Pyrénees, a department encapsulating historic Gascony and the majestic Pyrenees rising to the Spanish border. Here one will find historic towns such as Cahors and the capital of Toulouse, as well as plenty of winter ski resorts in the mountains and the oak forests and limestone gorges of Quercy.
Rounding out the territory of Southwest France and Bordeaux is the Atlantic coast. Stretching from the world famous oyster shacks of the Arcachon Basin and chic villas of Cap Ferret (the “Hamptons” of Bordeaux) all the way through the pine forests and ocean sands of Les Landes to the Basque border towns of Biarritz and Bayonne – this region promises romantic hideaways, ancient fortresses, colorful fishing boats, sweet wine, and all of the indulgence associated with France luxury travel.