Go green in Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the largest region in France with one of the most exciting and varied landscapes. There’s something for everyone here whether you’re after sun and sand or time among the vineyards; you want to scale craggy peaks or simply lose yourself in the forest. But don’t let the region's size fool you, it’s also incredibly easy to explore this area without leaving a large carbon footprint. An extensive regional rail network, regular bus routes, and thousands of kilometres of cycle paths and walking trails criss-cross this sun-drenched corner making it easier than ever to go green.

Travel green in Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Nouvelle-Aquitaine stretches from the Gironde Estuary in the north to the Pyrenees and the Spanish border in the south. The beauty of Nouvelle-Aquitaine lies not just in its incredible geography, however, but in how easy it is to travel around. The region boasts an extensive and reliable train network as well as a high-speed line, the LGV L’Océane, that whisks visitors from Paris to Bordeaux in just two hours. Regional railway lines snake around the region depositing passengers in harbour cities and seaside towns as well as to inland stations such as the cartoon capital of Angoulême, Poitiers and its Futuroscope or Limoges, famed for its delicate white porcelain.

If you prefer the convenience of travelling by car, then consider the Driver Service Agency who offer electric and hybrid vehicles for touring the region’s best sights with ambitions to offer visitors zero-carbon transport options in the next few years.

Hop around quaint villages by train or bus

By the ocean in Médoc Atlantique

The regional capital of Bordeaux is the gateway to exploring the magnificent coastline of the Médoc Atlantique, a sweeping stretch of sandy coastline peppered with sun-bleached seaside resorts. Regular buses and trains run the length of the sunny coastline depositing surfers and beachgoers at the seaside towns like Soulac-sur-Mer as they go. From these maritime hubs, it’s easy to head inland and explore some of the charming maritime villages. Highlights include Talais perched on the shores of the Gironde Estuary where ‘carrelet’ fishing huts dot the shoreline, and the small wine-growing village of Vensac.

In the countryside

Take a break from the sun and sea and hop on board a bus to discover some of the region’s most delightful villages, many of which have been awarded the prestigious ‘most beautiful village in France’ label. Travel past tree-shaded lakes, winding rivers and lush forests of oak and chestnut as you discover the villages of Mortemart, Villeneuve-sur-Lot and Pujols. Head to the medieval town of Monflanquin for spellbinding panoramic views over the surrounding orchards or the royal bastide of Villeréal, home to one of the most unusual medieval market halls in France.

Nestled in the mountains

From rolling forested hills to snow-capped cloud-brushing peaks, the undulating landscape of Nouvelle-Aquitaine hides some wonderful 'perched villages' easily reached by bus, train or even bike. South of Brive-la-Gaillarde and accessible by train is the busy market town of Turenne. Climb the spiral staircase to the top of the César tower for panoramic views over the traditional slate roofs and surrounding countryside. Take to two wheels (or four if you prefer to travel by bus) and pedal from Sarlat to the caramel-coloured village of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, home to the 15th-century Château des Milandes, which was once owned by the French dancer, singer and actor Josephine Baker.

Resting by the river

A network of rivers, canals and waterways wind their way through the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region twisting past picturesque villages and around fortified towns. Buses ferry passengers from Périgueux to the town of Beynac-et-Cazenac where a hilltop castle commands spectacular views over the Dordogne River. In La Roque-Gageac, hop on board a flat-bottomed gabarre for river views of this village nestled at the foot of a towering limestone cliff. In the neighbouring valley, set in a curve in the Vézere River, is the storybook village of Saint-Leon-sur-Vezere. Once an important stop along a pilgrim route, today it is easily accessible by bus from Montignac.

Other sustainable experiences

Harmonise with nature at the Cité du Vin

Bordeaux has long been regarded as the wine capital of the world and its Cité du Vin, the first museum dedicated to showcasing the history, traditions and diversity of wine in Bordeaux and abroad, opened to much fanfare in 2016. Located in the Les Bassins à Flot, a former industrial and port area, the museum has transformed the neighbourhood into an eco-district with a Wild Garden (Jardin Sauvage) linking the space with the Garonne river.

Today the museum has a new Permanent Exhibition focused on wine and sustainability. Visitors journey through six universes themed around the world of wine and the vine, from antiquity to the present day. It’s a fascinating, multisensory and highly interactive experience that explores everything from how climatic conditions impact wine to stories of viticulture around the world. The best part? Using your nose to sniff out typical wine notes from chocolate to spices to floral notes.

Explore the forests of Limousin

The region of Limousin sits mostly atop the Massif Central surrounded by endless rolling hills, thick woodland, lush river valleys and greenery as far as the eye can see. This is rural country life at its most glorious and a wonderful place to discover the ‘traditional France’, or France profonde.

There are two regional natural parks (the Parc Naturel Régional Périgord Limousin and the Parc Naturel Régional de Millevaches en Limousin) where you can lose yourself along the myriad hiking trails. In Millevaches, climb to Mount Bessou, the highest point at 976m, for panoramic views of the Cantal and Auvergne mountains. In Périgord Limousin there are dozens of marked trails ranging from gentle hour-long walks to more challenging day-long hikes. Hiding among the branches of the chestnut and oak forests are Eurasian hoopoes, hen harriers and peregrine falcons. Bring your binoculars and look out for while you walk.

Wander the Charente islands

The Atlantic Coast is punctuated by four wonderfully unique islands. The most famous is the Île de Ré, a bicycle-friendly stretch of land that has long been a favourite for domestic holidaymakers thanks to its chalk-white sandy beaches and preposterously pretty villages.

The largest of the group is Île d’Oléron and the best way to discover it is on board Le P'tit train de Saint Trojan that winds its way through the national forest and along the Bay of Gatseau to Maumusson, the island’s wildest and most natural beach.

Ferries run regularly from the mainland to the croissant-shaped Île D'aix, a charming little place where the only village sits within fortifications built on the orders of Vauban and Napoleon. It’s not quite as small, however, as Île Madame, which can only be accessed at low tide when a natural causeway of sand pebbles, la passe aux boeufs, reveals itself.

Hike the Pyrenees

Stretching for more than 430km between Spain and France the snow-dusted chain of serrated peaks of the Pyrenees hides some of the country’s most pristine landscapes. Hiking trails traverse the entire length of the range and national parks, including the Parc National des Pyrénées, promise shorter walks among striking green valleys, thunderous waterfalls and majestic cirques.

Adventurers should head to the Pic du Midi d'Ossau, an ancient volcano that stretches to 2,884m high and is best tackled with a guide. Or, you can tackle a slice or two of the legendary GR10 trail, where you'll find yourself crossing the Olhadubi canyon via the Jolzarte footbridge or soaking up the panoramic views served up from Col des Trois Croix.

Pedal the Canal-des-2-Mers

You’ll need some serious pedal power to cycle the entire 750km of the magnificent Canal-des-2-Mers that links the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The good news is, however, that this trail can be enjoyed in stages. 

In Gironde follow the path along the estuary and onto Blaye, famous for its Vauban citadel, before meandering onto Bordeaux via the Médoc vineyards. From the regional capital the cycle path joins the delightful Roger Lapebie bike track, named after the winner of the 1937 Tour de France. Grand bastides and ancient abbeys pepper the route until you arrive at La Reole, a City of Art and History. The final part takes place under the canopies of centuries-old plane trees alongside the Garonne River.

Soak up the Landes Coast

A short train ride away from Bordeaux is the wild, woolly and wonderful Landes coastline. Home to a vast pine forest, great sand dunes and the Côte d'Argent, the longest and straightest stretch of sandy coast in Europe, this is the perfect place to escape modern life and be at one with nature.

Marked beaches pepper this wide expanse of golden sand where you can ride horses, sail a sand yacht, enjoy a picnic among the dunes or catch some waves. Some of the best surf spots are at Mimizan-Plage and Contis-les-Bains. For an alternative from the Atlantic breakers head inland to Biscarrosse where you’ll find the two largest lakes, Parentis-Biscarosse and Cazaux-Sanguinet.

Low carbon trip inspiration

The Basque Country: between sea and mountains by bike

Discover the beautiful Basque Country by bicycle on a week-long tour of this fascinating corner of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Quiet cycle paths and dedicated voies vertes wiggle and wind their way through some of the most famous Basque villages including Espelette in the foothills of the Pyrenees where smoky sweet red peppers are grown in abundance. Further along the route is the picturesque village of Sare, home to an ancient pelota court, and Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, one of the most significant towns on the celebrated Camino de Santiago.

Once you hit the coast, you’ll follow the Vélodyssée, the longest equipped cycle route in France, which curves past the fishing ports of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, famed for its French Basque architecture and cuisine, and onto the laidback hilltop town of Bidart. Elegant Biarritz is the final port of call where you can swap your bike for a surfboard and head out to catch some waves.

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port without a car

Tucked away in the Pyrenean foothills on the banks of the river Neve is the picturesque town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. It’s famous for being one of the most important stops on the 500-mile-long Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and where the AOP (Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée) Irouléguy vines have had a firm foothold on the mountain terraces since they were first planted in the Middle Ages to quench pilgrims’ thirst.

Walking is one way to arrive in the village but if you can’t commit to day-long or multi-day hikes then a train or bus from Bayonne is the easiest way to travel. And, once in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, you can lace up your walking boots for some gentle hikes in the countryside. That’s if you can drag yourself out of town, of course. With its steep and narrow cobblestone streets and pink-hued citadel, this is one of the most beautiful villages in France.

Stroll with Bacchus: 'Bike-train' stay in Entre-deux-Mers

Tucked between two rivers, the Garonne to the south and the Dordogne to the north, is Entre-Deux-Mers, the largest wine-growing area in the Bordeaux region characterised by rolling green hills and corduroy-striped vineyards. The best way to explore this bucolic countryside is by bicycle on a delightful tours-des-vins.

Board the train in Bordeaux with your bike and travel to the medieval city of La Réole where the narrow streets are lined with charmingly crooked half-timbered houses. From here, pedal your way gently into the heart of wine country down small lanes and past endless rows of vines. Along the way you’ll meet local vintners, taste award-winning wines and overnight in charming wine estates and chambres d'hôte

The 13th century bastide town of Sauveterre-de-Guyenne lies along this cycle route as does the abbey of La Sauve Majeure, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy these sights and more as you cycle your way back towards Bordeaux.

Gourmet stay in Bayonne

For a foodie tour that’s as green as it is tasty, take the train to Bayonne, the capital of French Basque country. Dominating the centre of this City of Art and History are the twin spires of Bayonne Cathedral, classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Elsewhere are sections of Roman wall and ramparts designed by Vauban; a Japanese-inspired Botanic Garden; and a 19th century market hall overlooking the river Nive.

But what you’re really here for is the food and Bayonne is known around the world for its ham. Made from free-range pigs raised in the foothills of the Pyrenees, this light red-coloured ham is treated with crushed pimentos from nearby Espelette and salt from Salies-de-Béarn. The other foodie favourite is chocolate and the town has been producing cocoa delights since the 17th century. Today it’s home to a handful of specialist shops, each producing their own delicious delicacies.

Feeling inspired?

For more information, head to the official Nouvelle-Aquitaine Tourism website.