Top 5 of Aquitaine sights
Aquitaine is “the other South of France.” The southwestern corner of France, bordering Spain and the Atlantic, is best known for the world famous wines of the Bordeaux region. But there is much more here than Grand Cru. Aquitaine is rich in history, with castles, cave paintings and medieval villages galore. And you won’t be disappointed by the cuisine drawing on the freshest ingredients from the region’s fertile fields, fishing grounds and vineyards. Here are our top 5 in this very special place.
Pont de Pierre
The city of Bordeaux serves as the gateway to the southwest of France. This charming port on the banks of the Garonne River has been a commercial center since Roman times, the capital of a region whose wines are coveted the world over. Bordeaux has recently undergone extensive renovation, earning it a Unesco World Heritage Site designation and the nickname “The Little Paris.”
Place de la Bourse
Architectural gems such as the opera house on the main square opposite the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux have had their former brilliance restored and even enhanced. Such is the case with the Place de la Bourse. The elegant curves of this neoclassical palace bathed in golden light are multiplied by the Water Mirror, the world’s largest reflecting pool.
Marché des Capucins
Neighborhood street markets such as Les Capucins in the Saint-Michel/Victoire area feature a cornucopia of poultry, seafood, charcuterie, cheese, fruits, vegetables and fresh baked breads and tantalizing pastries. The wine that has contributed so much to history and made Bordeaux world famous and wealthy is honored with a museum built in the shape of a decanter.
Graves of Eleanor and Henry II
This is the land of Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in history, a legendary beauty who reigned as both queen of France and queen of England and led a battalion of women in war. Her prowess in battle and the bed chamber spawned her reputation as an Amazon queen who presided over a Court of Love of troubadours and chivalry. Medieval history is very much alive in this corner of France, with ancient turreted castles and carefully preserved villages like St. Emilion and Sarlat, whose narrow streets were trod by pilgrims en route to Crusades and the shrines of San Juan de Compostela.
The Vezere Valley is home to 21 prehistoric sites and 400.000 years of history. Font de Gaume is one of the few caves with prehistoric painting that is still open to the public. The ancient artists used brushes, engraving and blew pigments through hollow bones to create tableaux of more than 200 figures that date back to the Magdolinian era of 15.000 BC. It is truly a revelation. In the flickering light, the figures of bison and reindeer reveal themselves, emerging from the shadows like beasts in a forest night. The artist used perspective and light to create moving pictures of life itself. There is more than painting going on here.
The Cro-Magnon artist found the animals in the contours of the cave’s walls, and coaxed them out with pigments and engraving, constellations of rock, like the zodiacal figures the first astrologers found in the stars. For our Magdolinian ancestors, the beasts that fed us were of a piece with the caves that housed us, the unity of Creation is reflected in any of its parts. We don’t know the name of the person(s) who made these images, but a stencil of the artist’s hand, made by blowing pigment through a bone straw, may be their signature. Or the first selfie.
Just down the road are the world’s most famous prehistoric paintings, the Lascaux caves, dubbed the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory. The caves are closed to the public to preserve them from visitors’ bad breath (whose bacteria was destroying the paintings), but don’t worry there’s Lascaux 4, a major multi-million dollar museum featuring a reproduction of the cave, virtual reality exhibits and other displays. It will not be the original but it is stunning as well.
Chateau du Beynac
For Game of Thrones fans, the Aquitaine region is unsurpassed in the number of castles to be found here. Turreted fortresses dot the gently rolling hills and valleys, on hilltops, riverbanks and perched above sheer cliffs. Many are open to the public, with displays of medieval weaponry and siege machines. The castles are a legacy of the 14th century’s Hundred Years War, when Britain and France fought for possession of the territory. Now their owners fight for the means to keep up these massive piles and the Chateau de Beynac is one of the best preserved.
Josephine Baker Museum
Chateau des Milandes
One of the castles is now a very unique museum. The Chateau des Milandes was the home of legendary entertainer Josephine Baker. This poor African-American woman from St. Louis moved to Paris where she became a star of the Folies Bergere and toast of the town. Josephine adopted a dozen children from different nations, named them the Rainbow Tribe, and raised them in this 24-room castle replete with gargoyles, turrets, stained-glass windows and a grand circular staircase.
The sensational banana belt from her famous topless dance is among the displays of glamorous costumes, haute designer dresses, film clips, posters and recordings of her revues. Her flamboyant bathroom with black tiled walls, gold-plated fixtures and a gold leaf ceiling would be appropriate for the Queen of Sheba.
Photographs and memorabilia document her extraordinary life. We see the medals she earned as a secret agent passing messages behind enemy lines for the French Resistance in World War Two. Photos show Josephine cooking for her multiracial Rainbow Tribe. Every Christmas children from the nearby village were invited to join the family and went home with presents.
Where to Stay
Nestled in the quiet bay of Arcachon, on the edge of the bank and perched on lush pine forests, here is the luxurious Villa La Tosca. Built in 1903 fully respecting the architectural style of Arcachon, Villa La Tosca is a beautiful hotel decorated with attention to detail. The Villa is a mix of sumptuous and restored features. The design of Villa La Tosca is definitely elegant and it is totally inspired by local architecture although it has Italian style touches and captures the attention of each guest thanks to an atmosphere of peaceful luxury.
We can safely say that Villa La Tosca is a home away from home, where guests can relax by the fireplace with a glass of red wine from the hotel’s wine cellar, or enjoy the different books from the wooden bookshelves of the library. Relax among the lush landscape and fountains and take a refreshing dip in the spring waters of the hotel pool. During the summer, guests can dine on the hotel’s terrace and enjoy spectacular sea views as well as incredible sunsets.
The eight rooms boast bright and airy interiors with splashes of intense colors and elegant wooden furniture, creating a warm and inviting environment. All rooms of Villa La Tosca are luxurious and well-appointed, all equipped with private bathroom and fully designed to complement the surrounding environment and get benefit of sea and forest views.