Aquitaine: A Multi-Faced Region of France

Diverse Landscapes

Aquitaine, in the south-west, is the largest region of France. It has a long, straight west coast, which stretches 200 km from the mouth of the Gironde estuary down to Spanish border. Along this border there are two main resorts, Biarritz in the south which, once fashionable with the glamour set of the 1930s has recently been revived by trendy Parisians, and Arcachon to the north with its grand villas, which is popular with Bordelais weekenders. Apart from these resorts the beautiful endless white beaches of this coastline are half-empty during the summer months compared to France's packed scorching Mediterranean coast.

The Pyrenees mountain range steadily begins to rise in the Pyrénées Atlantiques, the southernmost departement of Aquitaine. The mountain foothills are a lush green land where the houses gradually become chalet in style. Many compare the weather here to Wales - although it is warmer, it rains a lot. Part of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques is Basque country (Pays Basque) where some 80,000 Basques live. The remaining 600,000 reside across the border in Spain.

The torso of Aquitaine's coastline is flanked by a large expanse of pine forests that make up most of the Landes département. These forests were planted in the 19th century to stabilise drifting sands.

A Rich and Varied Terroir

Above Landes, the Gironde departement around Bordeaux is home to some of the world's most celebrated vineyards, such as those in the fairly flat Médoc, west of the river Gironde, and around towards the increasingly hilly area about pretty St-Emilion. Agriculture has long been important to the economy and the Aquitaine grows half of France's kiwi fruit, almost half its strawberries, and most of its prunes. Potatoes, asparagus and maize are also important crops. Around Bergerac many tobacco fields are to be found and the forests of Landes produce a large quantity of planking for floors, roofing and wall cladding. Landes, also has far reaching fields growing succulent small carrots. Arcachon is famous throughout France for its oysters and it is possible to see the oyster beds at low tide. Although the oyster production has suffered several major setbacks, they are now flourishing again thanks to Japanese and Canadian breeding stocks.

A Constantly Changing Region

According to an ongoing study of migration to the region by Montesquieu University Bordeaux IV it was found that most British expats in Dordogne have been in the area for over five years, are predominantly male, above middle age, not living with children, and two thirds of them did not work. Unlike the other departements in Aquitaine, in which the British have either come for employment reasons or matrimonial ties, the expatriates in Dordogne are primarily there for quality of life and many first acquired their homes during the 80s property boom. This is heartland of the stereo-typical wealthy British expat in France, with their own enclave of cricket teams and bridge clubs.

Aquitaine's primary economic interest today is the expansion of its industrial and service sectors, especially the high-tech sector including the manufacturing of advanced materials, electronics, computer integrated manufacturing, and biotechnology.

Périgord : a Perfect Example of True Aquitaine

The northern, inland area of Aquitaine contains one of the most popular departments with the British - the Dordogne, named after what many argue as France's most beautiful river. The British call the area Dordogne, but to the French it is known as Périgord. Each area of Périgord has been assigned a descriptive colour. The south-east around Sarlat is called Perigord Noir because of its dense oak forests; the limestone area around the River Isle and Périgueux, capital of the region, is called Perigord Blanc after the light colour of its rock; Périgord Poupre refers to the wine-growing area around Bergerac; and the very green wooded area and pasturelands to the north is Perigord Vert. Apart from the lucrative tourist trade, this is an economically fragile and depopulated région. The two largest towns, each with populations just over 50,000, are Périgueux known for its domed cathedral, and Bergerac an important wine centre. Brantôme, on a bend of the water-lilly covered River Dronne, is much loved by British tourists.

Aquitaine Population

  • Population: 2,900,359
  • Pop.density (people per km2): 70

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