La Nouvelle Aquitaine is the largest region in France in terms of area, created in 2014 when the Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes all merged together. As well as having some wonderful cities and towns such as Bordeaux, Limoges, La Rochelle and Pau, there are some beautiful villages here too, hugely popular with expats and second home owners.
With an economy boosted by its wine industry, research, business and tourism, the area has a dynamic feel to it, spanning the Atlantic coast right across to the ski areas in the south of the region. In brief, you will find everything you could possibly yearn for in this area, whatever your age!
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There are some top class universities in the major towns, incredibly diverse sporting activities such as fishing, sailing, river cruising, hiking, cycling and mountain sports, and a wealth of ancient chateaux and monuments to visit. There is also a great variety of property types from farmhouses, manor houses, cottages and modern villas. Gastronomers will not be disappointed either. Boasting some excellent restaurants, some with Michelin stars, this area really does have everything to offer for lovers of the French way of life.
The climate is seasonal here, mostly pretty temperate, giving way to a very laid back lifestyle. There is plenty of sunshine in the summer months and yet the winters are mild. Naturally, it is cooler in the coastal regions and in the south of the region around the Pyrenees. Despite this, it is unlikely to get below freezing point anywhere here and locals boast of the number of sunshine hours (around 2,200 per year) which can rival the Mediterranean regions.
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Getting there from the UK
The area is very accessible from the UK by air, train and car.
There are nine airports (remember, this is a large region!): Bordeaux, Limoges, Biarritz, La Rochelle, Agen, Dordogne-Perigord, Brive Vallee, Poitiers and Pau, with connections to Paris and other French cities.
By train, there are high speed trains from Paris Montparnasse, Austerlitz and Brussels plus the new “L’Oceane” rail link means far shorter journey times. Plenty of cities such as La Rochelle, Arcachon, Pau and Bayonne are served by the TGV high speed service from Paris.
By car, the journey takes you through some wonderful countryside once you are south of Paris, although the motorway network is also very sophisticated here if time is of the essence.
This area really does have everything to offer for lovers of the French way of life.
Five beautiful villages
The “most beautiful villages in France” is a much coveted award given to the loveliest, well preserved and picturesque villages with some historic significance. La Nouvelle Aquitaine prides itself on having 31 of these! Let us take a look at five.
Beynac et Cazenac
This gorgeous village lies on the banks of the river Dordogne in the department of the same name. The Chateau de Beynac stands tall and proud in the centre of the village, which dates right back to 1115. One is immediately struck by the beautiful stone buildings, cobbled streets and river views. Meandering along the streets, perhaps stopping for a glass of wine at one of the bars, this is a must see in this region. It has an elegant feel to it and so much on offer, from water sports to hiking to gastronomic feasts in many of the fine restaurants here.
Navarrenx is an ancient fortified village also in the Pyrenees Atlantiques department. Its entrance, St. Anthony Gate, and its high surrounding walls are reminiscent of its 16th century importance. Nowadays, it hosts a fabulous Wednesday morning weekly market all year round and a second one on Saturdays during the summer months. If fishing is your bag, this is a hugely popular sport here where fishermen try their luck in the waters of the Gave d’Oloron. Meandering amongst the little boutiques, artists’ and potters’ studios here is a real joy. Interestingly, it is also on the pilgrimage route to St. Jacques de Compostela in Spain.
Collonges la Rouge
Back over to the west, this village is located near Brive in the Limousin region. It is very pretty, attracting plenty of tourists in the summer months. This village dates back to the 8th century and had prospered over the centuries from its vineyards until the phylloxera disease (which raged across many regions of France) destroyed most of the vines. The village is notable for its colourful buildings, mostly built from sandstone which has a reddish colour. Another one on the “most beautiful villages of France” list, this is a great place to explore, with meandering alleyways and a traffic free centre. Filled with historical monuments, you will also find plenty of tranquil cafes and restaurants for a pitstop.
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La Bastide Clairence
This is a truly picturesque village located in the Pyrenees Atlantiques department. It has a distinctly Basque feel to it with its snail like streets radiating out from the central square (the definition of “bastide”). The buildings are mostly timber and stone painted in glorious rich colours with contrasting shutters. It is a great village for a leisurely walk with some super little local craft shops and pretty cafes and restaurants. In September, there is a pottery fair, well known amongst the profession with potters arriving here from all over Europe.
Property prices in the area
This is such a large area and property prices vary greatly. The cheapest region is the Limousin and the dearest, the Dordogne. The Pyrenees Atlantiques, close to the coast, also comes in as rather expensive. Having said that, a budget of around €250-300,000 will afford you a decent 3 bedroom house with a garden or courtyard in much of this area. It is a very popular area for rentals, so worth considering if you are thinking of making your property work for you.
The villages mentioned here are all working villages and thus most of the amenities are open year round, aside perhaps from the more coastal ones which are largely seasonal.
There really are too many towns and villages in the Nouvelle Aquitaine to mention here but with this area being so accessible from the UK, it is a very appealing area either to visit, buy a second home or even move to. If a laid back French style of life is for you, you need look no further.