There are hundreds of reasons why you should visit the Southwest of France, but here are our top 9!
For many people visiting France, the Southwest region, which encompasses the Basque Country, will be the highlight of their trip. With beautiful landscapes and fabulous cuisine, there is something for everyone in this part of the country.
Yet, it is not just what first meets the eye that makes the Southwest of France so special. Dig a little deeper and you will find a rich history and fascinating cultural heritage, which permeates the entire region. Relics of what used to be can be found in the architecture and the traditions of the local people. So, open your mind and get ready to explore one of France’s finest regions.
1. The Culture of Food
If you have gone to France in search of some mouth-watering dishes then the Southwest will be paradise. This region is known for having a fantastic ‘culture of food’, with many of the dishes prepared using locally sourced ingredients. The region produces a fair few different delicacies, a fact which chefs take full advantage of. Dishes you are likely to find on menus in this thoroughly gourmet part of France include foie gras (pate), cassoulet and Arcachon oysters.
A plate of foie gras
When you talk about gourmet food in Southwest France, it is impossible not to mention Truffles. The finest black truffles in the world can be found in Périgord, within the Dordogne region. These truffles are used to infuse oil, risotto rice and butter, which are then used to flavour meals. The taste is as unique as it is delicious. Those visiting this part of the country should take the opportunity to learn more about how truffles are harvested and used in cooking.
3. History and Heritage from the Middle Ages
There are quaint medieval towns dotted all over the Southwest of France, particularly in the Dordogne. Here, you will find remnants from the country’s Hundred Years War (which actually lasted 116 years) as well as a plethora of castles that date back to the Middle Ages, which you can explore. If your thirst for castles still hasn’t been quenched, take some time to wander through Cathar Country and admire the incredible fortresses that pepper its landscape.
People exploring the inside of a castle in Dordogne
One of the most gourmet of all the meats, duck is a big deal in the southwest of France. In Aquitaine, confit de canard – potted duck that falls off the bone – is a traditional dish that dates back centuries. While it used to be a dish for peasants, it has now been placed in the upper echelons of fine gastronomy. Another duck-based dish that has arisen from this region is foie gras, a staple in all French households at Christmas and other special occasions.
5. The Weather
One of the best things about the Southwest of France is the consistently pleasant weather. From March through to October you can be almost sure of sunshine every day, although in spring this comes intermittently with showers. The Basque Country enjoys what are known as Indian summers – that is to say, it stays particularly hot and sunny in September and October.
6. Lots of Beautiful Villages
There is an association in France called The Most Beautiful Villages in France. Just as you might expect from a name like this, the association comprises the most beautiful villages in France. The villages are judged on a number of criteria, one of the main ones being authenticity, and if they pass the test they are enlisted into the association. Today there are 157 villages that have been included in this list. Many of these beautiful villages can be found in the Southwest of France, including Navarrenx, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Aïnhoa and Sare.
Picturesque village along the river in France
7. Local Festivals
The Southwest of France is still, at heart, a very traditional part of Europe. This can be seen in the abundance of niche, local festivals that grace the streets every year. One of the biggest fêtes of the year takes place in the tiny village of Espinas and recreates the local custom of haymaking as it was centuries ago. There are also numerous farmers markets and livestock fairs, which give a good indication of the culture in this part of the country.
8. The Landscapes
From the sparkling blue ocean that laps gently on the golden beaches to the majestic slopes of the Pyrenees Mountains, this part of France is every photographer’s dream. Presenting some of the last vestiges of completely untouched nature, there is nothing better than rambling through the great outdoors, breathing in the fresh air and admiring the spectacular scenery.
Bridge over the water in Dorgdogne
9. Art de Vivre
Unlike many other parts of the world, the Southwest has refused to adopt the fast-paced lifestyle that is becoming increasingly prevalent around the world. The way of life here is slow and leisurely, with friends and family always coming before work. The atmosphere here, as a consequence, is laidback and the people are happy and stress-free. Could you ask for anything more on your vacation?