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Aquitaine

Photo by Alain Muller

Aquitaine Itineraries

Aquitaine’s Basque Coast in 5 Days

High mountains, long beaches, great wine, beautiful rivers and stunning medieval castles

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A region in France with a long and rich prehistory and history — from the time of Neandertals and Cro-Magnon to the Celts, Romans, and Eleanor — Aquitaine stretches from the Gironde estuary south to the Pyrenees at the border with Spain.

Included within Aquitaine are the smaller regions of the Dordogne, the Gironde, the Lot-et-Garonne, Les Landes and the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

Collectively these capture some of France’s most beautiful coastal Atlantic towns, medieval villages, beaches, and mountain views. They also include among the world’s most celebrated rolling hill and wine country.

Any one day of exploring in Aquitaine can include all of these elements.


Wine

A great first place to head is Bordeaux. Here you will experience the city’s perfect position near river, ocean, plains, and hills that results in some of the world’s best wines.

Wine lovers can find many options to explore and savor wine in the city, including at the newly opened Cité du Vin. Yet many trips and hikes are well worth it to the famous regions within Bordeaux’s designation, such as St-Émilion, Médoc, Margaux, Grave, and Sauternes.


Surf

South of Bordeaux are many of Europe’s best surfing spots. These are all along Les Landes’s sandy beaches and pine forests, and onward to Basque Country and Biarritz. A global surf capital, Biarritz possesses stunning views the mountains whether you are at a fashionable wine bar, on the beach, or in the line up.


===> See the RELATED links below to explore local itineraries.


Hike Like a Pilgrim

Along Aquitaine’s coast runs the Voie Litorral. This is one of several scenic hiking routes through the region. Destined ultimately for the Pyrenees and Spain, this and others are part of a web-like network of paths on the Chemin Saint Jacques, called the Camino de Santiago once in Spain. This is the famous long distance pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. In the Middle Ages, many English pilgrims would arrive by boat in Bordeaux and begin walking to from there.

It is in Aquitaine’s foothills at the Pyrennes where you’ll find the most famous portion of the Camino, at the mountain town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The last pilgrim’s stop in France before crossing the Pyrenees, many pilgrims and hikers converge here before heading over the Valcarlos Pass.


Explore, Expand and Enrich

Aquitaine also holds some of France’s most beautiful and unusual Romanesque churches. These are everywhere from Bordeaux to Dax to many more obscure but stunning village chapels in between. Many preserve engraved images from local legends and lore.

The region also boasts among France’s most beautiful and engaging daily and weekly food markets. These highlight Aquitaine’s rich produce from farms, forests and fields. They’ll also offer up the best of the seas, including the celebrated oysters and mussels from Arcachon.

Explore Bordeaux in 3 days with Visit Aquitaine’s great itinerary.


Booking Accommodation

To book a suitable hotel or other accommodation in, or near Bordeaux, you can use the map below, which shows current prices for hotels and apartments. To book further afield, then just enlarge the map (+/-) to see more properties or, if you are headed for a particular part of the coast, enter your preferred city/town/village in the ‘Where are you going?’ box.

Booking.com


To learn more about Aquitaine, check out www.tourisme-aquitaine.fr while we give our destination specialist Beebe Bahrami time to get her online guide up and running.

N.B. The Aquitaine referred to here is the ‘old’ Aquitaine Région which existed prior to October 2016. Nouvelle Aquitaine, as it is now called, includes the old Poitou-Charentes which we have treated separately.


What it Costs

France and in particular Aquitaine is not expensive. Admission to sites of interest is often surprisingly cheap and eating out, while not exactly inexpensive, is normally very good value for money.

Of course the traveller will find that large cities such as Bordeaux and Bayonne can be a little pricey especially for eating out but, if you are prepared to shop around a little, you will find something to suit your pocket.

What you can expect is value for money wherever you go. For food shopping try the local outdoor market, held daily in the big cities and weekly in small towns and villages. These are not necessarily cheaper than shops but the produce is guaranteed to be local and fresh.

For really low prices on a whole range of goods try the local Hypermarché. These are huge retail outlets, usually to be found on the outskirts of town, which sell everything from food to clothes. Hypermarchés to look out for are Carrefour, Leclerc, Auchan, Intermarché Hyper and Géant Casino.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in €.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
€ => Tickets less than €15 per person
€€ => Tickets €15- €30 per person
€€€ => Tickets €30 per person

Sleep — Out of town/rural
€ => Rooms less than €60 for a double
€€ => Rooms €60 – €100 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €100 for a double

Sleep — Large Cities
€ => Rooms less than €100 for a double
€€ => Rooms €100 – €150 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €150 for a double

Eat
€=> €5- €10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€ => €10 – €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€€ => €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
€ => Tickets less than €25 per person
€€ => Tickets €25 – €50 per person
€€€ => Tickets €50 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings. European operators such as easyJet, Ryanair, Air France-KLM, Jet2,  British Airways, flybe and Lufthansa offer an extensive range of routes in Europe.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transport, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Download the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. Memberships cost about €8/£6 a month; rentals are about €8-13.50/£6-10 per hour; fuel and insurance are included.

Ride-sharing companies, such as Uber, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

All the major car rental companies such as Avis, Sixt, Hertz and Europcar operate throughout Europe.  It is not normally possible to rent in the UK and take the vehicle to mainland Europe or vice versa.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to (or within) Europe goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical — Travellers within Europe from European Union member states should obtain an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) card which entitles them to healthcare on the same terms as citizens from the country they are visiting. This is a reciprocal agreement which means for example that EEA visitors to the UK will receive free care in NHS hospitals in the same way that UK residents do.  Some countries e.g. France make a charge known as a patient contribution for GP visits or stays in hospital for both their own citizens and visitors from the EEA. Even so, travellers are well advised to have additional medical insurance to cover for example the cost of repatriation, mountain rescue in ski resorts and other emergencies.

For travellers from outside the European Union the cost of health services in Europe, while not as high as in the US for example, can be relatively expensive for the uninsured. For this reason it is essential to consider purchasing medical insurance. If you have a Health Care Plan back home it may cover you for most situations which arise abroad but you need to check this out and in any case additional medical travel insurance will cover you for private health care or other expenses.

Some countries outside the European Union have a reciprocal agreement for healthcare with certain European countries.  For example Switzerland has an agreement with all European Union countries and Australia has agreements with the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and others. It pays to check before leaving home.

Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travellers.

Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip is expensive it’s essential and even if it isn’t it’s certainly a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Your English or other European language skills are also crucial because insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

In Europe the largest insurers are Allianz, Axa and Zurich but there are many smaller providers such as insureandgo and Direct Line.

Pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition or charge an additional premium related to the condition.  Some companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

Exchange Rates and Currency

The main currency of Europe is the Euro which is currently used in 25 countries a few of which are not even EU members. Some countries within the European Union have retained their original currency including the UK (Pound), Denmark (Kroner) and Poland (Zloty). Most non-EU countries such as Switzerland (Swiss Franc) and Turkey (Lira) continue to use their own currency. All are decimalised and have 100 ‘pennies’ in each main unit.

Euros come in €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 notes. They vary in size, from 120mm x 62mm (€5) to 160mm x 82mm (500), and colour, so it is easy to differentiate between them. All feature European architecture throughout the ages. (Smaller businesses may not accept the larger notes, so plan to have €20s or smaller notes in hand)

There are eight denominations of euro coin: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent plus a €1 and €2 coin. All have a common side and a national side. Remember to spend all coins before you leave – they can’t be exchanged!

Many travellers like to have a small amount of local currency when they arrive in a country but this is becoming less and less important as ATMs and Bureaux de Change appear everywhere especially in transport terminals.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

The good news for travellers in Europe is that you don’t need to get stressed about tipping – you don’t have to do it and when you do it really should reflect good or excellent service rather than be something you are expected to do. On the whole workers in tourism are reasonably well paid and don’t depend upon tips to make up their wages. In some cases over-tipping can be embarrassing for all concerned.

Restaurants

Many restaurants include a ‘service’ charge in the price so check and, if it isn’t mentioned, then a tip of between 5 – 10% is quite enough. Even where it is included but you feel that you’ve had really excellent service then the same amount is adequate but ensure that your server receives this by handing it directly to them.
Other methods are to add a euro/pound for each member of the party or round up the bill to the nearest 5 or 10 euros.
In the UK many restaurants add an ‘optional’ amount to the bill when you are paying with plastic, but in many cases the servers don’t receive any of this and it simply becomes an extra profit for the owner. The server won’t mind if you decline to do this!
Taxis
With taxis, just round up to the next euro or pound for a short journey or, for a long ride, to the nearest ten. Again 10% is the maximum you should consider unless of course the driver carries your bags into the hotel or airport when a little more will be appreciated.

Hotels
You may wish to give the porter a euro for each bag he carries but, while it will be appreciated, it is not normally expected. Similarly you may wish to leave a small tip for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have been particularly helpful, but this is completely up to you.

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