A good starting point for wine lovers would be the Bordeaux wine festival held bi-annually, the next one being in 2012.
The 12 hectare site in the centre of the world’s largest quality wine district offers thousands of French and foreign wine lovers the opportunity to taste a wide selection of wines from the Aquitaine region.
Prefer to tour the vineyards? – visit the Bordeaux Maison du Vin for information on estates which are open to the public (some even offer meals) to sample in situ such quality classics as St-Emilion from around the River Dordogne, Graves and Medoc from west of the Gironde Estuary, and Entre Deux Mers from between the rivers Dordogne and Garonne.
Members of ‘Vignobles & Chaisin Bordeaux’ are local producers who offer guided tours and assisted tastings. The D2 ‘route du vin’ winds past many wine villages of the Medoc. But remember, some chateaux such as the beautiful Chateau Margaux or the illustrious Chateau Mouton Rothschild can only be visited by appointment. Local Maisons des Vins give more specific information – St-Emilion for example organises wine-tasting lessons and bilingual tours from May to September and Blaye has wine-tastings at its citadel.
The 14km of golden sandy beaches at Lacanau-Ocean make this delightful resort deservedly popular for all lovers of watersports, particularly surfers, who come to enjoy some of Europe’s finest beach breaks. Part of the World Surfing Championships and wave skiing competitions have been held here for the last 20 years. See professionals in August 2011 competing in womens junior qualifying leg in Lacanau.
Beaches have waves for all levels and resort surf schools include SurfPlus and Lacanau Surf Club with its ‘wave gardens’ for 5 to 10 year olds. Four beaches are supervised mid-May to mid-September and 2 have a ’tiralo’ beach wheelchair which allows disabled swimmers access. The resort has good surf shops, bars and ‘après-surf’ and can be busy in high season.
Cycling is popular throughout France and the department of Gironde, where much of the countryside is relatively flat, is well provided with mountain bike tracks.
Maison du Tourisme et du Vin in Pauillac hires bikes and can suggest vineyard routes, whilst the coast from Pointe de Grave to Cap Ferret has 141km of dedicated trail. Saveterre-de-Guyenne to Bordeaux (55km) makes use of a disused railway line.
Pick up the route halfway at Creon, where equipment can be hired. Arcachon Bay and Gironde’s huge lagoons offer great cycling routes between sandy beaches and pine forests. Look for otters, deer and tortoises along the forest trails around Etange de Cousseau where cars are banned.
France’s longest freshwater lake, Hourtin-Carcans, has wonderfully secluded cycle tracks between the lake and the ocean with plenty of picturesque picnic spots. Most main towns have bike hire shops. Find maps on www.uk.tourisme-gironde.cg33.fr/cdt_piste_cyclable.asp
Canoeing and kayaking are great alternative ways to view a landscape which has so many lakes and rivers. The Bay of Arcachon is a safe place to try sea kayaking using longer and narrower kayaks. (Only venture out into the open sea along this coast accompanied by a qualified instructor).
For most, Gironde’s rivers offer plenty of opportunities. The canoeing centre at Belin-Beliet, in the ‘Landes de Gascogne’ Regional Natural Park has guided trips down the River Leyre – known as the ‘Little Amazon’ – to Arcachon Bay, and the canoe school at Villandraut organises trips to explore the beautiful Ciron Valley.
The Rivers Dordogne and l’Isle near St-Emilion are also great for canoeing and kayaking as are Gironde’s many coastal lakes. Find out about equipment hire at local tourist offices.