Once at the center of the 100-year war between the UK & France, now one of the most visited regions of the country. It is not hard to see why either. Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France, is positively bursting with charm be it through storybook villages or hilltop castles. Time to discover what to see in one week.
We traveled to the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in France at the beginning of October when temperatures were still flirting with 30°C (86°F) and the peak of tourism season had passed. We chose to focus our trip on two departments: La Creuse & Dordogne. The former shrouded in mystery, the latter a true starlet of French tourism.
Our trip started and ended in Bordeaux, easily reachable with the high-speed train from Paris (2h30 direct). Here we picked up our rental car and embarked on an epic journey along some of the prettiest Nouvelle-Aquitaine attractions (castles, villages, goat farms,…).
Visiting the region Nouvelle-Aquitaine: Quick Guide
WHERE WE STAYED
GOOD TO KNOW: Sarlat-la-Canéda is the epicenter for a lot of tours into the Dordogne valley. We had our own car so did not use any tours, but if you are looking to travel without a car this could be a great spot to base yourself to discover Dordogne.
Where is the Nouvelle- Aquitaine Region?
Nouvelle-Aquitaine region is located in the Southwest of France. It is split into 12 departments: Charente, Charente-Maritime, Corrèze, Creuse, Dordogne, Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Deux-Sèvres, Vienne and Haute-Vienne.
Region vs Department: France is made up of 13 administrative regions, which in turn are split into smaller chunks known as departments.
Good to know: In 2016 France enacted a wide-sweeping reform in which it downsized the number of regions from 22 to a mere 13. This by way of a merger. As the change is fairly recent, locals sometimes use the ‘old’ names when referring to a specific region. Read up on the change.
Current day Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the merger of three regions in 2016: Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes. It is the single largest region in France (for reference the region is nearly 3 times to size of Belgium).
When driving through the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region we were struck by the fact that castles line the countryside from ridge to ridge. In certain places, you could not go 10-minutes without encountering another magnificent castle.
The find out why we have to delve a little into the history of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. You see, this peaceful hamlet of France was not always tranquil. In fact, it was the battleground for the 100-year war between England and France during the late Middle Ages. Military support from local lords for the warring Kingdoms was bought by giving the lords the right to build their own castles.
One week in Nouvelle-Aquitaine itinerary
One week in Nouvelle-Aquitaine is not enough to visit the full region. But, it will give you an idea of the beauty the region holds (and why you should come back). This is what our itinerary looked like.
DAY ONE: Arrival in Bordeaux, drive Bordeaux to Creuse (Domaine de la Jarrige)
DAY TWO: Les Monts de Guéret, Glénic, Boussac Castle, Villemonteix Castle
DAY THREE: La Souterraine, la Chèvrerie du Poney Fringant, Vallée des Peintres Crozant
DAY FOUR: Aubusson, Bourganeuf, drive direction Dordogne (Chateau de la Meynardie)
DAY FIVE: Thivier, Brantôme, check-in Le Moulin du Roc
DAY SIX: Château de Puyguilhem, Saint-Jean-de-Côle, Gorges de l’Auvézère, check-in La Ferme d’Araucanie
DAY SEVEN: L’Ort Distillery, Lascaux caves, Beynac Castle (by Sarlat-la-Canéda), drive back to Bordeaux
Before you go: The above itinerary is packed and was only possible because we had a rental car (Find the cheapest rate). If you are a fan of slow travel, consider cutting the itinerary in half.
Sustainable things to do in Nouvelle-Aquitaine
We split our time evenly between the departments of La Creuse and Dordogne. Our activities included hiking, visiting little villages, and marveling at castles all the while staying locally in either a B&B (Gîte as they are called in French) or hotels that have a strong commitment to sustainability.
All the places mentioned in the above section Nouvelle-Aquitaine itinerary have been covered below. To keep things simple, I broke down the various activities per region into categories. This will give you the maximum flexibility to create your own itinerary for your road trip through Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
3 DAYS IN REMOTE LA CREUSE GUIDE
Despite living in the neighboring country (Belgium) and priding myself in my knowledge of France, La Creuse had not made in on my radar. In fact, it was a part of France I had never even heard about. Turns out I am not alone, far from it.
La Creuse has the – unceremonious- reputation of being bucolic in every which meaning. It sees far fewer tourists than neighboring departments and is quite clearly a true hidden gem hamlet in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.
Let me state this for the record once and for all: La Creuse is well worth spending a few days in. It has some of the country’s best mountain biking trails, beautiful castles, and wonderfully warm, hospitable locals.
Where we stayed: We ended up spending three nights in a locally run B&B (Gîte) – Domaine de la Jarrige
1. OUTDOOR SPORTS IN THE GUERET COMMUNE
Find more info: Website Monts de Guéret
Mobile app: Trails, mountain bike routes, and other outdoor activities. Download here.
Where to rent bikes: Contact the Monts de Guéret tourism office (see website for contact details)
La Creuse is a veritable paradise for travelers looking to spend time in nature. We embarked on two adventures here: Mountainbiking and climbing. With a wonky sense of balance and absolutely zero sense of direction, I am the definition of an “absolute beginner” at both. Turns out one does not need a strong sense of direction or much experience to have a lot of fun.
MOUNTAIN BIKING/HIKING: Monts de Guéret has 25 walking circuits, 37 mountain biking circuits and offers a host of other outdoor activities (climbing, paragliding, trail running,…) suitable for both beginners and advanced athletes. Your best bet is to download the mobile app and browse.
CLIMBING: We went to the Glénic Viaduc to practice climbing on a very cool climbing wall, built underneath an old train line. It ranges from 4a to 7a in terms of difficulty. You will need to take up contact with the Monts de Guéret tourism office to reserve your spot at the wall.
Foodie Tip: Refuel with a delicious meal at the nearby tiny eatery Le Cabas Creusois. The owner has a set of wonderful picture books on La Creuse which you can browse while enjoying lunch.
2. VISIT CASTLES IN LA CREUSE, NOUVELLE-AQUITAINE
La Creuse has less castles than Dordogne, but fear not, you will still find plenty to satisfy your craving for turrets & moats. We were short on time and therefore only able to squeeze in two castles while in La Creuse
Villemonteix Castle: This privately owned (!) castle dates back to the 15th century and was given a thorough facelift in the 18th century. It is currently still inhabited and privately owned. Open for visitors, tickets are bought at the little reception across from the entrance of the castle. (Tickets €/$8)
Boussac Castle: This 12th-century fort was built on a hilltop to survey the Petit Creuse Valley. Rebuilt after being destroyed in the 14th century by a companion of Jean of Ark (yes THE Jean of Ark). The writer George Sand used to stay here and write his novelle “Jeanne”. (Tickets €/$12)
3. HIKING IN THE SOUTERRAIN COMMUNE OF LA CREUSE
La Souterrain is a tiny hamlet in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France. It is located on the pilgrim route of Santiago de Compostela and is surrounded by surprisingly lush nature. In recent years the local tourism office has developed a large offer of well-indicated hiking and biking paths to attract tourism.
Many routes start from the tourism office, where bikes/mountain bikes and maps can also be rented. We decided to walk the 8-kilometer loop called La Faille des Trois Provinces. An easy walk through meandering streams, berry fields and forested paths. It is the most peaceful area we encountered during our whole trip to Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
Foodie Tip: Grab a bite to eat locally run little bistro Le Beau Pré (the onion soup is divine!)
4. CATCH SUNSET OVER THE MAJESTIC VALLEE DES PEINTRES (CROZANT)
The commune of Crozant is a delight to take in, with cobblestoned streets and little colorful storefronts enticing shoppers. A little outside of town stands the vestiges of the town’s eponymous fortress, which is best viewed from…across the river.
The Vallee des Peintres or valley of painters received its name not because it is pretty as a painting (it is, trust me) but because it managed to beguile many a painter including George Sand. The once-in-a-lifetime views over the valley and the Crozant Fortress are best enjoyed from the viewpoint called Rochers de la Fileuse.
We went for sunset – it turned out the be a miserable shade of gray, a slight letdown. Despite the deplorable weather, we still enjoyed the views with a bottle of wine and some delicious Creusois cake. A little bench is strategically placed right in front of the rock, the perfect spot to plonk down!
5. VISIT THE TAPESTRY MUSEUM AND WORKSHOP IN AUBUSSON
Address: BP 89 – Rue des Arts 23200 Aubusson
Where to park: Right in front of the museum is a small parking lot (pay parking fee at the parking meter)
Latest opening hours: Website
Entrance Fee: €/$8
Being Flemish, I have seen my fair share of tapestry museums. Belgium might not have been founded until 1830, but Flanders sure was put on the map by its flourishing lace and tapestry skill manship long before that. Therefore I was slightly hesitant to visit yet another tapestry museum.
But I have to say, the Cité International de la Tapiserie in Aubusson managed to surprise me. Not so much learning about the various styles of tapestry and their evolution, but more the modern-day tapestries that are still being woven here according to ancient traditions.
We walked in on a class of students learning the craft of tapestry, were shown how the larger-than-life tapestries woven based upon the works of Tolkien (LOTS, The Hobbit) and Miyazaki (Castle in the Sky, my neighbor Totoro) and got to see weavers in action on soon to be unveiled new Miyazaki-inspired tapestries.
6. TRY SOME DELICIOUS VEGETARIAN FRIENDLY LOCAL SPECIALITIES
There are a few (vegetarian) regional specialties that are worth trying when you are traveling around La Creuse. These are specific to this department and you will not find them anywhere else in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
Le Creusois: A buttery almond cake that is said to date back to the 15th century. There are only about 31 patisserie chefs in 15 villages that know the recipe and are allowed to sell the cake. Find a patisserie.
Homemade Goat Cheese: The very best goat cheese is to be found at the (very) ethical goat farm Le Poney Fringant. The goats receive an abundance of love and surprisingly, reiki treatment, which allows them to produce the softest, creamiest and all-around delicious goat cheese.
Clafoutis Limousin with cherries: Another crowdpleaser! A fruit-based dessert, baked in a sweet batter and covered with a thick layer of flan.
WHERE TO STAY IN LA CREUSE
PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION: Domaine de la Jarrige ($$)
A locally run B&B (Gîte) in the heart of la Creuse. Breakfast is delicious, dinner is served family-style to facilitate contact between guests and the beds are wonderfully comfortable. Has an outdoor pool and a large parking area.
Château Lezat: ($$) A beautiful historic manor 6 km from La Souterraine. Has the option for half-pension (breakfast and family-style dinner). Free parking on-site. Check rates
Château De Saint-Maixant: ($$$) A full-blown castle with turrets and a castle domain where deer roam free. Located 3 km from Saint-Maixant. Top-rated for hospitality in the region. Check rates
3 DAY DORDOGNE ITINERARY
There are a ton of things to do in Dordogne, three days is barely enough time to scratch the surface truth be told. We had a tough time choosing which places to visit in Dordogne, and sub sequentially, which ones to skip. Before diving into the activities, let’s take a step back and look at some geography first.
Dordogne or Périgord
Locally the department of Dordogne is known as the Périgord. It is not uncommon for locals to refer to certain places in Dordogne according to their allocation: Périgord Noir (black); Périgord Vert (Green); Périgord Blanc (White) and Périgord Pourpre (Purple). Read about the naming in detail.
Is the Dordogne Valley still Dordogne?
Despite its name, the Dordogne valley is only partially located in the eponymous department. The river Dordogne flows onto the Lot, Corrèze, Cantal departments (which are not part of the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine). Therefore it is not unusual for travel guides covering “Dordogne” to include attractions outside of the administrative boundaries of Dordogne.
1. VISIT A FEW OF THE 1001 CASTLES IN DORDOGNE
If there is one thing Dordogne is not missing, it is castles. With every tiny little village and ridgetop dominated by turreted marvels, especially in and around the Dordogne Valley, it is not hard to believe the claim of Dordogne and its 1001 castles. A catchy marketing slogan, which just happens to be true.
Château de Puyguilhem: A sumptuous hunting lodge of the first president of the Paris Parliament in the 16th century built in Renaissance style (yay, turrets!). Can be visited with or without a guide (one guided visit in French per day at 10.00 AM). Tickets €/$6. Online or at the entrance of the castle.
Château de Beynac: An impressive 12th-century hilltop fortress overlooking the Dordogne river. Can be visited with a guide or audioguide (+€/2) or on your own. Regular tickets €/$9.5. Online or at the entrance of the castle
Château de Hautefort: A magnificent 11th century in the Auvézère Valley. The original structure underwent a total makeover and today looks more like a dainty Loire-valley castle than the typical no-nonsense castles in Dordogne. To be visited without a guide, unless you are a group of min. 20 people. Tickets €/$11/. Online or at the entrance of the castle
Castles we did not visit (but wanted to): Gardens of the Eyrignac Manor and the Jumilhac Castle.
2. STROLL AROUND THE PRETTIEST TOWNS IN DORDOGNE
Half-timbered houses, walkable streets and friendly locals are but a few of the delights that await when setting food in the prettiest villages in Dordogne. Time permitting, I really recommend spending at least half a day in each of these villages enjoying the slower pace of village life.
Brantôme: Medieval Brantôme is dominated by the monumental 8th-century Benedictine abbey (combine a visit to the abbey with the famous troglodyte caves in the same complex). Dubbed the Venice of the Perigord, the best views are from the deck of a boat. I highly recommend taking a 50-minute cruise along the canals for €/$9 (by electrical boat). Read my travel guide to Brantôme.
Saint-Jean-de-Côle: Arguably the prettiest village in Nouvelle-Aquitaine France. Quaint timber-framed houses line the streets leading to the impressive central square, dominated by the (privately owned) castle of Marthonia & the 11th-century Romano-Byzantine church.
Rocamadour: Rocamadour is a one-street hilltop village that stands out for the cluster of religious buildings that have been carved into the cliffs. Make your way up to the Chapelle Notre-Dame, the Gothic Basilica of St-Sauveur, and finally Rocamadour castle at the very top. Rocamadour is located in the Dordogne valley, administratively it falls under the neighboring Lot department. Read my full guide to Rocamadour.
3. STAY IN A CASTLE IN DORDOGNE
Traipsing around a castle is great fun, but nothing compared to actually spending a night (or two) in one. We spent a night in Château de la Meynardie. The owner, Odile, and her partner hosted us for dinner where we talked about the region, the plans for the castle and just about anything else. It was without a doubt the best night of our trip.
The castle can be rented during the warmer months of the year in its entirety. Here are a few alternatives if you are looking to rent just one room in a castle.
Hôtel Edward 1er: The current owners fell in love with this castle on their honeymoon and decided to purchase it on the spot. This 4-star romantic castle also has a strong focus on sustainability, with an electric car charger and a focus on local producers. Check rates & availability
Château de Monrecour: This castle hotel is located in the heart of the Dordogne Valley. It is larger than the above-mentioned castles. It has two heated pools and a terrace with views over the beautiful 15th-century Chateau des Milandes. Check rates & availability
4. HIKE THE GORGE DE L’AUVEZERE
The L’Auvézère gorge lies at the start of the Massif Central, a mountainous region in south-central France. The gorge follows the flow of the eponymous river. The landscape is surprisingly lush while temperatures offer a welcome respite from the unexpected hot autumnal weather.
We set off on an hour-long hike, accompanied by a guide. Traversing rocky shorelines, dense vegetarian, and gurgling waterfalls. The hike was very pleasant, although not very well indicated. A variety of different hiking paths crisscross the gorge, it is worth picking up a map to avoid getting lost.
Tip: If you are hiking with kids look into the newly developed geo-caching game called Terra Adventure which teaches the kids about the fauna and flora along the hike in a playful manner.
5. EXPLORE THE LASCAUX CAVES
Address: Lieu-dit Lascaux, 24290 Montignac-Lascaux (Lascaux II); Avenue de Lascaux, 24290 Montignac-Lascaux, France (Lascaux IV)
Opening Hours: Website Lascaux II, Website Lascaux IV
Parking: Large parking available in front of Lascaux IX
Entrance Fee: €/$15.40 (Lascaux II); €/$22 (Lascaux IV)
Known as the “Sistine chapel of prehistory”, the Lascaux caves are an absolute highlight of Dordogne and even the entire Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. Discovered in the summer of 1940 by a group of teenagers who had no idea they found caves with 20.000 (!) year old frescoes.
The original caves have been closed to the public for preservation, but three exact replicas have been made, one of which is permanently on the road, showcased in international exhibitions. Guided tours to Lascaux IV, the National Prehistory Museum and the Rouffignac caves run from Sarlat.
Which Lascaux cave to visit
Lascaux II: Dates back to 1983, rebuild of 90% of the frescoes. Frescoes are highlighted by dim flickering light making the ambiance intriguing and slightly intimate. Sees fewer tourists than Lascaux 4 but is harder to navigate for wheelchair users.
Lascaux IV: The only complete replica of the Lascaux caves. The frescoes have been re-created down to the millimeter using the original techniques used at the time. The complex also includes a very interesting exhibition area where the frescoes are enlarged and individually explained. This is the one we chose to visit.
Foodie Tip: Nearby Lascaux IV you will find the artisanal distillery L’Ort Distillery which brews small batches of very smooth gin & pastis. Worth popping in for a tasting.
WHERE TO STAY IN DORDOGNE: ECO-FRIENDLY ACCOMMODATIONS
PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION: Moulin du Roc ($$)
Set in a beautiful 17th-century refurbished nut mill. This 4-star hotel was one of our favorite stays of the trip! They work together exclusively with local producers, have an electric car charger and both the service and dining experience were top-notch!
L’escapade: Located on the outskirts of Brantôme, this little B&B has stellar reviews. Travelers praise the good breakfast, hospitality of the host and large garden. Check rates.
Hôtel Château de La Côte: This 3-star castle hotel (yes another one!) is located right next to Brantôme. The hotel has an outdoor pool, an enormous garden and serves traditional French cuisine sourced from local producers. Check rates.
Typical Nouvelle-Aquitaine food that is vegetarian-friendly
The typical foods of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region are not known to be vegetarian-friendly (never mind vegan). The famous limousine beef, duck magret and confit are omnipresent as is foie gras, for which Dordogne is the epicenter of production in France.
That being said, Nouvelle-Aquitaine is also known for delicious porcini mushrooms, truffles, strawberries, walnuts and wine (Bergerac, Bordeaux). As a vegetarian, it is easy to navigate the culinary waters of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, vegans traveling through the region will have a harder time circumventing the quintessential French ingredient: Cheese. It tends to get added to just about anything (salads, sauces, bread).
Practical details for visiting the region of Aquitaine in France
How to get to the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region?
Nouvelle-Aquitaine is very well connected to the rest of France (and abroad) by train. My number one recommendation would be to hop on a train to get to Bordeaux and rent a car to drive around the region.
HIGH-SPEED TRAIN: Multiple high-speed trains run between Paris Montparnasse, Paris-Austerlitz and even Brussels daily to Bordeaux. Compare prices.
Best time to visit?
CREUSE: Visiting off-beat locations like Creuse can be done year-round. If you are tempted by their vast offering of outdoor activities consider planning a summer vacation (average temperatures 24°C/75°F).
DORDOGNE: Dordogne is a different kettle of fish as it is simply heaving with tourists in the busy season. It is one of the top vacation spots for Belgian, English and Dutch travelers. If you are trying to avoid the crowds aim to visit outside of summer. We went in October and had plenty of sun and average temperatures of 25°C/77°F, without any crowds at all.
Map of places to visit on a trip to Nouvelle-Aquitaine
This interactive Google Map contains all the places mentioned in this Nouvelle-Aquitaine guide. Yellow pins are for activities in La Creuse, red pins are for things to see in Dordogne and the purple pins are the accommodations where we stayed.
Is Nouvelle-Aquitaine in France worth visiting?
The Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in France is the largest region of the country and boy does it pack a punch. Learn about the tumultuous Franco-English 100-year war as you tour a neverending array of beautiful castles, slow traveler to some of the prettiest villages in all of France or hike in undiscovered Creuse. The list of things to do is simply neverending.
MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING FRANCE
Jura Region: Discover the hidden gems of Eastern France
Dordogne (SW France): Travel guide from the village of Brantôm
Lot (SW France): In-depth travel guide to the beautiful village of Rocamadour
South West France: Exploring the beautiful village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie