Craftsmanship: Fired-art objects and other highlight products
Let's begin with the acknowledgement and protection that the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) label grants manufactured and artistic craft products as well as natural resources.
Limoges porcelain was the first to benefit from this support, in December 2017. Limoges was then listed by Unesco as a Creative City, as the French capital of Fired Arts. Because, as well as the world-famous porcelain, enamel and stained glass have been renowned for centuries. Shopping addicts can just imagine all the jewellery, creations and other one-of-a-kind objects created by the myriad of local craftspeople. This know-how is also showcased in galleries…
Next, we move on to tapestry and rugs made in Aubusson, a town where the various trades linked to this industry can still be found, a blend of craftsmanship, manual work and state-of-the-art techniques. Head for the Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie to really see how vibrant this profession is. And, don't be surprised if you come across young fans of Japanese culture as the hand-weavers from partner workshops are currently weaving 5 tapestries based on scenes from Hayao Miyazaki's animation films.
There's another product that's enjoying renewed interest right now with classical models revisited up-to-the-minute style. What's more, it's an iconic circular-economy product as, even back in the 17th century, scraps of felt from French Royal Navy uniforms were used… Have you guessed? Highly comfortable, super resistant, Charentaise slippers!
Let's leave the Limousin and Creuse forests for rolling countryside overlooking the ocean, in the south-west of the region. The Basque Country has been a champion in perpetuating its indigenous culture down through the centuries. Among its traditions, its woven linen, with its well-known stripes (seven, for the seven Basque provinces), was awarded a PGI at the end of 2020. Basque linen is readily available and ranges from arts of the table to espadrilles, perfect for strolling along beaches, villages or pastures!
We continue through the Pyrénées-Atlantiques but now head for Béarn, in the mountains, south of Pau, where the most recent PGI label was granted to a Nouvelle-Aquitaine product: the Arudy stone. This stone, somewhat akin to marble, can be sculpted or used for building (the Palace of Versailles for example) or for roadways.
To visit the workshops, studios and other sites where you can discovery these heritage products
Seeing, tasting, buying craft products is great. Discovering the people that create them is even better!
In partnership with Routard teams and the region's tourist network, back in October 2021, we published a guide dedicated to know-how tourism in Nouvelle-Aquitaine. This guide presents 138 sites open to the public, but many other craftspeople welcome anyone interested at specific times.
Two online sites will give you more detailed information: the Chambers of Commerce and Industry sites and the site run by the French National Association for Company Visits.
And, while we're talking about websites, we should mention the showcase site for products made in Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
Other areas of excellence
The combination of natural treasures that Nouvelle-Aquitaine areas boast and human genius has led to the creation of other areas of excellence and other iconic products. Here are the main ones.
In the 11th century, leather work and glove-making became the key activity in the town of Saint-Junien, 30 minutes from Limoges. Agnelle, Laurige, Weston and Repetto got it right. They established their manufacturing workshops here. The Cité du cuir (Leather history and industry centre) is currently being built and will open in spring 2024.
The presence of minerals in the ground and the expanses of forest led to the development of cutlery and knife-making know-how. To find the oldest knife in France, head for Nontron, in the Périgord-Limousin Regional Nature Park.
When it comes to textile, we think of the famous wellington boots made by Aigle, based in Châtellerault, as well as the Basque-Béarn beret that is still manufactured by three companies in the region today: La Manufacture de bérets, Maison Laulhère and Le béret français.
And, we should also mention the last-remaining accordion manufacturer in France, Maugein in Tulle.
In recent days, in the cosmetics field, several laboratories exist that make high-quality products based on water (La Roche-Posay near Poitiers) or on plants (Léa Nature near La Rochelle, Sothys near Brive and Caudalie in the Bordeaux vineyards).
And, last but not least, because the Basque Coast and the Landes were the birthplace of surfing back at the end of the 50s, they stand out in this field by creating surfboards and clothes. A real gem in the watersports world: the company Villacampa, in Billère, near Pau, in the Pyrénées. The firm makes high-end wooden skis using an eco-friendly approach.
Gourmet craftsmanship: local Nouvelle-Aquitaine products on the menu
Just like for artistic crafts, several gastronomic specialities from our South-West are protected by several quality labels: 41 IGP (PGI - Protected Geographical Indication), 179 Label Rouge (Red Label), 80 AOC/AOP (CDO/PDO - Controlled/Protected Designation of Origin). We can't mention them all, but…
For starters: Marennes-Oléron oysters, Bayonne ham and, during the season, Haut-Poitou melon.
For the main course: great poultry (Sèvres, Périgord, Landes, Béarn), beef (Parthenais, Limousin, de Bazas…) and pork. Or spring trout (in the Landes) and bouchot mussels if you prefer fish.
On the cheese platter: Chabichou from Poitou and Ossau-Iraty from the Pyrénées.
Maybe a light dessert? We've got strawberries from Lot-et-Garonne and from Périgord, kiwis from the banks of the Adour, Agen plums and, if you fancy some cake, Pyrénées tourte.
To season and accompany everything, Charentes-Poitou butter, Salies-de-Béarn salt and Espelette pepper according to your tastes… And, we wouldn't even dare list the wines and alcohols 😉
Without any specific quality label, yet part of our age-old heritage: caviar, truffles, chocolate, an incredible selection of pastries (including the Broyé du Poitou, Basque cake and Landes pastis) and delicatessen delights (Charentes or Limousin grillon - a local pâté, etc.).
Museums and discovery sites focusing on typical products
To complement visits to workshops and companies, another way to find out more about Nouvelle-Aquitaine specialities is to visit a museum.
In Limoges, the Adrien Dubouché National Museum showcases the world's largest collection of porcelain objects, the Fine Arts Museum boasts the largest collection of enamel work after that of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia! And to complete the Fired-Arts trio, head to Curzay-sur-Vonne near Poitiers for superb stained glass.
For everything there is to know about leather, the Cité du cuir in Saint-Junien is set to open in spring 2024.
We've already mentioned the Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie in Aubusson and the Experimental Centre for Artistic Crafts in Nontron. For budding sailors (and everyone else), the Corderie Royale (Royal Ropeworks) in Rochefort presents the whole rope production process as well as workshops.
When it comes to gastronomy, the choice is huge once again: chocolate museum in Bayonne, salt museum in Salies-de-Béarn, and its maritime counterpart with the salt marsh ecomuseum on Île de Ré, the truffle ecomuseum in Sorges - 40 years old this year, and the plum farm-museum in Laffite-sur-Lot to name but a few.
Celebrating know-how and other events
Difficult to name them all as there's a host of events, especially ones focusing on gourmet products!
In springtime, Bayonne celebrates its ham over the Easter weekend, Périgord its strawberries, while weavers and textile creators get together in Varaignes.
During summer: Knife Festival in Nontron, Espadrille Festival in Mauléon, Salt Festival in Salies, Cognac… in Cognac! As for Bordeaux, it celebrates wine and the river in turn.
In the autumn, Saint-Junien opens the doors to its studios and workshops with its Portes du cuir, Cambo delights us with Basque cakes, Limoges has a feast during the Frairie des petits ventres, a gastronomic festival, the stills start to distil Landes Armagnac, turkeys parade on 11 November in Varaignes… As for artistic crafts, Nontron celebrates its La rue des métiers d’art (craft festival) and Felletin Les journées de la laine (Wool days).
Winter is the season for 'fatted' and truffle markets (Brive, Périgueux, Sarlat) and a wonderful agenda of festivities in Jurançon - celebrating this white wine from Béarn that, it's been said, King Henry IV was baptised with.