It is home to the Pyrénées National Park, 4200km(!) of bike paths, and many nature reserves so you can see nature is important to the region. What’s more, we loved the region’s focus on environmentalism and sustainability with many eco-label accommodations! This means you can enjoy your trip while knowing that nature is looked after and protected. Here are the top 5 spots for nature lovers in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France.
1. Sarlat & The Dordogne Valley
The Dordogne Valley was our Nouvelle-Aquitaine highlight! This is the natural world at its best: winding rivers, yellow stone cliffs, rolling green meadows, and deep valleys. After all, the Dordogne Valley is classified as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for a reason! It’s a paradise for nature lovers because you can kayak for miles along the river, and relax on a peaceful riverside beach. Jump off the kayak and explore medieval villages and majestic castles that lie beyond the river. Don't forget to make a special visit to Sarlat - atown straight from the pages of a Harry Potter novel!
Our most unique experience of all in the Dordogne Valley was hiring an Eco quad bike. This mode of transport is designed to adapt to all different terrains and landscapes. This means you have the opportunity to drive on mountains, in the sand, or even across shallow water. It’s a fun way to get amongst nature - while still knowing that you’re being planet conscious.
2. Ile de Ré
Cross the bridge onto the island of Ile de Re, just 20 minutes from La Rochelle! Here, the wildlife lives peacefully and locals work together with nature. It also is a foodie lover’s heaven, with delicious produce grown on the island, ecologically and organically.
Paddleboard through the marshes, and discover the process of harvesting salt - a tradition that has been passed on for generations. We explored the island by electric bikes, and even an electric tuk-tuk. This was the perfect way to visit its nature reserve, organic wineries, oyster farms, and charming villages.
3. La Rochelle
Welcome to La Rochelle: a beautiful port city and one of the first to adopt a cyclists-first approach in France! We spent our days here cycling around the city, the beautiful parks, and exploring the beaches. Additionally, you can hire kayaks and paddleboards, and paddle up the river towards the city. La Rochelle is the perfect mixture of urban life and nature!
The city is most famous for the towers at the front of the port, that once acted as a gateway. They’ve served many purposes over the years, including a prison, so the history is interesting!
4. Rochefort & Aix Island
Rochefort and Aix Island (Ile d’Aix) are two spots where adventure really comes to life in Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Sitting on the western Atlantic coast, there’s plenty to do and see, from hiking and surfing to cycling and climbing. In Rochefort, we got to know the naval history of the city, particularly the wonders of the harbor area.
The real gem of this coastline is Aix Island: France’s answer to the Caribbean! We couldn’t believe our eyes on arrival at this beautiful island, with its turquoise calm water, sandy coves, and green landscapes. Best of all, the island is car-free! This meant we could really enjoy nature, cycling on the network of paths around the island, and jumping into the water at every opportunity. This is a true paradise on the fringes of mainland France! Ile d’Aix is 20 minutes by boat from Fouras or 1 hour from La Rochelle.
5. South Charente - Aubeterre-sur-Dronne
As we headed towards South Charente, the landscapes became greener and more luscious around every corner of the winding country roads. We drove among beautiful wine estates, between castles and woodland, before arriving at one of the prettiest villages in France: Aubeterre-sur-Dronne!
Nature lovers will be pleased to know that Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is named a 'Station Verte', meaning it's classified as a green tourist destination with exceptional nature to explore. It’s easy to see why when you see the village sprawling uphill from the banks of the river, sandwiched between green meadows and wildflowers. Also the riverside beach was a great place to chill or to hire kayaks and canoes to explore the rest of the area.
Wander the streets, admiring the stone houses, wooden balconies, and hanging flowers, not forgetting to make a stop at Saint-Jean church. This huge underground, monolithic church used to be a sacred place for pilgrims to stop on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The sheer size of the church is breathtaking, and it's a great place to cool off from the summer heat too!
Nouvelle-Aquitaine is a region for any kind of holiday. But if you’re looking to spend time in nature, wandering through wonderful villages and having gastronomic experiences then Nouvelle-Aquitaine is definitely for you!
How to get to Nouvelle-Aquitaine from The Netherlands
The region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine is surprisingly easy to get to by train from the Netherlands. In just a 7-hour train journey from Rotterdam in The Netherlands, we were in the center of Bordeaux in France. Alternatively, you can take a short flight (1h 45min) from Amsterdam to Bordeaux directly. Traveling by car will take up at least 12 hours to the region’s capital Bordeaux. However, nature is everywhere in the region so driving to Bordeaux is not necessary.