Départements: Dordogne, Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Principal cities: Bayonne, Biarritz, Bordeaux, Pau, Périgueux
Conquered by Caesar in the 1st century, the Visigoths in the 5th and Charlemagne in the 8th, Aquitaine changed the course of French history in the 12th century, when Eleanor of Aquitaine, the only child of the ruling duke, first married Louis VII of France and then, divorced some 15 years later, married Henri Plantagenêt, soon to be King of England. Eleanor’s dowry, switched from France to England, extended from the Atlantic coast to the river Rhône—including the ancient lands of Périgord, Quercy and parts of Gascony—a territory that returned to France only after the Hundred Years’ War, in 1453.
The splendid fortified castles and new villages, called bastides, built during the French-English conflict, are now among the great riches of the region, along with the Atlantic beaches and pine forests of the Landes; the prehistoric caves of Lascaux and its environs; Belle Epoque Biarritz and its contemporary surfers, and the green valleys of the Basque country, from Saint-Jean-de-Luz inland to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and south to the Pyrenees and the Spanish border. The elegant city of Bordeaux is the gateway to vineyards on both sides of the Gironde estuary, from the great châteaux of Haut-Médoc to the fascinating town of Saint-Emilion.