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The 17 Best Places To Visit In South West France

Embark on a journey through the charming regions of southwestern France, where history and culture blend seamlessly with modern attractions. From the world-renowned Cognac houses and Bordeaux wineries to the picturesque coastal towns and pristine beaches along the Atlantic coast, this region is a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered. As you wander through the quaint villages and towns, it’s as if you’ve stepped into a time capsule, with centuries-old architecture and traditions remaining remarkably intact. The majestic chateaux and churches stand testament to the rich heritage of this captivating land. Let us guide you on an exciting countdown of the top 17 must-visit destinations in South West France.

The Best South West France Itinerary

In the Nouvelle Aquitaine region of South West France, enthusiasts of various stripes are treated to a wealth of options. From wine aficionados and history buffs to beach lovers and admirers of majestic architecture, there’s something for everyone.

UNESCO World Heritage sites, renowned wine regions, seemingly endless stretches of sun-kissed coastline, and picturesque chateaux perched atop rolling hills – the region is a treasure trove of experiences just waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re seeking cultural attractions or simply looking to unwind in a beautiful setting, Nouvelle Aquitaine has it all.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South West France

Southwest France’s Nouvelle-Aquitaine region is a treasure trove of cultural and historical heritage, boasting several UNESCO World Heritage Sites that showcase its rich history. One of the most iconic examples is the Lascaux caves in the Vézère Valley, renowned for their impressive collection of Paleolithic art. If you’re looking to explore these sites firsthand, the local tourist office is an excellent resource, offering a curated list of ‘must-visit’ UNESCO sites to discover in the region.


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Bordeaux, situated in southwest France, is celebrated for its world-renowned wine production. The region’s vineyards and wineries are particularly famous for their red wines, which are highly sought after by connoisseurs globally. Wine enthusiasts can delve into the art of winemaking by exploring the vineyards and participating in wine tastings. In fact, visitors can even choose to stay at some of the picturesque wine chateaux in the Bordeaux region. The city’s architecture is a testament to its rich history, with a significant restoration effort undertaken by the current mayor earning it the nickname ‘new Paris’ in southwest France. The ‘Port of the Moon’, as the Garonne River is affectionately known, forms the harbour and adds to the area’s charm. Bordeaux’s historic centre has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasting key attractions such as Place de la Bourse, Grosse Cloche (the Big Bell), and the old city gates. The Mirroir d’Eau, a large shallow pool reflecting the surrounding architecture, is an unmissable sight. It’s an idyllic spot to spend a hot summer day, playing in the water spray and mist.


As you approach Saint-Émilion, the allure of wine, history, and natural beauty converges into a captivating experience. With cobblestone streets, limestone buildings, and the Monolithic Church – an underground masterpiece carved into the rock – the village’s rich heritage is palpable. The vine-covered hills and Dordogne River Valley unfold like a tapestry, beckoning exploration.

The charm of Saint-Émilion extends beyond its medieval architecture to include the winding streets, perfect for photographers seeking unique perspectives. For the more adventurous, hiking up to the bell tower or exploring the picturesque alleys offers unparalleled views.

A UNESCO-listed gem, the ‘Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion’ encompasses not only the village but also its ancient vineyards. The region’s roots in winemaking date back to Roman times, with the pioneers of this art initially cultivating vines for centuries.

Beach and Coastal Hot Spots South West France

Stretching along the Atlantic coastline, southwestern France boasts a treasure trove of cultural attractions. The region’s stunning beaches are just the beginning, as the nearby salt marshes harbor a rich ecosystem that nurtures an array of bird species and other wildlife. But it’s not just the scenery that draws visitors in – the Marennes-Oléron basin is famous for its succulent oysters, while the Charente-Maritime region as a whole is awash with an incredible variety of seafood delights, including the delectable moules marinières (mussels cooked to perfection in white wine and herbs).

La Rochelle

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In medieval times, La Rochelle was an important port city, facilitating maritime trade and exploration. Its significance extended beyond commerce, too, as it played a notable role in religious history. During the 12th century, the Knights Templar held sway over the town, while later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Protestant Huguenots found refuge there.The city’s architectural tapestry is woven from medieval, Renaissance, and classical threads. The charming Old Port, with its vibrant buildings boasting colourful facades, is a visual feast. The iconic medieval towers, such as the Tour de la Lanterne and the Tour de la Chaîne, stand sentinel, their heights offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.Just off La Rochelle’s coast lies Île de Ré, an idyllic island renowned for its pristine beaches, quaint villages, and cycling-friendly atmosphere. A bridge connects the island to the mainland, making it a fantastic day trip from La Rochelle.


Located in Gironde’s department, Soulac-sur-Mer is a serene seaside resort nestled along the picturesque Route des Châteaux. Despite being smaller than La Rochelle, it boasts extensive sandy beaches, with L’Amelie being one of my personal favorites due to its quieter atmosphere. However, be aware that part of this beach has a nudist section – I discovered this by mistake! The town’s architecture is another notable feature, showcasing beautifully preserved Belle Époque villas and vibrant seaside cottages that give it a distinct charm, making them Instagram-worthy. Moreover, Soulac-sur-Mer has a rich history dating back to Roman times, with its medieval past as an important pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages, featuring a church dedicated to Saint Martin. This blend of tranquil atmosphere, stunning architecture, and historical significance makes Soulac-sur-Mer an attractive destination.


Biarritz, situated within the French Basque Country, occupies a unique position straddling the border between France and Spain. This charming town is nestled in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department of France, mere kilometers from the Spanish frontier.

Perched on the picturesque Bay of Biscay, which opens onto the Atlantic Ocean, Biarritz boasts an impressive array of beaches. The Grande Plage stands out for its suitability for swimming and sunbathing, while Côte des Basques has earned a reputation as one of Europe’s premier surfing spots.

Biarritz’s rich history is characterized by its transformation from a humble fishing village into a favored royal retreat. Its popularity in the 19th century can be attributed to Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, who commissioned a palace here. The town’s Belle Époque architecture reflects its storied past, mirroring that of Soulac-sur-mer.


Located just 25 miles (40km) from Bordeaux, Arachon is an easy day trip option for those in the region. The town offers a convenient train connection to Bordeaux, as well as personalized tour experiences that allow you to take in its natural beauty at your own pace.

Surrounded by stunning natural landscapes, Arcachon is particularly famous for its picturesque bay, which boasts oyster beds, pristine beaches, and crystal-clear waters. Visitors can explore the many seafood restaurants in town to sample some of France’s freshest oysters.

For a panoramic view that showcases the bay’s majesty as well as the surrounding pine forests, head to Dune du Pilat – a massive sand dune just a short drive from Arcachon. This unique vantage point offers breathtaking views that will leave you in awe of Arachon’s natural splendor.

Wine Regions in South West France

In Southwest France, wine has been an integral part of the culture for centuries. The region’s rich heritage is reflected in the many wine-producing areas that have preserved their traditional methods and grape varieties, contributing to the area’s unique wine-making identity. Characterized by its diversity, history, and regional distinctiveness, this region offers a wealth of experiences for wine enthusiasts, from guided tours to wine tastings. Visitors can explore the various regions, each with its own distinct style and story to tell.


Bergerac, situated on the picturesque banks of the Dordogne River, is a treasure trove for history enthusiasts. The town’s rich heritage, dating back to the Middle Ages, is deeply rooted in its medieval architecture, including half-timbered houses, winding streets, and quaint squares. This storied past is intricately tied to the Hundred Years’ War and the English occupation of the region. Beyond its wine-making prowess, Bergerac is famous for its Bergerac AOC wines, which can be explored through local wineries, tastings, and masterclasses on the art of winemaking. A visit to Bergerac is a journey into the heart of France’s history, culture, and gastronomy.


Cognac, a renowned town in France’s Charente region, is inseparably linked with the iconic spirit that bears its name. The town is home to some of the world’s most celebrated Cognac houses, including Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, and Martell, which offer guided tours that delve into the art of Cognac production, cellar explorations, and tastings. The Hennessy tour stands out for its in-depth look at the process, revealing the strict guidelines and meticulous attention to detail that contribute to the spirit’s reputation for excellence.

However, Cognac is more than just a hub for this revered liquor. Its charming cobblestone streets and historic architecture evoke a sense of nostalgia, transporting visitors back in time. The town’s name originates from the Latin ‘comniacum,’ referring to the confluence of two rivers that once flowed through its heart. As you wander through the old town, it’s easy to imagine life as it was during Medieval times.


Nestled in the Lot department within France’s Occitanie region, Cahors is an enchanting destination along the Lot River. Dubbed the ‘Town of Art and History’, it boasts a rich cultural and historical heritage that has earned its reputation. Yet, this charming town also holds a surprising secret – it’s the birthplace of Malbec wine. The local vineyards produce full-bodied red wines, often referred to as ‘black wines’ due to their deep coloration, reminiscent of Shiraz.One of Cahors’ most iconic landmarks is the Pont Valentré, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and medieval marvel. This ancient bridge features three defensive towers, steeped in legend and folklore. According to local lore, the construction of the bridge was so arduous that builders made a pact with the devil to complete it. However, they outwitted their infernal ally, leaving behind a sculpture of the devil on the bridge as testament to their cunning. The Pont Valentré stands as a testament to Cahors’ intriguing history and its ability to captivate visitors.

Picture Postcard Chateaux in South West France

As I strolled through this picturesque region, I was struck by the sheer abundance of majestic chateaux that seemed to dot the landscape at every turn. Each one whispers tales of yesteryear, its unique architecture and history woven into the very fabric of the surrounding villages. The collective narrative is a testament to the area’s rich cultural heritage, where tradition and innovation converge in perfect harmony.

La Rochefoucauld

Surrounded by picturesque countryside, the Chateau de La Rochefoucauld lies at the heart of the charming village of the same name within the captivating region of Charente. This breathtaking Renaissance castle has been a treasured family heirloom for over a thousand years, with the Rochefoucauld family holding sway as powerful nobles who answered only to the monarch himself. In recognition of their influence, they generously bestowed lands and fiefdoms upon those who showed them favor. A highlight of the chateau’s architecture is its majestic spiral staircase, comprising 108 steps, reportedly designed from the very drawings provided by the visionary Leonardo da Vinci. The castle’s library boasts an impressive collection of books and manuscripts, some dating back centuries, offering a glimpse into the past. The kitchens, meanwhile, provide a fascinating insight into the lives of those who toiled behind the scenes, with their assortment of antique pots and pans serving as a testament to bygone eras.


Nestled in the picturesque Dordogne region, near Bergerac, lies Montaigne Castle, also known as Saint-Michel- de-Montaigne commune. This historic château is deeply rooted in the Renaissance era, serving as the residence of Michel de Montaigne, a celebrated philosopher whose writings continue to influence generations. Montaigne’s remarkable essays delve into the human experience, societal dynamics, and the world at large, showcasing his profound insight and introspection. Visitors can pay homage to the philosopher by exploring ‘Montaigne’s Tower’, where many of these thought-provoking works were penned.


Steeped in history, Verteuil is a charming village that will captivate the imagination of anyone fascinated by the past. The striking Rapunzel-like conical towers of the 11th-century chateau are its crowning glory, visible from afar and beckoning visitors to explore further. Originally built as a defensive fortress for the La Rochefoucauld family, this majestic structure has witnessed numerous significant events throughout the centuries, including the tumultuous Hundred Years’ War.

Though the chateau itself is currently closed to the public, the village offers plenty of reasons to linger. Three excellent restaurants and one standout bar, La Senechalerie, boast stunning vistas of the chateau that will leave you feeling as though you could stretch out a hand and touch its ancient stones. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, making Verteuil an unmissable destination for anyone seeking a rich cultural experience.

Historical Cities in South West France

As you delve deeper into the annals of history, the region’s intrigue only intensifies. The marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England, which took place over 300 years ago, had far-reaching consequences, with their descendants going on to shape the course of European history. It’s a testament to the region’s resilience that anything remains at all, considering the tumultuous periods it has endured – from the Wars of Religion to the French Revolution – that left many areas in disarray.


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Carcassonne is a medieval fortified city that transcends mere words. Nestled in the Occitanie Languedoc region of southern France, this ‘Cité de Carcassonne’ is steeped in history and rich cultural heritage. The city’s fortifications are nothing short of breathtaking, comprising walls with 52 towers and two concentric enclosures that transport visitors to a bygone era.

While there is an entrance fee, the experience is well worth the climb up and down the numerous steep stairs. The result is a sensory immersion in this medieval marvel, complete with drawbridges, gates, and a stunning inner castle.

Amidst the city’s ancient walls, one can’t miss the iconic bust of Dame Carcas, said to have cleverly outwitted besieging armies during her lifetime. According to legend, when Carcassonne was under siege, Dame Carcas, a shrewd noblewoman, fed the last scraps of food to a pig before having it thrown over the walls to deceive the enemy into believing the city was still well-stocked.

Convinced of their mistake, the besieging army lifted the siege. The city was saved, and Dame Carcas allegedly rang the bells in triumph, giving rise to the name ‘Carcassonne’ that has endured for centuries.


Poitiers, situated in the Aquitaine region of south-west France, boasts a rich history spanning centuries. From Roman times, when it was known as ‘Limonum’, to its pivotal role in the Middle Ages, the city has played a significant part in shaping European history.The Battle of Tours, fought on Frankish soil in 732 AD, saw Charles Martel’s forces triumph over the Umayyad Caliphate’s army, halting the Muslim advance into Europe. This momentous event is often regarded as a turning point in European history, with far-reaching consequences that continue to resonate today.Eleanor of Aquitaine, born around 1122 in Poitiers, left an indelible mark on the medieval world. As Duchess of Aquitaine and Queen of France and England, she wielded significant power and influence. Her legacy has captivated historians and artists alike, inspiring numerous works dedicated to her remarkable story.Beyond its historical significance, Poitiers offers a modern attraction in Futuroscope – a theme park featuring cutting-edge multimedia and futuristic experiences. This unique destination provides an entertaining and enlightening experience for visitors of all ages.


Angouleme, the capital of Charente, is a captivating medieval town situated on a plateau overlooking the Charente River and surrounded by ancient defensive walls. Its strategic position, dating back to Roman times, made it an ideal fortress with a bird’s eye view of approaching forces.

The Hotel de Ville was built by Isabella of Angouleme, King John of England’s first wife (son of Eleanor of Aquitaine), alongside her second husband Hugh X of Lusignan. Visitors can embark on a 2-hour tour in either English or French, delving into the city’s rich history and the rulers who shaped it.

However, Angouleme is more than just a fortress town; it’s also renowned as the comic capital of Europe. Every year, cartoon enthusiasts from around the world converge on the city for the annual International Comics Festival in January. In September, the streets are closed for the Ramparts Race, or ‘La Course des Remparts’, a thrilling event combining sport, history, and tradition.

As part of the festivities, visitors can admire an array of vintage cars lining up along the medieval ramparts that encircle the historic city centre. It’s a memorable weekend experience not to be missed.


Toulouse, affectionately known as ‘La Ville Rose’ due to its distinctive pink terracotta architecture, is situated in southwest France’s Occitanie region, nestled between the River Garonne and the Canal du Midi. This ancient city boasts a rich history dating back to Roman times, serving as a vital hub for knowledge exchange during the Middle Ages. A plethora of legends and stories surround Toulouse’s storied past, including the enigmatic Basilica of Notre- Dame de la Daurade, where the revered Black Virgin statue is believed to possess healing properties. Pilgrims flock to pray for miracles and leave offerings in reverence.Beyond its historical significance, Toulouse is also home to Airbus, a leading aircraft manufacturer, and Cité de l’Espace, an immersive space exploration-themed park and museum. However, for me, the true essence of Toulouse lies in its gastronomic delights. The city’s culinary scene is a sensory experience, with dishes like cassoulet – a hearty stew comprising white beans, sausage, and duck or pork – offering a taste of local culture.


With roots tracing back to Roman times, Limoges has been shaped by various influences throughout its history. At the heart of this rich heritage lies Saint Martial, an early Christian evangelist and martyr who is said to have brought Christianity to the region. According to legend, his tomb in Limoges became a revered pilgrimage site, and the city’s stunning Cathedral of Saint-Étienne, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, stands as a testament to his legacy. Beyond its spiritual significance, Limoges is also renowned for its exquisite porcelain manufacturing tradition, which dates back to the 18th century. The Porcelain National Museum (Musée National Adrien Dubouché) offers a fascinating glimpse into this artisanal craft and the city’s role in shaping it.

Plan a Trip to South West France!

As you journey through South West France, prepare to be captivated by a tapestry of breathtaking scenery, rich history, and vibrant culture. From renowned wine estates and charming medieval villages to awe-inspiring natural landmarks, every moment in this enchanting region is an opportunity to revel in its beauty. So, don your passport, surrender to the local charm, and get ready to uncover the many wonders that await you.