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Looking for the best places to go when visiting southwestern France? I’ve got you covered. From the Cognac houses and Bordeaux wineries to the beaches and coastal towns on the Atlantic coast, you’ll find plenty to do on your France trip. It’s like stepping into the pages of a history book as many of the towns and villages remain as they were hundreds of years ago. Very little changes in these places, and the chateaux and churches tell stories all of their own. Get ready to start our countdown of the 17 best places to visit in South West France.

Verteuil-sur-Charente is a village situated on the banks of the river Charente, in the quiet French countryside with a beautiful castel and water mills
Photo credit: MilaCroft/Shutterstock.

The Best South West France Itinerary

Whether you’re a wine connoisseur, history lover, sun-worshipper or fan of religious buildings, you’re spoilt for choice in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region of South West France.

Saint-Emilion-Vineyard landscape-Vineyard south west of France.
Photo credit: FreeProd33/Shutterstock.

You can experience UNESCO World Heritage sites, world-famous wine regions, unspoilt beaches that go on for miles, and fairytale chateaux standing tall on the landscape.

Are you ready to discover the best places to visit in the Nouvelle Aquitaine and some hidden gems?

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South West France

The Nouvelle-Aquitaine region is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites that highlight the area’s rich cultural, historical, and architectural heritage. The Lascaux caves in the Vézère Valley, with their collection of Paleolithic art, are among the most famous examples.

Rear view of woman looking at green vineyard in Bordeaux region, Saint Emilion- France,
Photo credit: margouillat photo/Shutterstock.

The local tourist office will have a list of the ‘must visit’ UNESCO sites in South West France.


Bordeaux is renowned as one of the world’s most famous wine regions and is the largest city in south west France. The vineyards and wineries here produce some of the finest wines globally, in particular the red wine.

Place de la Bourse in  Bordeaux, France.
Photo credit: Alexander Demyanenko/Shutterstock.

Wine enthusiasts can explore the vineyards, learn about the winemaking process, and of course, indulge in wine tasting experiences. You can even stay in some of the wine chateaux in the Bordeaux region.

The architecture in Bordeaux city centre reflects its history, and the current mayor has spent a lot of money cleaning up the buildings, earning it the name of the ‘new Paris’ in southwest France. 

The harbour is known as the ‘Port of the Moon’ because of how the Garonne River runs through the city.

Tourism in Bordeaux, France. Traveler girl walking in Bordeaux discovering Porte Cailhau a medieval gatehouse of the old city walls.
Photo credit: Zigres/Shutterstock.

The historic centre of Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with the key sites being the Place de la Bourse, the Grosse Cloche (Big Bell), and the old city gates. The Mirroir d’Eau is a must-see. It’s an expansive shallow pool, which reflects the surrounding architecture, including the Place de la Bourse and the historic buildings. 

It’s the perfect place to be on a hot summer day, splashing around in the water spray and mist.


Saint-Émilion is a captivating blend of wine, history, and natural beauty. As you drive towards this charming village, you don’t know where to look as there is so much to see. 

Vineyards of Saint Emilion, Bordeaux Wineyards in France in a sunny day.
Photo credit: artem evdokimov/Shutterstock.

The village is steeped in history with its cobblestone streets, limestone buildings, and Monolithic Church, a stunning underground church carved into the limestone rock.

The surrounding vine-covered hills and the Dordogne River Valley offer breathtaking views. You can hike up to the bell tower of the Monolithic Church or explore the winding streets to get the best pictures.

Old monolithic church in the Saint Emilion village near Bordeaux, France.
Photo credit: Stephane Bidouze/Shutterstock.

The UNESCO-listed part of Saint-Émilion includes the “Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion,” which encompasses not only the village itself but also its historic vineyards.

The roots of winemaking in this region date back to ancient times. The Romans were the pioneers who initially cultivated the first vines. 

Beach and Coastal Hot Spots South West France

The long Atlantic Ocean coastline and beautiful beaches in south west France mean the coastal towns are cultural attractions. The salt marshes here have a unique ecosystem supporting various bird species and other wildlife. 

The Marennes-Oléron basin is renowned for its oysters, and the entire Charente-Maritime region has an abundance of seafood, including its famous moules marinières (mussels in white wine and herbs).

La Rochelle

La Rochelle was a significant port city during medieval times and played a crucial role in maritime trade and exploration. The town also played a role in religious history. It was a stronghold for the Knights Templar in the 12th century, along with the Protestant Huguenots during the 16th and 17th centuries.

La Rochelle, France old harbour with medieval castle towers on Atlantic coast of Charente-Maritime.
Photo credit: SGR Wildlife Photography/Shutterstock.

The town’s architecture is a blend of various styles, including medieval, Renaissance, and classical. The historic Old Port (Vieux Port) is lined with beautifully preserved buildings, all with lovely colourful facades that really catch the eye. 

The iconic medieval towers, such as the Tour de la Lanterne and the Tour de la Chaîne, stand as reminders of the town’s maritime past and offer fantastic views of the surrounding area.

Just off the coast of La Rochelle is Île de Ré, a beautiful island known for its sandy beaches, quaint villages, and bicycle-friendly atmosphere. A bridge connects the island to the mainland, making it a great day trip from La Rochelle.


Situated in the department of Gironde, in the Médoc peninsula, Soulac-sur-Mer is a popular seaside resort along the famous Route des Châteaux, with a lovely peaceful atmosphere.

Soulac beach, west of France.
Photo credit: LF05/Shutterstock.

Whilst not as big as La Rochelle, it has miles of gorgeous sandy beaches. One of my favourites is the beach of L’Amelie, which is a little quieter. Be careful though, as part of it is a nudist beach, which I found out by mistake.

One of the most unique aspects of Soulac-sur-Mer is its architecture. The town is famous for its well-preserved Belle Époque villas and colourful seaside cottages, which give it a distinct character. They are what Instagram was made for and you can’t help but snap away.

It also has a rich history, dating back to Roman times. This medieval town became an important pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages when it was home to a church dedicated to Saint Martin.


Biarritz is part of the larger French Basque Country, a region that straddles the border of France and Spain. It’s in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department of France and is just a stone’s throw away from the Spanish border. 

Biarritz,  basque country in France,  beautiful beach and old bridge to the island.
Photo credit: margouillat photo/Shutterstock.

Sitting on the Bay of Biscay, along the Atlantic Ocean, it’s famous for its stunning beaches, including the Grande Plage, which is perfect for swimming and sunbathing, and Côte des Basques, renowned as one of Europe’s top surfing spots. 

Biarritz, France. Panoramic view of the famous stone bridge to the Rocher du Basta, cityscape and coastline with sand beaches and port for small boats.
Photo credit: Telly/Shutterstock.

Biarritz has a fascinating history as a former fishing village turned royal retreat. It became popular in the 19th century when Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, built a palace here. Just like Soulac- sur mer, you’ll find the Belle Époque influence reflecting its historical prominence.


Just 25 miles (40km) from Bordeaux, it’s easy to incorporate a day trip to Arachon if you’re in the region. There is a great train service connecting the two, plus plenty of great tours for a more personalized experience. 

Sand dune, blue sky, in summer by the sea. Dune du Pilat Arcachon, France.
Photo credit: Mbgraphy/Shutterstock.

Arcachon is known for its stunning natural surroundings. The town is set against the backdrop of Arcachon Bay, which is famous for its oyster beds, beautiful beaches, and crystal-clear waters.

You can visit some of the oyster farms and taste the freshest oysters in France at the many seafood restaurants. 

For breathtaking panoramic views of the bay and the surrounding pine forests, climb to the top of Dune du Pilat, a massive sand dune just a short drive from Arcachon.

Wine Regions in South West France

Wine has a long history in Southwest France, dating back to ancient times. Many of the regions in this area offer wine tasting and have maintained their distinctive winemaking traditions and grape varieties, adding to the cultural richness of the local wine industry.

Wine production in this region is characterized by its diversity, history, and unique regional expressions. For wine lovers taking a guided tour is a must.


If you love history, you absolutely have to visit Bergerac, which is along the banks of the Dordogne River, surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards, in the Dordogne Valley. 

The French city of Bergerac lies on the banks of the Dordogne River in the Aquitaine region. It is a city of history, wine and tourism. France Bergerac.
Photo credit: Yuri Dondish/Shutterstock.

As well as being part of the larger wine region of the Dordogne, Bergerac has a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages. 

The town’s historic centre is full of medieval architecture, including half-timbered houses, narrow winding streets, and lovely little squares. Its history is intertwined with the Hundred Years’ War and the period of English control in the region. 

Known predominantly for its vineyards and wines, in particular the Bergerac AOC wines, exploring the local wineries, tasting their wines, and learning about the winemaking process teaches so much about the area.


Cognac is one of the most famous towns in the Charente region, probably best known for its brandy. It’s home to some of the most famous Cognac houses, including Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, and Martell.

Quay of the Charente river. From left to right: Valois Castle (X - XV centuries) now Otard cognac house, gates and towers of St. James (1499), the cognac house Hennessy.
Photo credit: Valery Rokhin/Shutterstock.

These distilleries offer guided tours where you can learn about the art of Cognac making, explore their cellars, and participate in tastings.

The Hennessey tour is fantastic, as you learn so much about how Cognac is made. The production is highly regulated and follows strict guidelines, contributing to its reputation for quality.

But the town with its cobbled streets, has so much history dating back to the Roman times. Its name is derived from the Latin word “comniacum,” referring to the confluence of two rivers.

The old town gives you an insight into a bygone era, and if you close your eyes, you could be back in Medieval times.


Located in the Lot department in the Occitanie region of southwestern France, Cahors is renowned for its picturesque setting along the Lot River and is often referred to as the “Town of Art and History” due to its rich historical and cultural heritage. 

Valentre towers and bridge in Cahor on Lot river.
Photo credit: Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock.

But it’s also the home of Malbec wine. The vineyards here produce robust and sometimes heavy red wines, often referred to as “black wines” due to their deep colour, similar to Shiraz.

The Pont Valentré is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Cahors. This medieval old bridge is adorned with three defensive towers and is shrouded in legends and stories.

Happy woman traveling in France- Saint cirq lapopie village, Lot,Occitanie- One the Most of beautiful village in France.
Photo credit: margouillat photo/Shutterstock.

Apparently, the construction of the bridge was so challenging that the builders made a pact with the devil to complete it. However, the builders managed to outsmart the devil, and you can find a sculpture of the devil on the bridge, illustrating the legend.

Picture Postcard Chateaux in South West France

It feels like there is a chateau on every corner in this part of the country, each with its own story to tell. And the villages that play home to them contribute to the rich historical and architectural heritage of the area. 

La Rochefoucauld

The Chateau de La Rochefoucauld is in a picturesque village of the same name in the beautiful region of the Charente.

Castle of La Rochefoucauld in Charente - Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France.
Photo credit: Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock.

It’s a stunning Renaissance castle that has been in the possession of the Rochefoucauld family for over a thousand years. 

The family was so important that they answered only to the King himself and often donated land and fiefdoms to those who did them a good turn.

La Rochefoucauld / castle in France.
Photo credit: Gunnar Luesch/Shutterstock.

The spiral staircase with its 108 stairs is said to have been designed from drawings provided by Leonardo da Vinci. The library has an extensive collection of books and manuscripts, some dating back centuries. 

The kitchens are a must-see with their collection of old pots and pans, which give you a glimpse into the life of those below stairs in times gone by.


Known as Montaigne Castle, it’s a historic château located in the Dordogne region in the commune of Saint-Michel-de-Montaigne, near Bergerac.

The château is best known for being the residence of Michel de Montaigne, one of the most influential philosophers of the Renaissance period who lived there in the 16th century. 

Montaigne is famous for his essays, a collection of introspective and philosophical writings that explore various aspects of human nature, society, and the world. 

You can visit “Montaigne’s Tower,” a small stone tower where he wrote many of them.


Verteuil is one of those beautiful villages that history lovers will appreciate. With Rapunzeleque conical towers it is simply stunning. It’s the first thing you see as you approach the village and is another chateau originally owned by the La Rochefoucauld family.

Verteuil-sur-Charente is a village situated on the banks of the river Charente, in the quiet French countryside.
Photo credit: MilaCroft/Shutterstock.

It was originally built in the 11th century and has undergone several renovations and additions over the centuries. The castle was initially constructed as a defensive fortress and played a role in various historical events, including the Hundred Years’ War.

Unfortunately, the chateau is no longer open to the public, but visiting the village should be top of your list.

There are three really good restaurants and one of the bars, La Senechalerie, has breathtaking views of the chateau. You almost feel like you could reach out and touch it.

Historical Cities in South West France

The deeper you dig into history, the more interesting this region becomes. The greater Aquitaine area lay under English rule for over 300 years, thanks to the marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England, and then their subsequent descendants.

Not to mention the Wars of Religion and the French Revolution, it’s a wonder any of old France is still intact.


Words alone don’t do Carcassonne justice. A medieval fortified city located in the Occitanie Languedoc region in the south of France, it’s often referred to as the “Cité de Carcassonne.”

View point of Cite de Carcassonne.
Photo credit: b-hide the scene/Shutterstock.

Steeped in history and going back to Roman times, this beautiful medieval city boasts well-preserved fortifications, including walls with 52 towers and two concentric enclosures. 

There is a small entrance fee, and I lost count of the number of steep stairs I climbed up and down, but it was definitely worth it.

Complete with drawbridges, gates, and a beautiful inner castle, it’s the perfect backdrop for the legend of Dame Carcas, whose bust can be seen sitting proudly above the main gates. 

View of fortress Carcassonne (France, Languedoc), river Aude and Old bridge.
Photo credit: ventdusud/Shutterstock.

According to the legend, when the city was under siege, Dame Carcas, a cunning noblewoman, fed the last remaining scraps of food to a pig. She then had the pig thrown over the walls to give the impression that the city was well-stocked with provisions. 

The besieging army, believing the city was still well-supplied, lifted the siege. 

Hence, the city was saved, and Dame Carcas supposedly rang the bells in celebration, giving rise to the name “Carcassonne.”


As the capital of the Vienne department in the Aquitaine region of south west France, Poitiers has a history dating back to Roman times when it was known as “Limonum.”

Place Charles de Gaulle with historical buildings in Poitiers, France.
Photo credit: Walencienne/Shutterstock.

The city played a significant role in the Middle Ages when it was the site of the Battle of Tours (732 AD), where Charles Martel’s Frankish forces defeated the Umayyad Caliphate’s army, halting the Muslim advance into Europe. This battle is often seen as a pivotal moment in European history.

More importantly, though, it’s where Eleanor of Aquitaine is said to have been born around 1122.

Eleanor inherited the Duchy of Aquitaine when her father, William X, died in 1137. This made her one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Europe.

She’s famous for being the Queen of not one but two countries, France then England.

Her legacy continues to be a subject of historical fascination, with numerous books, films, and works of art dedicated to her remarkable story. Her influence on the medieval world, her role as queen, mother, and patron of the arts, as well as her dynamic and complex personality, make her an inspiration still today.

For something less historic, a day at Futuroscope, a park featuring multimedia and futuristic attractions, is worth a visit.


The capital city of the Charente, Angouleme, is a fascinating medieval town sitting on a plateau overlooking the Charente River and surrounded by old ramparts (defensive walls).

Cityscape of Angouleme, the Charente department of France.
Photo credit: Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock.

Again, dating back to Roman times, its strategic position made a perfect fortress with a birdseye view of all who approached.

Isabella of Angouleme, the first wife of King John of England (son of Eleanor of Aquitaine), built the Hotel de Ville with her second husband, Hugh X of Lusignan. You can do a full 2-hour tour in either English or French, where you learn about the history of the city and those who ruled it. 

But Angouleme is more than just a fortress city, it’s also home to the comic and widely regarded as the comic capital of Europe. In January every year, cartoon lovers from around the world gather in the city for the annual International Comics Festival.

And in September, the streets of Angouleme are closed for the annual Ramparts Race, known as “La Course des Remparts”. Combining sport, history and tradition, the race course follows the medieval ramparts that encircle the historic city centre. 

You’ll see some fabulous old cars in the lineup, and it’s a weekend to remember.


Often referred to as “La Ville Rose” (The Pink City) due to the pink terracotta bricks used in many of its buildings. Toulouse is in the Occitanie region of southwest France along the River Garonne and part of the Canal du Midi.

Toulouse cityscape in France.
Photo credit: PhiloPhotos/Shutterstock.

Another city with a long and fascinating history dating back to Roman times, it was a hub for exchanging knowledge during the Middle Ages. 

As with so many of the historic cities in France, Toulouse has plenty of legends and stories. One legend centres around the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Daurade. It’s believed that the Black Virgin statue in the basilica has healing powers, and visitors come to pray for miracles and leave offerings.

But history isn’t the only thing Toulouse is famous for. It’s also home to Airbus, one of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers, and the Cité de l’Espace (City of Space), a space exploration-themed amusement park and museum.

For me, though, Toulouse is a gastronomic adventure with some of the best local dishes. Try a typical dish like the cassoulet, a hearty stew made with white beans, sausage, and duck or pork.


Founded by the Romans, its history includes periods of Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance influence. The city is associated with Saint Martial, an early Christian evangelist and martyr. 

Vienne river, Limoges, France.
Photo credit: Eugen3B/Shutterstock.

According to legend, Saint Martial is said to have brought Christianity to the region, and his tomb in Limoges became a place of pilgrimage. 

The city’s Cathedral of Saint-Etienne in the historic center is dedicated to him and is an example of Gothic architecture.

Limoges has also been a centre for porcelain manufacturing since the 18th century, and its fine porcelain is renowned worldwide. You can visit the Porcelain National Museum (Musée National Adrien Dubouché) to learn about the history and craftsmanship of Limoges porcelain.

Plan a Trip to South West France!

South West France is a wonderful area that should not be missed. From the famous wine regions and medieval villages to the natural landmarks, there is so much to see. So, pack your bags, immerse yourself in the local culture, and get ready to discover the beauty of this amazing region.

Saint Emilion, Vineyard Sunrise, Bordeaux Wine, France.
Photo credit: FreeProd33/Shutterstock.

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Kylie Lang

Kylie Lang is a copywriter and blogger at Life in Rural France, a blog about living in and travelling around south west France. She moved to the sunflower filled region of the Charente in 2016 and now spends her time helping others to discover the ‘real France‘ with its all culture, history, good food and wonderful wine.

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