Aquitaine boating holidays - ideal for culture vultures

Monday, 2 April 2012 7:59 PM

If you want to book a break to a cultural hotspot renowned for its excellent cuisine and rich history, a boating holiday to Aquitaine in the south-west of France will fit the bill perfectly. Even if you have only a few nights to spend away from home, you'll delight in the enchanting scenery and medieval landmarks of this region.

A former kingdom, Aquitaine encompasses well-known areas like the Dordogne and the Pyrenees. Its long history travels as far back as prehistoric times and the region is also well-known for producing King Henry II's bride, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The area is largely medieval and full of picturesque villages and towns that are well worth calling in at during your getaway. At your base in the small village Le Mas d'Agenais you'll find a good range of amenities, so stock up on provisions before you set sail along the River Baise and the Canal lateral a la Garonne.

Once you're well established onboard, embark on your France boating holiday by heading through truly stunning surroundings that include vine-clad hillsides, cornfields and orchards. The first place you arrive at will be Damazan - a bastide town - so climb ashore and take a tour of the settlement. The attractive town has a bustling farmers market every Thursday, while if you visit during July or August you'll be able to visit the Tuesday night market, too, and witness some traditional singing and dancing as well as sample the local delicacies. The covered marketplace and its stairs date back to the 14th century, while other landmarks you'll see during a tour include the Dove Cot, old wash houses, Round Tower and English Fountain.

After taking in all that Damazan has to offer, journey on to the lovely village of Buzet, which is characterised by its vine-covered hills and excellent restaurants. Choose an establishment to dine at and you can taste truffles, foie gras and escargots, among other delicacies, all washed down with a glass of locally-produced wine. If you're a fan of the tipple, head to the wine cave for a free tasting session, or call in at Vignerons de Buzet to learn how the grape makes it to the glass and pick up a couple of bottles to enjoy back on your boat later.

The next port of call you'll stop at will be the 12th-century bastide town of Vianne, which is famous for its glassware. Moor up and take a look round to see the glass factory that dates back to 1928. You can take in a glassblowing demonstration and admire the local landmarks, which include a beautiful Romanesque church complete with 1 km of intact perimeter walls. If you fancy getting active meanwhile, book a canoe or kayak ride to Buzet and back.

Things to do in Europe abound in Aquitaine, and if you visit Vianne during June you'll have even more to keep you busy. The day of painting takes place on the second Sunday of the month, on which everyone has a go at putting brush to paper, while the last Sunday in June is the Day of Nations and sees locals and visitors partake in mouth-watering dishes from ten different countries.

When it's time to depart from Vianne, set sail for the town of Nerac, which is commonly regarded as the most beautiful in the whole region. Nerac is home to the attractive Chateau Henri IV, which - despite being badly damaged during the Revolution - is a truly picturesque sight. Only one wing remains of the castle, but if you pay a visit to the museum inside you can admire a model of the building in its former glory, along with displays of life in bygone times. Visit during July and you can witness the Melon Festival - the fruit is commonly gown here - while if you happen to visit during August, you'll be able to sample a great variety of local wines as part of the Buzet Wine Festival.

Other must-visits as part of your France canal boating trip is the local chocolate factory, where you can taste handcrafted sweet treats, and the impressive churches of St Nicholas and Notre Dame. If you have time, send some time strolling through the lovely Parc de la Garenne and round off your trip with a visit to the local speciality fish restaurant.


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