A unique vacation experience awaits you in our ‘Hidden Corner’
- the beautiful South-West between Toulouse and Bordeaux
Once a kingdom, then a duchy, and formerly much larger in area, the present-day region of Aquitaine extends from Perigueux (Dordogne) in the north, to Bordeaux in the west, to Pau and the Pyrenees mountains in the south and to Valence-en-Agen (towards Toulouse) in the east. Taken as a whole, this is France’s most significant wine-growing, agricultural and forestry area. Bordeaux is important as an Atlantic sea-port and for its wine and Toulouse is France’s fourth largest city, renowned for its aerospace and aeronautics, its science and its university (one of the oldest in Europe, founded in 1229).
There are more than 1,000 castles and manor houses in our region, as well as beautiful old villages and historic towns.
South-West France includes the historical area of Gascony, famed as the land of the real-life Comte d’Artagnan, who inspired Alexandre Dumas’s character in The Three Musketeers. Aquitaine is also home to the hero of the play Cyrano de Bergerac and to the famous Henry III of Navarre who later became king of France as Henry IV. Gascony is famed for its douceur de vivre (“sweetness of life”): its food (it is home to foie gras and Armagnac brandy), its medieval new towns and villages called Bastides nested amidst green rolling hills, its sunny weather and the beauty of its landscape, with the occasional distant views of the Pyrenees. The area is also known for fruit-growing and market-gardening, for maize (corn), sunflowers and for tobacco-growing (although this has recently declined significantly, for obvious reasons . . . ).
And of course, our hidden corner is also about Wine. South-West France has been growing grapes, producing fabled wines, since Roman times and well before the adjoining Bordeaux region (to the north-west) became dominant in the late nineteenth century. Aboard Saint Louis you can savour their quality.
History and Culture of South-West France
In its cave-paintings the South-West bears witness to human habitation and culture dating back 20-30,000 years to the prehistoric era. Slightly more recently, Aquitaine was English for three hundred years, from 1154 (when Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Henry II) until 1453 (at the end of the Hundred Years War). During this time the wine trade between Aquitaine and England was naturally very significant. South-West France was a Protestant stronghold within Catholic France up until the seventeenth century. The region is also part of Occitania – geographically equivalent to southern France – where people once spoke a different language (Occitan, somewhat akin to a blend of French and Spanish, hence ‘langue d’Oc’) and which flourished gloriously up until the seventeenth century, known far and wide for its troubadours and for the chivalrous idea of courtly love.
If ‘courtly love’ has perhaps declined in popularity, nowadays popular regional pastimes include good food and good wine, fishing and sport, especially football (le foot) and – of course – rugby football (le rugby).
With all its attractions – gastronomic, cultural, historical and scenic – it is surprising that Saint Louis is the only luxury hotel barge cruising South-West France, travelling along the peaceful and pretty Canal de Garonne.
This is why we call the South-West our ‘hidden corner’ of France!