Nature beckons for walkers and cyclists

Randonneuse admirant le cirque de Lescun, Béarn - Pays Basque

© CDT64 / P.Gaillard

A variety of landscapes unlike anywhere else, with outstanding natural attractions to visit.

In this section, we include the protected areas of Limousin and Poitou-Charentes, now that the Greater Region has united us.

An exceptional coastline, 720 km of coast
– the longest chain of dunes in Western Europe (230 km)
– the rocky Basque coast (20km)
– Europe’s largest estuary, the Gironde
– 4 pristine islands (Oléron, Ré, Aix and Madame)

in the background, a green ocean (1 million hectares)
The Landes de Gascogne Forest is the largest softwood forest in Europe, a natural barrier to the dunes.

L'Ile aux Oiseaux - Bassin d'Arcachon

© B.Ruiz

and then the natural parks: A national park, 4 regional parks, 2 marine parks.

  • 457 km2: The Pyrenees National Park
    The only French national park in the Pyrenean massif, it includes high-altitude areas which never fall below 1000 metres, rising to 3298 metres at the Pique Longue du Vignemale.
  • 1800 km2: The Périgord-Limousin Natural Park
    Between the Dordogne and Haute-Vienne, Périgord-Limousin enjoys the Regional Natural Park label for its wealth of flora and fauna, and its rich industrial heritage linked to the hydropower which the mills and forges produced until the late 19th century.
    The park offers 17 hiking suggestions on circuits from 2 to 33 km.
  • 3153 km2: The Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park
    Near Bordeaux, in Gironde and Landes, this Park has a rich yet fragile heritage. The 4 major landscapes identified in this territory are pine forest, lagoons, the Leyre valley, and the discovery of a typical traditional habitat – the “airial” – with the Marquèze Ecomuseum.
  • 1 973 km2 : le parc naturel régional du Marais poitevin
    Une des plus grandes zones humides d’Europe (107 594 ha). Le Marais poitevin s’étend sur 60 km d’ouest en est, de la Venise verte à la baie de l’Aiguillon, et aux confins des Pays de la Loire et de la partie Poitou-Charentes de notre Grande région. Ce vaste ensemble offre des richesses écologiques, biologiques, socio-culturelles et paysagères uniques…
  • 3 143 km2 : le parc naturel régional de Millevaches en Limousin
    Le PNR de Millevaches en Limousin est un territoire de moyenne altitude situé sur le flanc ouest du Massif central, entre les départements de la Corrèze, la Haute-Vienne et la Creuse. La diversité de sa faune et de sa flore se loge dans de vastes paysages de landes, de forêts, de tourbières et de villages de granite.
  • 6500 km2: The Gironde Estuary and Pertuis Sea Marine Nature Park
    It extends along about 800 km of Atlantic coastline, in the three departments of Vendée, Charente-Maritime and Gironde. It is to date the largest marine natural park in mainland Franc.
  • 420 km2: The Arcachon Bay Natural Park
    Arcachon Bay has its own extraordinary natural, landscape and cultural heritage, which you’re welcome to discover with a naturalist guide.
  • New: Regional natural park in Médoc to open in 2017.

Key figures

Chaussures de randonnée


France is one of the premier global destinations for touring.

Hiking, practised at any age, from 7 to 77 years or more, alone or in a group, displays a dynamism that remains constant. Very accessible, it requires little technical know-how. As Jean-Michel Humeau, director of the French Hiking Federation (FFRP), explains: “Walking in particular meets a real need to get back to nature, which may be linked to tourism and cultural discovery and, more profoundly, a search for oneself.”
The Federation estimates that one in four French people go hiking regularly, 60% of them women.

Balade à vélo à Biscarrosse


In less than 10 years, we find that France has become the No. 2 world cycling tourism destination.
The departments of the Atlantic coast represent 36% of bike trips in France, and we note that the highest participation rate occurs along the Aquitaine coast. This is usually done as a family. The “relaxation-discovery” aspect is increasingly popular among women rather than men. It should be added that the Atlantic coast is well equipped with pedestrian and cycling facilities, an extensive network of highly secure greenways providing easy access.

The longer the stay, the greater the cycling activity. It’s particularly strong in the outdoor accommodation sector, holiday villages and tourist residences.
(Source : Atout France – bicycle economy special – 2009)

750 000 cycle tourist breaks (*) are taken from May to September in Aquitaine, i.e. 9% of all tourist breaks in the territory during the summer season, with an average duration of 11 nights. (*) By cycle tourist stays, we mean a stay during which cycling has been practised for leisure, touring, utility or sports purposes. (Study conducted by CRT Aquitaine in 2005).
Looking forward to 2024, there are 2653 km of cyclo-tourist routes planned in Aquitaine – against 2000 km currently. A dream destination for nature lovers and cycling enthusiasts.

3 terms you should know

Véloroute au bord du Lot en fumelois

@ smav.lot.47 / CRTA

Whether it’s greenways, cycle routes or cyclo-tourism, one thing is certain: these routes are aimed at a wide and varied range of users, amateurs or near-professionals, friends, family or just on your own. But which to choose to walk or ride safely and enjoy signposted roads with little traffic?

  • Voies vertes (greenways) : These are lanes reserved for non-motorised traffic, for pedestrians, cyclists, rollerskaters and people with disabilities. They are located on the towpaths of canals and rivers, former railways, coastal paths, forest roads or in city parks. Greenways are especially suitable for family walks.
  • Véloroutes (cycle routes) : These are tourist cycling routes of medium to long distance, marked and safe, linking towns and regions together. A cycle route follows small roads with little traffic and, where possible, cycle paths and/or greenways. Unlike greenways, cycle routes are for experienced cyclists, as some sections among the traffic demand great care. The “Vélodyssée” is the longest cycle route opened in France (see below in the section on major routes).
  • Circuits cyclo-touristiques (cyclo-tourist circuits) : A cyclo-tourist circuit is a circuit that can be completed by bike by a majority of people. It follows low-traffic roads and has features of interest to tourists (heritage, gastronomy, traditions…). You can discover a region at a leisurely pace and get to know its people.

The top major trails and great hiking routes

La Vélodyssée, de Parentis en Born à Mimizan Plage (Landes)


  • The Vélodyssée (EuroVélo No. 1 or EV1) links England to Spain over 1400 km of trails along the Atlantic, to the Basque coast via a wild, invigorating path. This longest French cycle route is marked from beginning to end. In our region, there are more than 400 km of the route between Royan and Hendaye. Between Roscoff and Hendaye, 80% of the route is for exclusive use (that is, car-free).
  • The Scandibérique or EuroVélo No. 3 (EV3) for 2017? The Scandibérique will link Trondheim in Norway to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, with over 1600 km of cycling infrastructure planned. It will cross the departments of Landes and Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Its inauguration is scheduled for some sections in 2017.
  • GR® 6 : The “grande randonné” GR® 6 route connects Aquitaine to the French Alps through the southern Massif Central.
  • GR 10 : One of the most famous “grande randonnée” hiking trails that runs through the whole Pyrenees from west to east, from Hendaye to Banyuls-sur-Mer. It requires more than a month of walking.

Iconic and mythical trails

Chemin de Saint-Jacques, détail sac à dos

©CG64-JM Decompte

  • The Santiago de Compostela trails are full of unforgettable memories. Every year, thousands of “pilgrims” travel these Unesco World Heritage of Humanity trails. Various routes pass through the area and on to the Basque Country – to the village of Ostabat, to be precise:
    – The coastal path or “Chemin des Anglais” (English route)
    – The Tours Route
    – The Vezelay Route GR 654
    – The Puy Route GR65
    – The Piedmont Pyrenees Route. GR78

    Col d'Aubisque, Laruns

    Col d’Aubisque, Laruns

  • La Route des Cols : 911km
    Iconic route through the Pyrenees, the Route des Cols follows the mythical passes of the Tour de France. The Pyrenean Tourism Confederation wanted to create a mountain discovery route from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The route across, primarily for athletes but open to most people, is largely set in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques on the department’s mountain roads.
  • In the wheeltracks of Lawrence of Arabia: 400 km
    400km by bike to explore “through Lawrence of Arabia’s eyes”, then a student keen on medieval history, the heritage of Périgord and Limousin. The circuit starts in Castillon la Bataille, in a nod to the Hundred Years War, stops at Château de Montaigne (Lawrence admired Montaigne very much), continues to Hautefort for the troubadour Bertrand de Born, and finishes its route in the footsteps of Richard the Lion Heart…
  • “In the footsteps of the Men of Lascaux”: 90 km of hiking in the Vézère Valley
    As you walk along the Vézère Valley, the “cradle of prehistory”, you’ll come to understand how and why this territory has been inhabited for around 400 000 years. Possibility of varying your journey with some canoeing.

Country hikes, easy for all the family

Balade à vélo sur les bords du canal latéral à la Garonne près de Castets-en-Dorthe dans le Lot-et-Garonne


  • The Canal des 2 Mers by Bike (or the V80, opened in 2015) – one of the great cycle routes in Aquitaine.
    About 90 km
    on the new cycle route linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean across Lot-et-Garonne along the Garonne Canal, on a prepared track that’s greenway virtually all the way. Pedal along beneath the plane trees, passing the pleasure boats. It also crosses the second longest canal bridge in France (539 metres long with 23 arches) at the entrance to Agen, a town with a rich 2000-year heritage and history, and France’s prune capital.
  • The Lot Valley Véloroute
    It’s in slow tourist mode that you should cross the Lot Valley, along a signposted 160km route between Aiguillon and Cahors.
    In Lot-et-Garonne, there’s an 86 km section. It follows the course of one of the prettiest rivers in France, on roads with little height change and portions of greenway. Plum orchards and gourmet farms border the route, a mix of local farm houses and traditional villages.
  • New – From Périgord to Bordelais by the V90
    Natural communication route between Périgord and Bordeaux, the Isle and its banks were once used by barges, these flat-bottomed boats that transported goods by river, or by the pilgrims en route to Compostela. The Isle Valley now welcomes the V90, the national “greenway bicycle route”.
    The V90, the greenway of the Isle Valley, offers a 116 km from Saint-Antoine-de-l’Isle to Libourne in Gironde. This part will be finally completed at the end of 2016 and will connect to the route of the EuroVélo3 (EV3 or Scandibérique, see previous section), the European route known as the pilgrims trail, between Santiago de Compostela in Spain and Trondheim in Norway.
  • On the Transhumance Trails :
    Transhumance is a traditional practice that matches the seasons. In summer, from mid-June, herds go up to the mountain pastures and, around mid-September, before the arrival of the harsh mountain weather, they return to their plains. Traditional, moving celebrations accompany the passing of the seasons.

    Randonneurs sur le sentier du littoral, Pays Basque

    © CDT64-P.Gaillard

  • The Coastal Trail
    To enjoy the landscapes of the Basque coast, from Bidart to San Sebastian, on the Spanish side. Pyrenees in line of sight and ocean at your side, it can be done in 4 days but also offers numerous short walks.
  • Through the vineyards : the Roger Lapédie cycle route
    54 km from Bordeaux to Sauveterre-de-Guyenne. The trail passes through Entre-deux-Mers, known for its vineyards and abbeys.
    This Greenway is accessible from the centre of Bordeaux (Pont Saint Jean), along a continuous cycle track. It then heads along an old railway line between vineyards, towns and medieval villages (the fortified towns of Créon and Sauveterre…), chapels and abbeys (La Sauve Majeure, Blasimon…). Note: a “cyclo-musical” festival is organised around the Greenway every year in September.

    Réserve naturelle de l’Etang Noir, Seignosse

    © Seignosse tourisme

  • Out in the wilderness
    Our region is made up of many natural areas influenced by the Atlantic and harbouring a wide variety of environments: geological sites, dunes, moorland and dry grasslands, ponds, marshes, bogs, lagoons… Here are 10 natural sites that will delight budding naturalists or simply those who love nature, to form part of a discovery programme focused on biodiversity. With or without a guide; a half-day is required.
    >> Flora:
    The Nature Reserve of Courant d’Huchet (33)
    The Certes Estate in Audenge (33)
    The Black Lake (Etang Noir) and its biodiversity (40)
    Les Barthes de l’Adour (40)
    >> Migratory fish:
    The Shad Spawning Ground Natural Reserve (Réserve Naturelle de la frayère d’Aloses) (47)
    >> Fauna:
    The nature reserves of Bruges, Cousseau and Banc d’Arguin (33)
    The bird sanctuary at Teich (33)
    The Marais d’Orx Nature Reserve and Arjuzanx site (40)


  • Panda wwf Aquitaine breaks
    “Discover 10 places designed for a holiday in the countryside, in the villages of the regional and national natural parks, Natura 2000 areas, nature reserves, the Great Sites of France, UNESCO-acknowledged areas and some exceptional quality sites.”

    Séjour nature aux parenthèses imaginaires, hébergement en Dordogne

    © OTI Nontron

  • Fantasy breaks in Dordogne
    These include 3 lake cottages on stilts and 5 glamping huts hidden away in an unusual campsite in lush Périgord, in the Périgord-Limousin Regional Natural Park, close to Brantôme, Thiviers and Nontron.
  • Cap Cabane in Gironde
    An unusual getaway, head in the stars, in one of 13 huts up in the trees in the heart of the forest of the Landes de Gascogne Natural Park. Cap’Cabane is the first eco-labelled tree house site in France, with its design combining nature, relaxation and an eco-responsible approach (management of water and waste, renewable energy).
  • Domaine EcÔtelia in Landes
    The Domaine EcÔtelia welcomes you near the Landes de Gascogne Natural Park. It is a true open-air ecological hotel that includes 22 unusual accommodation options.
  • Cabane du Menoy in Landes
    These are three treetop huts on the edge of the Courant d’Huchet nature reserve and its 600-hectare lake.

Stays and tours : our service providers in Aquitaine

Traversée du pont-canal à vélo


Turnkey stays with accommodation, luggage transport, road book and possibly a guide or assistance, and then a selection of routes to create customised tours for your clients.

The Dordogne offers a selection of routes throughout the department, which have been travelled for the last 400 000 or so years 😉
  • Bay Tour
    From the Cap-Ferret peninsula via Arcachon, the Pyla Dune, Le Teich and the Leyre or Andernos delta, you’ll have time to enjoy at your leisure the 80 km of safe cycle paths.
  • Evazio
    Cycling breaks, from the vineyards of Bordeaux to the ocean.
    Bike tours, Bordeaux and its Grands Crus (wines).
  • Entre-deux-Mers Tourist Office
Lot-et-Garonne – Actour 47
  • Tourisme Béarn Pays basque
    Charming bicycle routes in Béarn and Basque Country in Orthez.
    Along the Aquitaine coast to Biarritz on foot or by bike.
  • Remarkable transhumance between Oloron and the Aspe Valley
  • Transhumance – Ossau Valley, Pyrenees
  • Basque mountains
  • In the wheeltracks of the Giants of the Tour
    From Pau, key point of access to the mythical ascents of the mighty loop of the Tour de France: Aubisque, Tourmalet, Hautacam, Soulor, La Pierre Saint Martin … it’s characterised by the wide variety of Pyrenean scenery: hills, forests, gorges, plateaux…

ItiAqui, the app to download

ItiAqui, l'application mobile dédiée à l'itinérance douce

This is the app for smartphone (available for IOs and Android) dedicated to leisurely touring around Aquitaine.

More than 800 circuits, technical items (quality map resources, downloadable pdf to find your way offline), tourist information (attractions, accommodation) and other useful services.

For cycle tourism, this page of our website presents a selection of local providers and other practical information.

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  1. catherine
    25 January 2017 at 12 h 19 min Reply

    Your article is very interesting, thanks for the information!
    In France, there is some beautiful mountains, with a lot of activities!winter sport, summer sport, extreme sport etc.
    I also wrote articles about Pyrenees (France – south west – mountains) , there is a category about unusual accommodation.
    If you want discover it, this is on my new web site:
    Best regards,

    • crtaweb33
      1 February 2017 at 17 h 54 min Reply

      Nice article, although the place is not in our area but next door;) Thanks in any case for your interest Catherine.

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