Stay warm this winter

Discover the historic city of Poitiers in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region

Discover the historic city of Poitiers in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region

As the nights draw in and the temperature drops, you won't be the only one pining for the warm days of summer and dreaming of distant lands, most likely in the southern hemisphere. But you needn't set your sights quite so far away, when you can jump in the car and drive south for the winter.

Aquitaine (or Nouvelle-Aquitaine)

Region: South-West France
Climate: expect averages of 12°C during the winter, and 27°C in the summer
Drive from Calais: around 8 hours to the heart of the region                   

What was once the region of Aquitaine is now known as Nouvelle-Aquitaine, since the administrative regions of France were reshuffled in January 2016, but as Shakespeare once said, what's in a name? The Aquitaine region has a long and colourful history, dating back thousands of years, making it a fascinating place to visit. And with its vibrant cities, dramatic Atlantic coastline, famous wine regions, and the breath-taking peaks of the Pyrenees, there's something for everyone in Nouvelle Aquitaine.

Poitiers

Drive from Calais: 6h 10m / 624km

Visit the futuristic theme park Futuroscope near the city of Poitiers
Visit the futuristic theme park Futuroscope near the city of Poitiers.

If you're driving down from Calais, one of the first cities you'll come across in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region is the beautiful and historic city of Poitiers. Known as ‘the city of 100 bell-towers' due to the abundance of Romanesque churches, the most famous of which is the Église Notre Dame la Grande. The oldest parts of the church date back to the 11th century, and the stunning west façade was carved with intricate biblical scenes between the years 1115 and 1130. The city is also home to one of France's oldest universities, and is still a student city to this day, bringing with it a vibrant energy.

Another big draw for tourists is Poitiers's proximity to Futuroscope, France's second-biggest theme park after Disneyland Paris. This futuristic theme park offers plenty of fun to keep the whole family entertained, and because they change a third of their attractions every year, there's always something new to discover. If you want to experience absolutely everything the park has to offer, give yourself a couple of days, but the highlights should keep you busy for five or six hours at least. Throughout the winter months, the park is closed during the week and for most of January, so check ahead before making the trip.

La Rochelle

Drive from Calais: 6h 45m / 692km

The 14th century towers of La Rochelle harbour
The 14th century towers of La Rochelle harbour.

If you were to dream up a perfect little seaside town, it probably wouldn't be too dissimilar from La Rochelle. In the harbour, you can see the masts of yachts dancing as the boats bob gently on the water, and people stroll along the waterfront at their leisure, pausing to admire the two towers. The shorter, round tower is the Tour de la Chaîne, and the taller of the two, is the Tour St-Nicholas. The latter is unusual in that it has leaned ever so slightly to one side since it was built in 1376, and also that it is set up a little like a house inside. It was used both defensively and as a royal residence, with some of the rooms open to the public, but the real draw here are the views of the city.

Before you head off into the heart of La Rochelle, don't miss a look around the Tour de la Lanterne. The third tower around the harbour is often mistaken for a church at first glance, but is actually a 15th-century lighthouse. It was also once used as a prison, and you can still see some of the graffiti carved into the walls and floors by the prisoners, including a backgammon board in Room 4. Elsewhere in town, you can easily lose a good couple of hours just wandering the winding streets, browsing shops and picking up souvenirs – the salt in this part of France is particularly good, if you're looking for a local gift.

Saint-Émilion

Drive from Calais: 8h 20m / 871km

Saint-Émilion has been producing wine since Roman times
Saint-Émilion has been producing wine since Roman times.

The only wine site to have been granted UNESCO classification, some of the vineyards in Saint-Émilion can be dated back to the 2nd century when the Romans first planted them. It wasn't until the 8th century, however, and the arrival of the town's namesake, the monk Émilion, that the local wine was commercialised. The wine produced here has always been popular, and almost two thousand years since the Romans first planted a vine, Saint-Émilion is still one of the principle red wine producers of the Bordeaux region, creating some of the finest wines in the world.

Many of the local vineyards are open to the public for tours and tastings, and it would almost be a crime to visit the area and not at least sample a glass – providing you're not driving! A great place to start is the Maison du Vin de Saint-Émilion, where you can learn about all the intricacies of the Saint-Émilion wines before continuing your tour through the region.

Pau

Drive from Calais: 10h 20m / 1,078km

Admire the dreamy architecture of the Château de Pau
Admire the dreamy architecture of the Château de Pau.

As the gateway to the Pyrenees mountain range, Pau may be a long drive from Calais, but it is certainly worth the trip. The view that a stroll along the Boulevard des Pyrénées affords is astounding. The majestic snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees pierce the horizon in the distance, contrasting starkly with the palm trees and 19th century mansions lining the street either side of you. The balmy climate that allows these palms to flourish is the same reason that Pau has been enduringly popular with tourists.

The first real boom in tourism in Pau started with wealthy Victorians, who came to spend their winters here, bringing with them the first 18-hole golf course in continental Europe, and a love of landscaped gardens, some of which you can still stroll around. The main attraction of the town, however, is its castle. Some of the Château de Pau dates back to medieval times, but the majority of the castle's creamy stone exterior was built in the 16th century when it was converted into a royal palace. Once a holiday destination of Napoleon, the castle is now a museum dedicated to the fascinating ancient history of the area.

If you're dreaming of warmer climates and feeling inspired to hop in the car and set off on a road trip adventure through France, book your tickets early to guarantee the best price.

Book travel

from £30
Prices start from £30 per car, each way* *£30 Day Trip & Overnight - Ticket must be purchased as part of a 2 day return. Return must be completed by midnight (local time) on the second calendar day. Book your travel now