An itinerary apart: France's Aquitaine region

By Jonathan Black
France Aquitaine Citroen 2CVSo many visitors to France have great times but come back with all-too-familiar memories: postcard monuments, guidebook hotels, restaurants crowded with tourists.

But travelers to Aquitaine, in the country's southwest corner, can experience a host of unique adventures within easy reach of the region's capital, Bordeaux. Here's a menu of things to do, from pampering at spas to river cruises, plus unusual places to stay.

• Unwind at the lovely hilltop "relaxation center" Hameau des Coquelicots, with a shiatsu massage from Pascale Baeza, who gave up a career as an agronomist to open this all-natural guesthouse. Food is from neighboring farms, there's an eco-pool, and a yoga room in a converted barn offers stunning views of the countryside. See www.lehameaudescoquelicots.com.

• Rent a riverboat for an hour, a day or overnight and cruise the Baise River. Families spend entire summers on rented houseboats or get so hooked they buy their own. Visit www.aquitaine-navigation.com.

• Stroll the medieval streets of Nerac, one of the great historical river ports in France and once home to King Henry IV. Stay at the Chateau Lassalle, an 18th century residence converted to spacious, beautifully appointed guestrooms. Take a cooking workshop while overlooking the lush grounds. Visit www.albret-tourisme.com.

• Experience the back lanes of the countryside behind the wheel of a Citroen 2CV. Groups can talk on two-way radios installed in these wildly colored vehicles or take audio tours. For more information, visit www.tourisme-aquitaine.fr/en.

• Indulge yourself at les Sources de Caudalie, a luxury hotel and restaurant in the middle of rolling vineyards. Try the spa's vinotherapy specialties, like a cabernet sauvig-non scrub. See www.sources-caudalie.com.

• Head into the forest for dinner at apalombiere, one of the region's hunting cabins, hosted by a hunter who gives a tour of the traps and cavernous blinds used to catch game. Stay at Moulin de Larroque, a former mill converted to lovely bedrooms, with a sauna, hamman and heated pool. See www.moulin-larroque.com.

• Stay at a winery, such as the Relais du Chateau d'Arche, which produces some of the region's famous Sauternes wines. In the village of Sauternes, sample dozens of vintages at the Sauternes Market House. Visit www.chateaudarche-sauternes.com.

• Visit the Chateau Roquetaillade, one of the few chateaus in private hands. Sebastian and his family have owned the place for 700 years, and his droll descriptions of the rooms and antiques are as priceless as the furnishings. See www.roquetaillade.eu.

• Allow time for a night of two in Bordeaux, a city with the same 18th century architecture as Paris. Visit museums, riverfront boutiques and an important cathedral. Pamper yourself with a treatment at the Regent hotel's 2,000-square-foot spa and enjoy dinner in an outdoor bistro. See www.theregentbordeaux.com.
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