At the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume, 1km outside Les Eyzies-de-Tayac on D47, amazing 15,000-year-old paintings are still open for viewing. (a 05 53 06 86 00; www.leseyzies.comgrottes-ornees. Open mid-May to mid-Sept. Su-F 9am-5:30pm; mid-Sept. to mid-May reduced hours. Reserve in advance. 6.10, ages 18-25 4.10. Under-18 free. Tours available in English.) Get more info at the Point Accueil Prehistoire, across from the post office, on the main street through town, (a06 86 66 54 43. Open daily 9:15am-l:30pm and 3-7pm.) The tourist office is located at pi. de la Mairie, before the Point Accueil. (a 05 53 06 97 05; www.leseyzies.com. Open July-Aug. M-Sa 9am-8pm, Su lOam-noon and 2-6pm; Sept.-June reduced hours.) From Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, trains go to Perigueux (30min. 5 per day, 8.10) and Sarlat (lhr. 3 per day, 9.20) via Le Buisson.
THE DORDOGNE VALLEY. Steep, craggy cliffs and poplar tree thickets overlook the slow-moving turquoise waters of the Dordogne River, 15km south of Sarlat. The town of Castelnaud-La-Chapelle, 10km southwest of Sarlat, snoozes in the shadow of its pale yellow chateau, fa 05 53 31 30 00. Open July-Aug. daily 9am-8pm; May-June and Sept. 10am-6pm; mid-Nov. to Feb. Su-F 2-5pm. 6.40.) The town of Domme was built by King Philippe m in 1280 on a high dome of solid rock. Over 70 Templar Knights were imprisoned by King Philip IV in the Porte des Tours. The graffiti they scrawled upon the walls with their bare hands and teeth still remains. Consult the tourist office, pi. de la Halle, for tours and more info on exploring the region. (a05 53 31 71 00. Open July-Aug. daily 10am-7pm; Sept. June lOam-noon and 2-6pm.) To get to and around the valley, you’ll need to rent a car or be prepared for a good bike workout. Many outfits along the Dordogne rent canoes and kayaks. At the Pont de Vitrac, near Domme, you can find them at Canoes-Loisirs (a05 53 28 23 43) and Perigord Aventure et Loisirs (a05 53 28 23 82).
Enveloped by emerald vineyards, Bordeaux (pop. 280,000) toasts the ruby wine that made it famous. Not just a mecca for wine connoisseurs, this spirited, diverse university town also has vibrant nightlife, a stunning opera house, and some of France’s best food. Construction of a new transit system currently disrupts the center of the city but is expected to be complete by 2004.
TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Trains leave Gare St-Jean, r. Charles Domercq (a05 56 33 11 06), for: Nice (9-10hr. 5 per day, 70); Paris (3’2hr. 15-25 TGV per day, 58); and Toulouse (2-3hr. 11 per day, 27). From the train station, take bus #7 or 8 (dir.: Grand Theatre) to pi. Gambetta and walk toward the Monument des Girondins to reach the tourist office, 12 cours du 30 juillet, which arranges winery tours, (a 05 56 00 66 00; www.bordeaux-tourisme.com. Open July-Aug. M-Sa 9am-7:30pm, Su 9:30am-6:30pm; Oct.-June reduced hours.) Postal Code: 33065.
Si HStel Studio, 26 r. Huguerie (a05 56 48 00 14; www.hotel-bordeaux.com), is a backpacker favorite for good reason. The tiny, clean rooms have phones, toilets, showers, and cable TV. Internet access 2.25 per hr. Breakfast 4. Small singles 16, larger singles 24; doubles 2027; triples 31; quads and quints 38. MCV.
PERIGORD AND AQUITAINE
HStel de la Boetie, 4 r. de la Boetie (05 56 81 76 68; fax 05 56 81 24 72). Checkin is at Hotel Bristol around the corner, 4 r. Bouffard. Run by the same family as Hotel Studio, La Boetie offers similar amenities. Breakfast 4. Singles 20-25; doubles 28; triples 31; quads and quints 38. AmExMCV.
Hotel Boulan, 28 r. Boulan (05 56 52 23 62; fax 05 56 44 91 65). Take bus #7 or 8 from the train station to cours d’Albret. Right around the corner from the Musee des Beaux Arts. Several of the 16 simple white rooms have hardwood floors, balconies overlooking the quiet street below, and cable TV. Breakfast 3.50. Singles 19-28; doubles 26-31. Extra bed 5. MCV.
Auberge de Jeunesse (HI), 22 cours Barbey (05 56 33 00 70; fax 05 56 33 00 71). Near the station. The hostel is in a seedy neighborhood which can make the 30min. walk from the city center a harrowing experience at night. Large modern rooms are decorated with shiny metal furniture and patches of bright colors. Breakfast included. Handicapped-accessible. Curfew 2am. 2- to 6-person dorm rooms with showers 17. Non-members add 1.60. MCV. O
Bordelais take their food as seriously as their wine. Hunt around rue St-Remi and place St-Pierre for splendid regional specialties, including oysters, beef braised in wine sauce, and the cake canele de Bordeaux. La Casuccia , 49 r. Saint Remi, is perfect for an intimate dinner or a casual outing. (05 56 51 17 70. Open Su 7-11:30pm, Tu-Sa noon-3pm and 7-ll:30pm. MCV.) Le Valentino , 6 r. des Lauriers, is a reasonably priced oasis in the expensive quarter of Bordeaux with delicious cuisine and beautiful presentation. (05 56 48 11 56. Main course 8-15. Open daily 7-1 lpm. AmExMCV.) Stock up at Auchan supermarket, at the Centre Meria-deck on r. Claude Bonnier. (05 56 99 59 00. Open M-Sa 8:30am-10pm.)
Near the tourist office, on pi. de Quinconces, the elaborate fountains of the Monument aux Girondins commemorate the revolutionary leaders from towns bordering the Gironde. Retrace your steps to the breathtaking Grand Theatre, on pi. de la Comedie, to see a performance or take a tour. Possibly the most strictly classical opera house in the world, it is certainly one of the most impressive. ( 05 56 00 66 00. Tours 5, students 4.) Follow r. Ste-Catherine from the pi. de la Comedie, facing the theater, to reach the Gothic Cathedrale St-Andre, in pi. Pey-Berland, which hosted the weddings of Louis VII and Louis XIII. (Open Apr.-Oct. daily 8-1 lam and 2-5:30pm; Nov.-Mar. W and Sa 2:30-5:30pm. 4, under-25 and seniors 2.50.) Its bell tower, the Tour Pey-Berland, juts 50m into the sky. Climb the 229 spiraling steps for a beautiful view of the city, fs 05 56 81 25 26. Open June-Sept. daily 10am-6:30pm; Oct.-May Su and Tu-Sa lOam-noon and 2-5pm. 4, under-25 and seniors 2.50.) The best cityscape of Bordeaux can be seen from the 114m tower of the Eglise St-Michel. (Church open M-Sa 9am-6pm, Su 9am-12:30pm. Free. Tower open June-Sept. daily 2-7pm. 2.50.) Walking toward the river along cours d’Alsace, turn left onto quai Richelieu for the place de la Bourse, whose pillars and fountains reflect Bordeaux’s grandeur. The impressive Musee des Beaux Arts, 20 cours d’Albret, near the cathedral, began as a place to display Napoleon’s spoils of war and now contains great works by artists such as Picasso, Seurat, Matisse, and Titian. The permanent collection is held in the two buildings that frame the Hotel de Ville; the temporary exhibits are across the street in the Galeries des Beaux Arts. (Open M and W-Su llam-6pm. Permanent collection 4, joint pass for permanent and temporary collections 5.50. Students free.)
A haven for the young, Bordeaux boasts a seemingly endless list of lively bars and nightclubs, including a gay scene rivaled only by that of Paris. For an overview of Bordeaux nightlife, pick up a copy of Clubs and Concerts at the tourist office. Place de la Vlctoire and place Gambetta are year-round hot spots, mobbed by students during the school year and remaining popular through the summer. St-Michel has a more mellow atmosphere, with locals gathering at the cafe tables around 6pm and often staying until midnight. El Bodegon, on pi. de la Victoire, has theme nights and free giveaways on weekends. (Beer 2.50. Open M-Sa 7am-2am, Su 2pm-2am.) Chica Cafe, 3 r. Duffour Dubergier, in the shadow of the cathedral, has an older crowd during the day but heats up with students at night. The dance floor in the basement stages occasional concerts and dance lessons. ( 05 56 51 70 66. Beer 2. Happy Hour 6-8pm. Open M-Sa llam-2am.)
DAYTRIP FROM BORDEAUX: ST-EMILION. Just 35km northeast of Bordeaux, St-Emilion (pop. 2,850) is home to viticulturists who have been refining their technique since Roman times. Today, they gently crush hectares of grapes to produce 23 million liters of wine annually. Vineyards aside, the medi-eval-style village itself is a pleasure to visit, with its winding narrow streets and cafe-lined square. The Eglise Monolithe is the largest subterranean church in Europe. The tourist office, at pi. des Creneaux, near the church tower, rents bikes (14 per day) and offers guided tours (9) of the local chateaux. (05 57 55 28 28. Open July-Aug. daily 9:30am-8pm; Sept.-June reduced hours.) Trains run from Bordeaux to St-Emilion (30min. 4 per day, 7).
THE PAYS BASQUE AND GASCONY
South of Aquitaine, the forests recede and the mountains of Gascony begin, shielded from the Atlantic by the Basque Country. Long renowned as fierce fighters, the Basques continue to struggle to maintain their identity, with some separatists claiming that they are an independent people rather than a part of France or Spain. The Gascons, meanwhile, have long considered themselves French. Today, people come to Gascony to be healed: millions of believers descend on Lourdes hoping for miracle cures, while thousands of others undergo natural treatments in the thermes of the Pyrenees.