Thousands of visitors flock to the Landes region every year,
drawn by the beauty of its forests and the long, sandy beaches
along its Atlantic coastline, a paradise for surfers. But it is
also well worth exploring the picturesque hinterland, with its wealth
of fine architecture, colourful festivals and many gastronomic treats.

Lying at the heart of Aquitaine,
the Landes cover an area of
9,800sq km (3,800sq miles).
This largely unspoilt region
of forests, lakes and rivers
enjoys a gentle maritime
climate. With its 106km
(66 miles) of golden, sandy
beaches and its many rivers
(known locally as courants), lakes and
vast wetlands, the Landes is the
perfect setting for watersports. Inland
the pine forests, interspersed with
fields of maize, are sparsely dotted
with traditional houses. Settlement of
the Landes goes back to prehistoric
times. The legacy of the Hundred
Years’ War can be seen in the many
bastide towns, in strategic locations
across the countryside. In this difficult,
marshy terrain, life was hard. To keep
watch over their sheep, local
shepherds used to walk on stilts to
make crossing the muddy ground
easier. During the Second Empire
(1852–1870), the landscape
changed, as marshland was
drained and extensive pine
forests were planted for
their resin and timber. Also at
this time, the coming of the railways
and better roads greatly improved
communication between the towns
and cities. The creation of the Parc
Naturel Régional des Landes de
Gascogne, in 1970, has helped to
preserve the Landes’ traditional way
of life. Today, visitors come to the
region for its fine Romanesque
architecture, mostly sited along the
former pilgrim routes to Compostela,
as well as the superb surfing and
hydrotherapy resorts. Bull-running
festivals (see p27) are also a major
attraction. And this beautiful region is
a gourmet’s paradise. Foie gras de
canard, free-range chicken, Chalosse
beef and sand-grown asparagus, as
well as Armagnac and fine Tursan
wines, are all on the Landes menu.


Exploring the Landes

The network of roads that covers this huge region make it easy
to explore. From Biscarosse, in the north, to Capbreton, in the
south, the coastline has a succession of long beaches and highclass
resorts. Inland, beyond the dunes, is a vast expanse of
greenery and unspoiled countryside. A landscape that was
once flatlands (landes) with a scattering of deciduous trees is
now covered in pine forest. The Landes’ two major towns are
peaceful Mont-de-Marsan, the regional capital and
administrative centre, and Dax, whose thermal springs
attract those seeking health cures. The 290,000-
ha (716,590-acre) Parc Naturel Régional des
Landes de Gascogne is ideal for those who
love the great outdoors. Further south lie the
gently rolling hills of Armagnac, Chalosse
and Tursan, at the foot of the Pyrenees.

The nearest airports are at Bordeaux, to the
north, Biarritz, to the south, and Pau, to the
east. The region is also served by the TGV
Atlantique (high-speed train) from Paris, which
stops at Bordeaux, Mont-de-Marsan and Dax.
The N124, which crosses the region from
southwest to northeast, provides a road link
between these three cities. The other main axis
is the N10 between Bordeaux and Bayonne,
in the Pays Basque, which also passes the
Parc Naturel des Landes. The N134, D932 and
D933, which run north to south, are the three
other major roads through the region. Use of
headlights, as a safety measure, is advisable
when travelling along the minor roads, which
tend to run in straight lines through the densely
forested areas. Some local vehicles are fitted
with an ultrasonic bleeper to frighten wild
deer off the roads, as they approach. Bus
services also run between towns and villages.