This post's overview:
- 1 Why South-West France? What is there to see in South-West France?
- 2 How to get to South-West France: the best airport to fly to
- 3 Where to rent a car in South-West of France?
- 4 What to pack for the South-West France Road trip
- 5 South-West France Road trip: Nouvelle-Aquitaine in 3 days (Pau, Biarritz & more)
- 5.1 Day 1: Exploring Pau, driving to the Ossau Valley and staying in Agos Vidalos
- 5.2 Day 2 of the South-West France road trip: Breakfast in Argeles-Gazost, hiking in Gavarnie and dinner in Biarritz
- 5.3 Day 3 of 3 days in South-West France: Biarritz and French Basque Country
- 6 Summary of our South-West France road trip
Hi guys, in this post, I would like to share with you our Nouvelle-Aquitaine (South-West France) road trip itinerary for 3 days, where we managed to see some breathtaking landscapes and beaches; hike, swim and enjoy French Cuisine of the South-West of France. If you want to discover some hidden gems in South-West France and explore some amazing lesser-known destinations, then you’re in the right place.
Why South-West France? What is there to see in South-West France?
France has so much to offer! Having visited France about 10 times or so, I still can’t say that I have seen enough of the country.
Before I even bought tickets from London to Pau, I had no idea that Pau existed and didn’t know much about this gorgeous region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. I’ve been in Nouvelle-Aquitaine before though, but only for a weekend while visiting beautiful Bordeaux. I’ve written a separate post about Bordeaux, feel free to read it using this link “Why Bordeaux is the most beautiful city in France“.
Midi-Pyrenees is famous for its amazing hikes and gorgeous villages. We mainly drove through the small part of Midi-Pyrenees close to Gavarnie in this South-West France road trip, however, if you’re interested in visiting Toulouse and some charming villages near Toulouse, I also have blog posts about them.
Here’s my post about the highlights of Toulouse: “10 reasons why you should visit Toulouse” and here you can find my post about 5 most beautiful villages in South-West of France (Midi-Pyrenees).
How to get to South-West France: the best airport to fly to
If you’re wondering, how to get to South-West France, I’ll cover that right now. If you’re planning to fly from your city / Paris / somewhere else, the best airports to arrive to Nouvelle-Aquitaine are Biarritz, Bordeaux, Limoges and Pau.
We started our trip in Pau, as the best flights we found were to Pau, however, you can start this road trip from Biarritz or even Bordeaux. You can check the best flight deals on Skyscanner.
Where to rent a car in South-West of France?
We rented our car from Thrifty via Rentalcars.com. We always book through Rentalcars.com because of their decently priced full insurance (and also, we get 10% Cashback through Quidco).
What to pack for the South-West France Road trip
If you’re curious, what to pack for the South-West France road trip, depending on the season, of course, bring a swimsuit, sturdy hiking shoes if you’re planning to hike in Gavarnie, comfortable clothes and a light jacket for colder days.
South-West France Road trip: Nouvelle-Aquitaine in 3 days (Pau, Biarritz & more)
Day 1: Exploring Pau, driving to the Ossau Valley and staying in Agos Vidalos
Day 0: We arrived in Pau a night before, taking a direct flight from London just after work. We decided to stay at the hotel called Premiere Classe. It’s a very affordable hotel, which wasn’t bad at all considering that we only stayed there for 1 night.
Pau is a wonderful city that, in my opinion, is one of the most underestimated cities in France. The city is tiny, its population is only about 80,000 people and it’s located just 80 km away from the Spanish border. Pau is famous for its beautiful Chateau de Pau or Pau Castle – the birthplace of Henry IV of France.
This small French city has wonderful views over Pyrenees and overall is a great place to spend half a day. You can wander around the streets of Pau, head on the tour of the Pau castle, have a delicious lunch in one of the restaurants (try Le Canard Royal or Cotes & Mer), walk the entire Boulevard des Pyrenees and enjoy the views.
Head to the Ossau Valley
After lunch, drive to the Ossau Valley – a gorgeous place for nature lovers. One of the main highlights of the Valley is the Petit train D’Artouste – a narrow railway that goes on the altitude of 2000 km and from where you can see stunning views.
You can also go down to the Artouste lake and have a picnic in nature, observing cows just freely roaming around with their noisy bells.
You can spend more time in Ossau Valley if you have an opportunity to make this trip longer, e.g. add a couple of days.
In this case, I would recommend staying overnight in one of the lodges/hotels nearby and perhaps also go trekking in the morning. For the best hiking routes in the Ossau Valley, you can check this website.
Agos Vidalos & dinner at Auberge Le Bouic
Staying overnight: we stayed for one night at the hotel called Chez Pierre d’Agos. It was a decent hotel with no luxuries, again, good for a one night sleep. It didn’t have an AC, however, it wasn’t so warm at night anyway, so we didn’t need it that much. The check-in was until 8 pm, however, we had a dinner reservation at 7:30 pm, so we checked in and then drove to the restaurant.
Booking restaurants in France is mandatory
Dining in Agos Vidalos: in France, you always need to book a restaurant for dinner, otherwise, you risk not having a meal at all or going to a kebab/takeaway. It happened to us many times, even in the smallest villages, so now we make sure to book a restaurant at least 3 days in advance. In bigger cities, we use the app called the Fork, however, in smaller cities, we just call the restaurant or send them an email. Sending an email (preferably translated to French) is probably the best option if you don’t speak French, as you can use Google translate, however, try to send it 1 week in advance (at least).
For dinner, we picked a restaurant called Auberge Le Bouic. Everything was great, locally grown and sourced and everything we tried was delicious. However, keep in mind, that there is not a single vegetarian dish on the menu (which is sadly pretty common in this part of France).
Day 2 of the South-West France road trip: Breakfast in Argeles-Gazost, hiking in Gavarnie and dinner in Biarritz
Argeles-Gazost and typical French breakfast.
We started our morning in Argeles-Gazost, where, even on a Sunday morning, we were able to find 3 bakeries and buy some delicious pastries for breakfast. Argeles-Gazost is a very pretty town, so if you have 30 minutes, you can walk around and see the morning life in a small French town in the Pyrenees. The town was also very crowded, with people heading to the bakeries and buying multiple baguettes. So stereotypical, I know, but so true nonetheless.
Driving to Gavarnie & cycling in Gavarnie
From Argeles-Gazost, we drove to Gavarnie. The route was very picturesque and we encountered a lot of cyclists on the way. Because of the cyclist, the actual driving time to Gavarnie might differ from what Google / Apple maps tells you, so make sure to add 10-15 more minutes to the indicated time.
Cycling in Gavarnie: the route to Gavarnie is one of the most popular cycling routes in the Pyrenees. If you like cycling, I recommend you to stay in Gavarnie and try to cycle a part of the route (or the entire route, depending on your condition and determination).
Hiking in Gavarnie: is it hard?
We decided to hike in Gavarnie because, first of all, we couldn’t have visited the Pyrenees on a nice summer day. and not hike. That was simply impossible. Secondly, Gavarnie is one of the most popular locations for hiking that are very photogenic and quite close to Pau (and Agos Vidalos). Finally, hiking in Gavarnie is not tough at all: there are multiple routes for a different level of preparation, from easy to difficult.
Hiking gear: The easy route is just a large road, which, however, leads up and has a lot of gravel, so you need very comfortable shoes. I was wearing my Nike Air Max, which (or similar) I would recommend for this hike (although they did get dusty).
On a colder day (or if you’re choosing a more difficult route), I would recommend Timberland boots or hiking boots. You can get them here if you don’t have any.
Please don’t bring uncomfortable shoes or sandals, because some parts of the route require proper shoes.
The route: as I mentioned, there are multiple routes. We took the main route (although we started on the alternative route, but quickly got lost and got stuck at the dead-end next to another waterfall), so we had to return half-way and get to the main route. Walking on the main route (which you can’t miss, as there are hundreds of people walking there), you can reach the waterfall in about 1 hour. If you take an alternative route, that would be 1.5 hours – 2 hours. However, some other routes could take the entire day.
You can check other routes available in Gavarnie here.
Where to eat in Gavarnie?
There are plenty of restaurants in Gavarnie, so you won’t be hungry. There is even a restaurant almost at the end of the hike. However, you can bring some food with you and have a picnic with wonderful views, especially if you decide to hike for a little longer.
Again, if you have more time, you can even stay in Gavarnie overnight and explore various hiking trails, however, at about 4 pm, we had to head to Biarritz, where we had a restaurant and accommodation booked.
Driving to Biarritz & dinner in Biarritz
Driving to Biarritz from Gavarnie wasn’t too bad and didn’t take that long. We reached Biarritz in about 2 hours 50 minutes. However, we were unlucky, as apparently, Biarritz City Centre was closed for 5 days for everyone but G7 participants. Yes, there was G7 at the exact dates of our trip and we didn’t even know about it. That was a pity because we didn’t manage to see much of Biarritz apart from its Western part and we will definitely have to return there. Thus, there wouldn’t be that much information about Biarritz in this post (sorry).
Eating out in Biarritz: as I mentioned before, you need to book all the restaurants in France, if you want to go to a nice place with a good rating. We went to a restaurant called Les Rosiers and it even had a Michelin star. As you can imagine, everything there was great, so I can only recommend it. Yes, it was expensive, but not exaggeratedly expensive and the portions were quite big, so we were fine with 1 main per person and 1 started to share between both of us.
Affordable accommodation in Biarritz: because of G7 (again, we had no idea), there were very few hotels available and most of them, had cost a fortune (we’re talking about £250 per night or more). That was not in our budget, so we found a lovely private room on Airbnb 15 minutes walking from the beach. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can use my coupon and get a small credit towards your first booking.
Day 3 of 3 days in South-West France: Biarritz and French Basque Country
We started our morning by having breakfast in our lovely Airbnb and then went to the beach. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that warm for a swim, so we just walked around and looked at the surfers.
Surfing in Biarritz: Biarritz is a very popular destination for surfers. The beaches are very nice and long and the waves are quite big – very good for surfers. We’ve seen quite a few surfers around and all of them seemed to be at different levels of skill: from beginners to experts.
As I mentioned before, we couldn’t see anything of Biarritz apart from Milady beach, as the old town was closed for G7, however, I recommend you to spend 1/2 days exploring the city centre of Biarritz.
Instead of Biarritz, we headed to Saint Jean de Luz – a charming historical town famous for its church where King Louis XIV of France got married to Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660. Unlike Biarritz, San Jean de Luz is a historical town and it just feels way older. Also, the influence of the Basque Country is stronger there. Almost every single restaurant is a Basque restaurant.
Lunch: We had lunch in a place called SAS FREDERIKA or Le Xaya (it’s one place) – they had an amazing lunch deal of 2 dishes for 15 euros. I would recommend this place.
There is also a nice beach and a nice promenade in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, so it’s worth spending there an hour or so walking around. If you have a bit more time, head to San Sebastian in Spain – it’s a wonderful city in Spain that is less than 30 minutes away from Saint-Jean-de-Luz that is famous for its cuisine and pintxos (pronounced as pin-chos) places. I have a separate post about our North of Spain road trip, where we drove from Santander to San Sebastian.
Continuing our road trip: Dax and Mont-de-Marsan
As it was already 3 pm and we had to drive to Pau to fly back to London, we had to leave beautiful Saint Jean de Luz. However, as we still had a bit of time, we decided to drive a bit more and see 2 more towns on our way. The first place was Dax.
Dax – is a town in South-West of France famous for its Thermal waters. The town is pretty, but not really special, so we spent about 45 minutes there wandering around the town centre and trying hot water from the fountain in the heart of Dax. I found Dax as one of the most beautiful towns in the South-West of France, but I’m afraid, I’d rather disagree and if I had a chance to change my itinerary, I would have rather skipped Dax.
Mont-de-Marsan: Mont-de-Marsan also wasn’t a very touristy place. In fact, I haven’t seen a single tourist. Compared to the photogenic towns of Pyrenees, Mont-de-Marsan wasn’t on the winning side, however, there is one really nice photo location that is on all the tourist brochures of the city.
After visiting both places, we drove back to Pau, returned our car to Thrifty and hopped on our flight to London.
Summary of our South-West France road trip
Overall, I must say that I was really happy with our South-West France road trip. We discovered the region that we haven’t visited before, we managed to hike, enjoy beautiful cities like Pau and Saint Jean de Luz, eat a lot of great French and Basque food and just rest, I guess.
The lowlight was Biarritz that was closed for G7. We would definitely return to see the city again and perhaps drive and explore the areas towards Bordeaux.
If you have 3 days or longer that you can spend in Nouvelle-Aquitaine and South-West of France, then I definitely recommend hiring a car and following the itinerary similar to our (or build your own itinerary). Nouvelle-Aquitaine in 3 days is worth it, however, if you have more time, you can spend it hiking in Gavarnie and maybe driving to San Sebastian in Spain.
If you have any questions, please let me know, I’ll be happy to help!