Aquitaine is one of the 26 regions of France that is situated along the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees mountain range on the border with Spain. It comprises the 5 departments of Dordogne, Lot et Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Landes and Gironde. In the Middle Ages Aquitaine was a kingdom and later a duchy, with boundaries considerably larger than the modern ones.
In the Aquitaine Region, Béarn is a former province of France, located in the Pyrenees mountains and in the plain at their feet. Along with the Basque provinces of Soule, Lower Navarre, and Labourd, the principality of Bidache, as well as small parts of Gascony, it forms in the southwest the current département of Pyrénées-Atlantiques. The capitals of Bearn is Pau.
The Pays Basque
The French Basque Country or Northern Basque Country constitutes the north-eastern part of the Basque Country and the western part of the French department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. It is delimited in the north by the department of Landes, in the west by the Bay of Biscay, in the south by the southern Basque Country and in the east by the Bearn. Bayonne and Biarritz are its chief towns. Basques describe the northern Basque Country as the union of three "French provinces" in the northeast of the traditional Basque Country: Basse-Navarre, Labourd and Soule. Its Basque name is Iparralde ("Northern Side") while the part of the Basque Country located in Spain is called Hegoalde ("Southern Side"). According to an inquiry of 2006, 22.5% were bilinguals (French-Basque), 8.6% were French-speakers who understand Basque, and 68.9% were not Basque-speakers.
Midi Pyrenees Region
The Midi-Pyrénées isone of the 26 regions of France andthe largest region of metropolitan France by area. The regionhas no historical or geographical unity. It is one of the regions of France created artificially in the late 20th century to serve as a hinterland and zone of influence for its capital, Toulouse, one of a handful of so-called "balancing metropolises".The name chosen for the new region was decided by the French central government without reference to the historical provinces (too many of them inside the region) and based purely on geography: Midi (i.e. "southern France") - Pyrénées (Pyrénées mountains that serve as the region's southern boundary).Historically, Midi-Pyrénées is made up of several former French provinces : Gascony, Languedoc, Rouergue, Quercy, Foix, Couserans, Nébouzan, Quatre-Vallées and Bigorre. The historical makeup of Midi-Pyrénées is even more complex, as the provinces listed above are further subdivided into pays (literally "countries"), with each their peculiarities and particular identities.
Quercy is a former province of France located in the Midi Pyrenees Region. Today, Quercy is divided between the département of Lot and the northern half of the département of Tarn-et-Garonne. The traditional capital of Quercy is Cahors. Like Périgord, the area is noted for its cuisine like the duck dishes, confit de canard and magret de canard and the dark red wines of Cahors.
The Pyrenees is a range of mountains that forms a natural border between France and Spain. It separates the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of continental Europe, and extends for about 491 km from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea. For the most part, the main crest forms a massive divider between France and Spain, with the tiny country of Andorra sandwiched in between. Catalonia and Navarre have historically extended on both sides of the mountain range, with small northern portions in France and much larger southern parts in Spain.
The French Pyrenees are also part of the following départements, from east to west: Pyrénées-Orientales, Aude, Ariège, Haute-Garonne, Hautes-Pyrénées, and Pyrénées-Atlantiques. The highest summit is the Pico d'Aneto or Pic de Néthou at 3,404 metres (11,168 ft) in the Maladeta ridge. The principal languages spoken in the area are Spanish, French, Catalan (in Catalonia and Andorra), Basque, and Aragonese.
Charente is a department in southwestern France, in the Poitou-Charentes region, named after the Charente River, the most important river in the department, and also the river beside which the department's two largest towns, Angoulême and Cognac, are sited. Prior to the creation of the department, the area was not a natural unit, but much of it was commercially prosperous thanks to traditional industries such as salt and cognac production. Although the river became silted up and was unnavigable for much of the twentieth century, in the eighteenth century it provided important links with coastal shipping routes both for traditional businesses and for newly evolving ones such as paper goods and iron smelting.
Languedoc Roussillon Region
Languedoc-Roussillon is one of the 26 regions of France. It comprises five departments, and borders the other French regions of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Rhône-Alpes, Auvergne, Midi-Pyrénées on the one side, and Spain, Andorra and the Mediterranean sea on the other side.
The region is made up of the following historical provinces: province of Languedoc, province of Gévaudan: today's Lozère department and a collection of five historical Catalan pays: Roussillon, Vallespir, Conflent, Capcir, and Cerdagne.
The Languedoc-Roussillon region is dominated by 740,300 acres (2,996 km2) of vineyards, three times the combined area of the vineyards in Bordeaux. The region has been an important winemaking centre for centuries. Grapevines are said to have existed in the South of France since the Pliocene period - before the existence of Homo sapiens. The first vineyards of Gaul developed around two towns: Béziers and Narbonne. The Mediterranean climate and plentiful land with soil ranging from rocky sand to thick clay was very suitable for the production of wine, and it is estimated that one in ten bottles of the world's wine was produced in this region during the 20th century. Despite this enormous quantity, the area's significance was often overlooked by scholarly publications and commercial journals, largely because very little of the wine being produced was classified under an appellation contrôlée until the 1980s.
Self-guided trips in the languedoc Roussillon Region :
The Auvergne Region is one of the 26 regions of France. The current administrative region of Auvergne is larger than the historical province of Auvergne, and includes provinces and areas that historically were not part of Auvergne. The Auvergne region is composed of the following old provinces: Auvergne, Bourbonnais, Velay, a small part of Gévaudan, a small part of Vivarais and a small part of Forez.
The region contains many volcanoes, although the last confirmed eruption was around 6,000 years ago, and most have eroded away leaving plugs of unerupted hardened magma that form rounded hilltops known as puys. In the region surrounding Clermont-Ferrand, the highest mountain is 1,885m (6,180ft). From north to south the terrain becomes flatter and rockier. The Auvergne is 25 % woodland, 45 % grassland, 20 % arable land and 10 % other uses (including urban areas). The region is predominantly agricultural with tourism slowly becoming more important. Cows are much in evidence and are used both for meat and for milk, which is made into a number of well known cheeses: Bleu d'Auvergne, Cantal, Fourme d'Ambert and Saint-Nectaire.
Self-guided trips in the Auvergne Region :
Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur Region
The Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Region or PACA is one of the 26 regions of France.It is made up of the former province of Provence, the former papal territory of Avignon, known as the Comtat Venaissin, the former Sardinian-Piedmontese county of Nice, whose coastline is known in English as the French Riviera (in French as the Côte d'Azur), and lastly the southeastern part of the former French province of Dauphiné, in the French Alps.It encompasses six departments bounded to the east by the Italian border, to the south by the Mediterranean Sea and by the principality of Monaco, to the north by The region logo displays the coat of arms created in the 1990s and which combines the coats of arms of the old provinces making up Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.Rhône-Alpes, and to the west by Languedoc-Roussillon, with the Rhône river marking its westernmost border.
Provence is a "region" on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy. It is part of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Region. The traditional region of Provence comprises the départements of Var, Vaucluse, Bouches-du-Rhône, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes and parts of Hautes-Alpes. The Romans formed this region into their Gallia Transalpina, the first Roman provincia outside the Alps. From thus, it derives its name today. Most of Provence has a Mediterranean climate, characterized by hot, dry summers, mild winters, little snow, and abundant sunshine. Within Provence there are micro-climates and local variations, ranging from the Alpine climate inland from Nice to the continental climate in the northern Vaucluse. The winds of Provence are an important feature of the climate, particularly the mistral, a cold, dry wind which, especially in the winter, that blows down the Rhone Valley to the sea.
The Calanques, also known as the Massif des Calanques, are a dramatic feature of the Provence coast, a 20 km long series of narrow inlets in the cliffs of the coastline between Marseille on the west and Cassis on the east. The highest peak in the massif is Mont Puget at 565 metres. Calanques are remains of ancient river mouths formed mostly during Tertiary. Later, during quaternary glaciations, as glaciers swept by, they further deepened those valleys which would eventually (at the end of the last glaciation) be invaded with sea and become calanques.
Les Iles d'Or or Golden Islands, are three islands off the coast of the Hyeres peninsula. The name "golden" dates from the Renaissance, and was given to the islands, due to the light reflected along the islands' coasts.Ile de Porquerolles: Called Protè (first) by the Greek colonists, is the largest of the three islands, about 7 km long.Ile de Port-Cros: It got its name from the deep, hollowed-out shape of its harbor, is thickly forested and is a National Park. It is the central of the three islands and is 4 x 2.5 km, and is higher and wilder than Porquerolles.Ile du Levant:This island is a long, narrow rocky ridge, 8 x 1.2 km and is completely protected by steep cliffs around the shoreline.
Brittany Region is one of the 26 regions of France. It occupies a large peninsula lying between the English Channel to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south. Its capital is Rennes. The region of Brittany is made up of 80% of the former Duchy and Province of Brittany. The remaining 20% of the province is the Loire-Atlantique department which now lies inside the Pays de la Loire region. Its capital, Nantes, was the historical capital of the Duchy of Brittany. Part of the reason why Brittany was split between two present-day regions was to avoid the rivalry between Rennes and Nantes. Some people in Brittany and Nantes continue to protest against the current division of Brittany and would like to see Loire-Atlantique combined with the region of Brittany in order to reunify the historic area of Brittany. Western Brittany has maintained a distinctly Celtic language, the Breton which is related to Cornish and Welsh. It has been granted regional language status and revival efforts are underway.
Visitors have a choice between seaside and countryside. The stunning beauty of the region's interior, with its thatched cottages, traditional farming and ever-changing landscapes, is matched by a long coastline which stretches from the romantic cliffs and sandy beaches of Seine Maritime in the East, to the wild Cotentin seaboard and the World Heritage Site of Mont Saint Michel and its bay, with its huge tidal range and strong currents.
Given its location on the Mediterranean, seafood is plentiful in the local cuisine. The mountainsides of the Cinque Terre are heavily terraced and are used to cultivate grapes and olives. This area, and the region of Liguria, as a whole, is known for pesto — a sauce made from basil leaves, garlic, salt, olive oil, pine nuts and pecorino cheese. The grapes of the Cinque Terre are used to produce two locally made wines. The eponymous Cinque Terre and the Sciachetrà are both made using Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino grapes. In addition to wines, other popular local drinks include grappa, a brandy made with the pomace left from winemaking, and limoncello, a sweet liqueur flavored with lemons.
The Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera in the Liguria region. "The Five Lands" is composed of five villages : Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Cinque Terre is noted for its beauty. Over centuries, people have carefully built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm is the lack of visible "modern" development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, and cars cannot reach it from the outside.
A walking trail, known as Sentiero Azzurro ("Light Blue Trail"), connects the five villages. The trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola is called the Via Dell'Amore ("Love Walk"). The stretch from Manarola to Corniglia is the easiest to hike, although the main trail into Corniglia finishes with a climb of 368 stairs. The trail from Corniglia to Vernazza is steep at certain places. The trail from Vernazza to Monterosso is by far the steepest. It winds through olive orchards and vineyards and is rough in places, but offers the best view of the bay and the spectacular approaches to both Monterosso and Vernazza.
Tuscany is a region in central Italy with its capital, Florence. It is known for its beautiful landscapes, its rich artistic legacy and vast influence on high culture. Tuscany is widely regarded as the true birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, and has been home to some of the most influential people in the history of arts and science including Dante, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei...
Tuscany has an immense cultural and artistic heritage, expressed in the region's numerous churches, palaces, art galleries, museums, villages and piazzas. Much of these artifacts are found in the main cities, such as Florence and Siena, but also in smaller villages scattered around the region, such as San Gimignano. The UNESCO estimated that Tuscany has the 10% of the World Cultural Heritage!
Tuscany has a unique culinary tradition, and is famous for its wines like Chianti which is arguably the most well-known internationally.
Galicia is an autonomous community in northwest Spain, with the status of a historic nationality. It is constituted under the Galician Statute of Autonomy of 1981. It is bordered by Portugal to the south, the Spanish regions of Castile and León and Asturias to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Bay of Biscay to the north. Galicia has roughly 2.78 million inhabitants, with its capital being Santiago de Compostela.
Galicia has two official languages: Galician and Spanish. Galician is related to Portuguese. Both descend from a Romance language of the Middle Ages now referred to as Galician-Portuguese. The independence of Portugal since the late Middle Ages has favored the divergence of the Galician and Portuguese languages.
The name Galicia comes from the Latin name Gallaecia, associated with the name of the ancient Celtic tribe that resided above the Douro river, the Gallaeci.
The interior of Galicia is composed of relatively low mountains without sharp peaks. There are many rivers, most running down relatively gentle slopes in narrow river valleys, though at times their courses become far more rugged as in the canyons of the Sil River.
Galicia has preserved some of its dense Atlantic forests where wildlife is commonly found. Its landscape is composed of green hills, cliffs and rias. It is very different from what is commonly understood as Spanish landscape.
Capital: Barcelona Provinces: Barcelona, Girona (Gerona), Lleida (Lerida) and Tarragona.
Best known apart from the capital, Barcelona, is of course the Mediterranean coast, Costa Brava and Costa Dorada, with ample beaches
and mild climate.
Catalonia offers as well high mountain ranges, the Pyrenees in the north, the curious formations of Montserrat, the inactive volcans of Garrotxa, and a wide plain area in the region's center.
Catalonia has a very marked culture of its own, most evidently of Mediterranean tradition, and is distinguished of most other Spanish regions in several aspects, not at least by its language, Catalonian (although everybody speaks and understands Castilian Spanish perfectly). Certainly it is one of the most cosmopolitan places in Spain, thanks to its long tradition of international commerce.
Catalonia's excellent gastronomy is characterized by seafood, rice dishes, wines of great international reputation and traditional desserts like the famous "Catalonian Cream".
The Way of St James, or the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a series of pilgrimage routes running across all of Europe with Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain as their final destination. People have been walking it – as a pilgrimage route – for over a thousand years. The main Camino route is the Camino Frances. This part of the Camino de Santiago traditionally starts in St Jean Pied de Port and finishes in Santiago de Compostela almost 800 km later. The route has changed little. Today parts of it are modern roads, and many of its accommodations run by religious orders along the way have since disappeared. The Way of Saint James, passes through the same villages, crosses the same rivers and visits the same churches and monuments as it did over the last 1000 years.
The Way of Saint James is unique in many ways, as often footpaths that cross through several regions (like GR paths in France) avoid towns. The Way of St James, because of its historic origins and the need for shelter seeks them out.
There are many reasons to walk the Way of Saint James : for its history & culture, as a religious pilgrimage or even as a significant event in a lifetime. Those that walk the Way of Saint James are of all ages and from all walks of life. Walkers come from Spain, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and others from much further away. Some complete the entire journey in one stretch or others, with less time, one section.
All who walk the Way of St James, and especially those who have been able to do the whole route, agree afterwards that it has changed their lives.