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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > February 2016 > Great Escape

Great Escape

Start an adventure among the whitewashed homes of the Île de Ré, before casting off on the waterways of the Marais Poitevin; sip your way through the cellars of Bordeaux; choose between six perfect Atlantic beaches in the resort of Biarritz and see a whole new side to France in the Basque villages

@helenedancer

The green-shuttered houses and cobbled streets of St-Martin-de-Ré, a fshing port in Île de Ré
PHOTOGRAPHS JUSTIN FOULKES

@justinfoulke

Plan your trip

1 Slurp oysters, cycle between villages and savour bright Atlantic sunshine on the glorious Île de Ré (p48).

2 Paddle under weeping willows, navigating the backwaters of the Marais Poitevin (p50).

3 Uncork the capital of French wine – the stately city of Bordeaux (p52).

4 Ride Atlantic waves and resdiscover the spirit of the Roaring Twenties in elegant Biarritz (p54).

5 Eat spicy peppers, hear Europe’s oldest language and see the trailhead of the Camino in Basque villages, such as Espelette (p56).

MAP ILLUSTRATION: ALEX VERHILLLE. PHOTOGRAPHS:BILL HOGAN/CHICAGO TRIBUNE/MCT, JUSTIN FOULKES, ISTOCK, HEMIS/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

HOW TO GET THERE

All the locations in this feature are individually accessible for a weekend break. Ryanair flies seasonally from East Midlands to La Rochelle-Île de Ré airport, with flights from Stansted year-round (from £82; ryanair.com). From here it’s a 50-minute drive onward to Coulon – car rental is available at the airport (from £44 per day; europcar.co.uk). British Airways flies direct from Gatwick to Bordeaux-Mérignac, while easyJet flies from Gatwick and Luton (from £102; ba.com). Ryanair flies direct to Biarritz–Anglet–Bayonne (from £47; ryanair.com). Espelette is a 30-minute drive from Biarritz airport, where car hire is also possible (from £50 per day; hertz.com).

HOW TO GET AROUND

There’s a comprehensive train system in this part of France, with regular services between La Rochelle (over the bridge from Île de Ré), Bordeaux and Biarritz (La Rochelle–Bordeaux one way £25; Bordeaux–Biarritz one way £14; sncf.com). To get off the beaten track (and to reach Coulon and Espelette), it’s advisable to hire a car. Distances aren’t huge – it’s only two hours from Île de Ré to Bordeaux and then another two hours to Biarritz along the motorway. Île de Ré has some of the best cycle paths in the region (bike hire from £12 per day; cycles-yootoo.com).

HOW LONG TO SPEND

Two weeks is a good length to explore the Atlantic Coast. If you’re getting about by car, you could easily spend two days in each location.

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