Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Nouvelle Aquitaine
Art, History & Archaeology Sites & Museums

Aquitaine, in the southwest of France, is a popular tourist destination for many reasons: to the west the Atlantic Ocean provides a vast stretch of coastline with sandy beaches, the Pyrénées mountain range to the south forms a border with Spain, the city of Bordeaux proclaims itself the wine industry capital of the world. At the beginning of 2016 Aquitaine became part of a larger administrative region, with Limousin and Poitou-Charentes. The region is now called Nouvelle Aquitaine (New Aquitaine).

Featured Destination

Earl evening in summer on the main street through Les Eyzies.

Les Eyzies
the World Capital of Prehistory

Situated at the heart of the Vézère Valley in the Dordogne, the picturesque town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac offers exceptional archaeological and historical attractions, from about 400,000 years ago to more recent periods of French history, the Hundred Years War. The town has been attracting prehistorians, archaeology enthusiasts and tourists alike for well over a hundred years. Our recommended base for exploring the Dordogne, its history and gastronomy. 

Archaeology & History Sites in Nouvelle Aquitaine

Abbaye aux Dames, Saintes

A former Benedictine abbey founded in 1047, Today the Abbaye aux Dames is a cultural centre that comes heritage and music. The focal point of the abbey is the 12 century Sainte-Marie church. Besides its striking ‘pine cone’ bell tower, the church is particularly known for its extraordinary Romanesque façade – one of the finest examples of Romanesque art in the region. Over the years the abbey has suffered greatly due to numerous wars and fires. It was fully restored in the 1970s an 1980s, when nuns cells were converted into hotel rooms.

Abri Cap Blanc

The bas relief sculptures of animals, mostly horses, at Cap Blanc are the finest examples of sculptured Palaeolithic art still in situ and open to the public in France. The highlight of the frieze is a carved horse, the body of which measures over two metres in length. In the deposit in front of the carved panel lies the body (now a cast) of a young female. The archaeological deposit also revealed tools that must have been used to carve the animals. Today the shelter is enclosed within a building that also houses a very good museum.

Abri Cro-Magnon

In the spring of 1868 while work was being done on the rail line at the northern edge of Les Eyzies, bones, stone tools and a human skull were found. The human remains turned out to be the first remains of anatomically modern humans, or Cro-Magnon. At the find spot the burial has been reconstructed, and the adjacent buildings up against the cliff have been converted into a museum that with the use of some spectacular interactive multimedia experience enables visitors to learn about the story of humanity’s evolution, as well as the archaeologists who excavated here.

Abri de la Chaire-à-Calvin

Although not the clearest of bas relief representations in France, this is one of the few shelters with carved animal images that is on open view. The small panel, just under three metres long, is protected behind a secure fence. In all there are eight carved animals. Rock art scholars do not agree on their identification as their defining features are either absent or very badly preserved. The carvings may be representations of horses or bovids, but the images also bear a striking resemblance to carvings of ibex at other similar sites. The Angoulême Museum has artefacts from this site on display.

Abri Pataud Excavation & Museum

Abri Pataud is one of a very few prehistoric sites open to the public  to see ongoing excavations. An important site, both for prehistory  it has revealed and the history of archaeology. Many techniques of excavating cave deposits were first used here. A suspended walkway allows visitors to walk through the excavation, and see the successive layers of prehistoric periods, from the Aurignacian to the Solutrean. See the remains of fire from thousands of years ago in context. After a tour of the site, don’t miss the adjacent museum, with its carved ibex on the ceiling and many of the artefacts found here.

Arch of Germanicus

This Roman triumphal arch, built in either 18 or 19 AD, was dedicated to the emperor Tiberius and his adoptive sons Drusus Caesar and Germanicus. Originally the typical two-bay arch was built at the head of a bridge, on the terminus of the road that ran between Saintes and Lyon marking the entrance to the city. In 1843 during work on the nearby quay, the arch was to be demolished. Prosper Mérimée intervened and had it moved to its current position on Place Bassompierre.

Bara Bahau

Located deep in the cave on a sloping, soft limestone wall are a number of engraved animals and geometric patterns, including horses, bisons, bears and deer. Before the cave was occupied by Palaeolithic communities, bears hibernated in the cave and scratched the walls with their claws. As at other caves, the artists here made use of some of these scratch marks. The original prehistoric finely incised depictions are difficult to see. To help visitors better experience this cave, line drawing of the images have been placed on light-boxes in front of the panel.

Bordeaux Amphitheatre – Le Palais Gallien

A small part remains of what was once quite a large Roman amphitheatre, believed to have seated about 17,000 people. The amphitheatre was built in the 3rd century AD when Bordeaux, then known as Burdigala, was the capital of the Roman province of Aquitaine. It is thought that the amphitheatre was built to mark the visit to Aquitaine by the Emperor Lucius Septimius Bassianus. Visitors to Bordeaux will see the ruins called ‘Le Palais Gallien’, some say this is the palace Charlemagne had built for his wife Galiene.

Château d'Angles-sur-l'Anglin

On a rocky outcrop overlooking the Anglin River are the ruins of a  medieval fortress. Originally built in the 12th century, with significant alterations made in the 15th century. The castle was captured by the English in the Hundred Year’s War, from where the ‘English trench’ comes from. Although heavily ruined, having been used as a quarry following the Revolution, a number of features still remain, including many towers and two chapels. The castle is open to the public, either to explore at leisure or with a guided tour.

Château de Beynac

Said to be the best preserved castle in the Perigord region, Château de Beynac is certainly one of the more picturesque. Hence why it has been used as a location for a number of films, including Luc Besson’s 1999 Jeanne d’Arc. Visitors get an excellent audio guide that follows an interesting route through the various architectural and historical features of the castle, including 15th century frescoes and the crenellated Romanesque terrace. During the 100 Year’s War the castle was on the side of the French.

Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle

Built in the early 1300s, the castle was destroyed in 1215 and rebuilt immediately. By the mid 1300s it was the seat of power for the Périgord. During the Hundred Year’s War it started out supporting the English, but changed hands many times. Following the revolution it became a national property and was largely abandoned, or used as a stone quarry. Restoration started in the 1960s. The castle houses a Medieval War Museum, with over 250 items of ancient weaponry and armour, including swords, crossbows, body-armour and chain mail. In the grounds are a number of reconstructions of medieval jet machines, such as the trebuchet.

Château de Marqueyssac & Gardens

Located high on a rocky spur that makes a u-bend in the Dordogne River, the views from this attraction alone are worth the visit. Over 6km of pathways allows you to get to many different vantage points to see many castles and picturesque villages in the Dordogne Valley. Around 150,000 hand-pruned boxwood shrubs provide a strikingly unusual setting for the late 18th century luxury mansion. The venue hosts many events throughout the year, but it is the candlelit evenings in July and August with over 2,000 candles lighting the paths that is the most popular.

Château du Hâ

Construction of the fort was ordered by the French king Charles VII following the defeat of the English at the end of the 100 Years War. Over the centuries the fort served as a garrison for royal troops, a ducal palace, a refuge for protestants and tax collectors and as a prison. During World War II political prisoners and Jews were imprisoned here until being shot or sent to the death camps in eastern Europe. The fort ceased being a prison in 1969.

Font de Gaume

Font de Gaume is the only decorated cave in France that has polychrome paintings that has remained open to the public. Although access is very restricted, and why tickets are highly sort after. In a narrow gallery there are over 230 animal engraved and painted depictions. Not only are some of the painted bisons polychrome, they are also both engraved and painted. One of the many highlights of the site is a frieze of 5 bison, where the artist(s) made use of the contours of the rock face to give shape to the painted bison.

Grottes d'Isturitz & Oxocelhaya

Although the archaeology in Isturitz cave was badly damaged, the cave is one of the more important Palaeolithic sites in France. Not only do the archaeological deposits have evidence of some 70,000 years of near continuous occupation, extensive excavations recovered hundreds of beautifully carved artefacts. Isturitz and the adjacent Oxocelhaya cave also have images on the walls, and in Isturitz there are bas-relief sculptures on a large stalagmite near what would have been the prehistoric entrance to the cave.

La Madeleine

Different parts of the rock shelter of La Madeleine have been occupied since 17,000 years ago and up to at least the 14th century AD. Stone Age people lived here, as did people escaping Norman invasions of the 9th century AD an the conflict of the 100 Year’s War. The dry stone buildings that we see today relate to the period of the conflict between the French and English. There is nothing to see of the Stone Age part, excavated in the mid 1800s. Artefacts recovered from here were the first of their kind, making this the ‘type site’ for a period of Stone Age known as the Magdalenian.

Lascaux II

Lascaux II opened to the public in 1983, situated about 200 m from the entrance to Lascaux. About 90% of the original cave is reproduced in this the first replica. With the opening of Lascaux IV, Lascaux II has remained open, itself a historical monument. Visitors now get a very different experience to what was offered before, an what is on offer at Lascaux IV. Long gone are the groups of 25 being rushed through so that as many groups can make it as possible – that is now Lascaux IV. A guided tour starts above ground and takes you to the entrance of the famous cave, before heading into the replica where you are treated to seeing the Hall of Bulls by candle light. An experience for those who have a deeper interest in cave art and prehistory.

Lascaux IV

Lascaux IV opened to the public in December 2016. The first replica and the original cave was in effect becoming a victim of Lascaux II’s success. A new replica was installed in a start-of-the-art interpretation centre was constructed at the base of the hill in which the cave of Lascaux is found; just outside the town of the town of Montignac. Visitors get a guided tour through an almost complete reproduction of the cave and are then left to explore various interpretative galleries.  The experience is very high tech, this is not just a more complete and better replica. The emphasis is on imparting what we know about prehistoric art as opposed to building an amazing replica.

Les Combarelles

Les Combarelles, unlike most of the other caves open to the public in the Les Eyzies area, is notable for its many exquisitely engraved depictions along a windy, narrow passage of about 240 metres in length. Although the usual range of animals were engraved, such as horses, bison, mammoth, reindeer, bears, and lions, there are also a number of representations of humans. Depictions of humans in European cave art are relatively rare, but there are exceptional examples here: stylized outlines of female bodies.

Maison Forte de Reignac

Set right up against the limestone cliff on the banks of the Vézère River is Reignac ‘cliff castle’, one of the few have survived almost intact. The rock shelters have been in use since prehistoric times, with fortified castle built in the 1300s, and further developed in the Renaissance. Many rooms are staged with period furniture and other objects, such as weapons and armaments of the time, give an idea what life was like for the lord of the castle. Also on display are prehistoric artefacts excavated here, and a collection of 60 medieval torture instruments.

Museums & Art Galleries in Nouvelle Aquitaine

Angoulême Museum

In the historic heart of Angoulême, right next to the apse of St Peter’s cathedral is the newly renovated bishopric, home to the city’s museum. Collections and permanent exhibitions include the geology and archaeology of the Charente from prehistory to the early medieval period, one of the most important collections of African and Oceanic arts in France, as well as a collection of Western art from the 16th to 20th centuries. One of the museum’s highlights is the gold plated Gallic helmet from the 4th century BC.

Aquitaine Museum, Bordeaux

In 1963 a number of different museums in Bordeaux amalgamated to form Le Musée d’Aquitaine. With over 70,000 objects, this museum covers the history of the Bordeaux region from prehistory to the 20th century in over 5,000 square meters of displays. The range of objects included is quite amazing, from carved bone of Palaeolithic age to carved stone from the medieval period.

Archaeology Museum of Saintes

The museum has recently redeveloped its permanent exhibitions. These now include interactive 3D displays that allow visitors to explore what Saintes was like during the Gallo-Roman period, as well as what daily life was like in the town around 2,000 years ago. Also on display is an impressive collection of objects recovered from various sites around Saintes, from both public and private sites.

Le Thot

A theme park and museum with a number of reconstructions of prehistoric life in the Stone Age. Including dioramas that show how Palaeolithic people created their paintings and engravings. The vast grounds have many enclosures with living animals, the range of animals that the Palaeolithic artists depicted on their cave walls. In the museum are reproductions of five of the more spectacular panels in the cave of Lascaux not seen in the Lascaux II facsimile. For many obvious reasons this is a great place to take the children, who love the horses, bison and goats.