If you’re looking for some travel inspiration for your next vacation, then LGBTI travel specialist Jean-Pierre Leclerc suggests that the southwest of France should be top of your wish-list.

We spoke with Leclerc, a veteran of the travel industry since 1994, to find out what makes Bordeaux and the beaches of the Aquitaine coast a must-visit destination in France.

What makes the southwest of France a good destination for LGBTI travellers?

No other French region offers such a great lifestyle. Not only are there plenty of monuments, museums, history, and regional traditions, where else can you find the unique combination of beaches, mountains, forests, and rural life? Plus there’s our gastronomy — foie gras, truffle, traditional pastries, and a vast assortment of cheese and wines.

If you’re looking for an active vacation, this is a great region for surfing, kite surfing, biking, cycling, and boating.

It’s also a region that enthusiastically welcomes LGBTI travellers. Plus it’s one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations for naturists.

Why is the southwest of France so popular with people who like to vacation naked?

Naturism has a long history, dating back to the Age of Enlightenment. Over time, naturism has become one of the key values of the preservation of the environment, sustainable development, and respect for others — it’s very in-tune with the current tourism trends.

Each year, thousands of holidaymakers come to the southwest of France to experience a naturist vacation. This is a region where nature dominates, and we have a long tradition of embracing naturism.

Naturism is sometimes seen as a bit old-fashioned, but we’re seeing a growing enthusiasm for contemporary naturism — families, young couples, and casual nudists.

There are a number of specialist naturist holiday villages in the southwest of France, and they’re continuing to upgrade and develop their facilities. This includes new types of outdoor accommodation — equipped tents, chalets, and caravans — and high-end equipment and facilities such as hammams, saunas, fitness centres, and thalassotherapy.

The fédération française de naturisme has 40,000 members, and about 30 percent of those vacation in the southwest of France each year. Plus our specialist naturist resorts also attract a lot of visitors from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and the United States.

There’s a lot of different naturist resorts to choose from, whether that’s on the beach in the Landes and Gironde, or inland in the Périgord and Lot-et-Garonne countryside.

Which are some of the best beaches along the Aquitaine coast?

Quite simply, Aquitaine has Europe’s biggest beach of fine sand, stretching along 250 kilometres of ocean coastline. Added to this are the 500 kilometres of shoreline across the lakes and estuaries of the region.

This vast Atlantic coastline forms an almost straight, vertical line as it heads southwards from the Pointe de Grave to Spain, and it’s home to numerous boating harbours and seaside resorts — from the beaches of the Médoc in the north, to those of the Basque coast on the Spanish border, via the shores of the Landes region.

One of the features of this coastline is the number of nature reserves, protecting our diverse plant and animal life. These include Le Teich Ornithological Reserve in the Bay of Arcachon, and Marais d’Orx Nature Reserve in the southern Landes — both of which you can visit.

Other points of interest include, the presence of huge dunes along most of the shoreline — including the highest in Europe, the Dune du Pilat which is 104 metres high and looks out over the Bay of Arcachon — and the big lakes just a few miles inland.

You can distinguish four types of coastline in Aquitaine — four geographical areas, four kinds of landscape, four different atmospheres. Running from north to south, they are the Médoc, the Bay of Arcachon, the Landes, and the Basque Coast.

Are the gay beaches easy to find and easy to get to?

They’re very easy to find and very easy to get to. For some beaches, you’ll sometimes have to leave the car and then walk a few hundred meters, but just wearing a loincloth or nothing at all — it’s so nice.

The most renowned gay beaches in Gironde are Euronat beach, Grayan-et-L’Hopital — at the north and south of the naturist camp, La Jenny beach, and Le Porge. In Landes the gay beaches are Casernes beach, and Seignosses. In the Pyrénées Atlantiques the gay beach is Cent Marches near Bidart.

Are there any gay beaches that are also clothing optional beaches?

Everywhere on these beaches is clothing optional. It’s a very tolerant region and everyone has a lot of respect for each other. If you want to wear a swimsuit or not, that’s up to you.

What are some of the highlights when visiting Bordeaux?

The city of Bordeaux is among France’s most exciting, vibrant, and dynamic cities. In the last decade and a half, it’s shed its languid, Belle au Bois Dormant image thanks to the vision of city mayor Alain Juppé who has pedestrianised boulevards, restored neoclassical architecture, created a high-tech public transport system, and reclaimed Bordeaux’s former industrial wet docks at Bassin à Flots.

Half the city — around 18 square kilometres — is Unesco-listed, making it the largest urban World Heritage site. Plus world-class architects have designed a bevy of striking new buildings including the Herzog & de Meuron stadium, the decanter-shaped La Cité du Vin, and Jean-Jacques Bosc bridge across the Garonne River.

If you’re into shopping, Bordeaux has the longest pedestrianised shopping street in Europe — Sainte Catherine Street, where you’ll find over 230 stores.

Because of its large student population, and focus on tourism, Bordeaux is a very vibrant city and has a great food scene — there’s lots of barista-run cafes, super-food food trucks, an exceptional dining scene and more fine wine than you could ever possibly drink. Santé!

Some of the key points of interest include:

  • La Cité du Vin. The complex world of wine is explored in-depth at ground-breaking La Cité du Vin, a stunning piece of contemporary architecture resembling a wine decanter on the banks of the River Garonne.
  • Miroir d’Eau. A fountain of sorts, the Miroir d’Eau is the world’s largest reflecting pool. Covering an area of 3,450 square metres of black granite on the quayside opposite the imposing Palais de la Bourse.
  • Musée du Vin et du Négoce. This is a small wine and trade museum, hidden in one of the city’s oldest buildings — an Irish merchant’s house dating back to 1720 in the ancient trading district of Chartrons.
  • Musée d’Aquitaine. Gallo-Roman statues and relics dating back 25,000 years are among the highlights at this bright and spacious, well-curated history and art museum.
  • Musée des Beaux-Arts. The evolution of Occidental art from the Renaissance to the mid-20th century is on view at Bordeaux’s Museum of Fine Arts, which occupies two wings of the 1770s-built Hôtel de Ville, either side of elegant City Park.
  • Musée d’Art Contemporain. Built in 1824 as a warehouse for French colonial produce such as coffee, cocoa, peanuts and vanilla, the cavernous Entrepôts Lainé creates a dramatic backdrop for cutting-edge modern art.
  • Cathédrale St-André. Lording over the city, and a Unesco World Heritage site prior to the city’s classification, the cathedral’s oldest section dates from 1096. Most of what you see today was built in the 13th and 14th centuries.
  • Tour Pey Berland. This gargoyled, 50m-high flamboyant gothic belfry was built for the adjoining cathedral between 1440 and 1466. Its spire was added in the 19th century, and in 1863 it was topped off with the shiny gold statue.
  • Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design. Faience pottery, porcelain, gold, iron, glasswork, and furniture are displayed at the small Decorative Arts and Design Museum, housed in an elegant golden-stone hôtel particulier dating to 1779.
  • Jardin Public. Landscaping is artistic as well as informative at the Jardin Public. Established in 1755 and laid out in the English style a century later.
  • Monument aux Girondins. This imposing fountain on the vast square and public-transport hub Esplanade des Quinconces is a riot of horses. It was created between 1894 and 1902 in honour of the Girondins, a group of moderate, bourgeois National Assembly deputies during the French Revolution, 22 of whom were executed in 1793 after being convicted of counter-revolutionary activities.
  • Palais Gallien. It was Celtic tribes who first established Bordeaux, but it wasn’t until about 200 years later, under the rule of the Romans, that the town started to blossom. Back then it was called Burdigala.
  • Musée d’Histoire Naturelle. With more than one million different specimens on show, Bordeaux’s Natural History Museum is among France’s most impressive. Extensive renovation work were completed in 2017.
  • Galerie des Beaux-Arts. Temporary exhibitions are regularly hosted at this annexe of the nearby Musée des Beaux-Arts.

Does Bordeaux have a vibrant gay scene?

Bordeaux is considered to be one of the top gay destinations in France. There’s an incredible choice of bars, clubs, hotels, saunas, and shops. Plus being one of the wine capitals of France is also a big draw. Bordeaux has a je ne sais quoi that makes us love this city.

Gay life in Bordeaux really gets going at night when all the bars and clubs open. The best places are all in the city centre, particularly in the old neighbourhoods near St Catherine Street.

There’s two big events each year that are worth planning your itinerary around:

  • Bordeaux Gay Pride. Held each year in June, this is the main festival for the gay and lesbian community — thousands of people come out on the streets to protest and talk about homophobia.
  • Le festival cinémarges. This is Bordeaux’s LGBT film festival in Bordeaux — screening feature films and short films dedicated to gay and lesbian cinema. It’s one of the main LGBTI film festivals in France.

Which are the best bars and restaurants in Bordeaux?

My favourite gay bars and clubs are:

  • Le Trou Duck, 33 rue des Pillars de Tutelle
  • Coco Loko, 3 rue Duffour Dubergier
  • Café Pompier — 7 place Pierre Renaudel
  • Le QG de Monbadon, 43 Rue Lafaurie de Monbadon
  • Lefko’ Café, 55 courses Alsace-Lorraine

My favourite gay restaurants are:

  • Le Rajwal, 17 rue des Faussets
  • Restaurant Les Voûtes, 7 rue des Faussets
  • Le Bordiu, 41 Quai Richelieu
  • Le Cochon Volant, 22 Place des Capucins
  • Le Parlement des Graves, 9 rue du Parlement-Sainte-Catherine
  • L’autre salon de Thé, 11 rue des Remparts
  • Makila Kafé, Quai de Bacalan
  • Casa Ferretti — 55 cours Marechal Gallieni

Other great restaurants, that aren’t particularly gay, include:

  • Belle Campagne, 15 rue des Bahutiers
  • Côté Rue, 14 rue Paul Louis Lande
  • Le Flacon, 43 rue de Cheverus
  • Garopapilles, 62 rue de l’Abbe de l’Epee
  • Miles, 33 rue du Cancera
  • Le Quatrième Mur, 2 Place de la Comédie
  • Racines, 59 rue Georges Bonnac
  • Le Bouchon Bordelais, 2 rue Courbin
  • La Cagette, 8 Place du Palais
  • The Pavlov Dog — 45–47, rue de la Monnaie

What’s the best time of year to visit the southwest of France?

Because of the combination of the sea, the mountains, and the countryside, any time of year is a good time to visit this region.

It’s warmest between April and October, with June to mid-September being the peak of the summer and the best for naturist visitors.

From December to March, the Pyrenees offer a choice of winter sports as diverse as the Alps.

So whatever you’re looking for, the southwest will have what it takes to seduce you.

Follow Jean-Pierre Leclerc’s travel adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

Jean-Pierre Leclerc’s travel guide to the southwest of France. Photo courtesy of Jean-Pierre Leclerc
Jean-Pierre Leclerc’s travel guide to the southwest of France. Photo courtesy of Jean-Pierre Leclerc
Jean-Pierre Leclerc’s travel guide to the southwest of France. Photo courtesy of Jean-Pierre Leclerc
Jean-Pierre Leclerc’s travel guide to the southwest of France. Photo courtesy of Jean-Pierre Leclerc