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The Forest of the Landes

As one of the most intriguing regions of southern France, the mighty Landes Forest enjoys an auspicious reputation as being a manmade feature that has given something back to nature. Here, soaring maritime-pine trees dominate the skyline, casting captivating silhouettes against the blue skies above Aquitaine. Yet, while the appearance may well appeal to the aesthete, the practical significance of the forest is far less clear.

Origins

Covering more than 10,000km2 including Landes and Gironde, it would be easy to assume that the forest has been present for far longer than little over a century. Yet, before its creation, there was little but swampland covering the region; swampland that was sparsely populated and navigable only with stilts during the wet months.

In June 1857, however, the passing of a decree that put an end to the traditional pastoral farming of the area would be the catalyst to a programme of reforestation at Landes. Gone were the farmers of livestock and, in their stead, industries making the most of the forest’s assets – such as wood, paper, and pine resin – would flourish at the start of the 20th century.

Influence on viticulture

The influence of the Landes Forest would ultimately exceed such industry, with its importance spreading to what was, and what remains, the region’s most important industry: wine production.

The famous Medoc wine region – located at the northern tip of the Landes Forest – was the main beneficiary of the forest’s growth. The Landes de Medoc section of the peninsula utilises the forest for shelter from the cold sea winds driven by the Atlantic Ocean. As such, the vineyards are able to flourish and support the production of such varieties as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Modern usage

While the Landes Forest continues to provide protection to the Medoc wine region, many other industries forged from the land have ceased, with the exception of certain woodcrafts as furniture making. As such, the Landes Forest has had to evolve, and today tourism plays an integral role to the local economy. In particular, the forest is a perfect destination to embark on a cycling or walking holiday, with the terrain providing a distinct contrast to the sandy beaches lining the Aquitaine coast.