A Girl's Guide to Bordeaux, France

august 10, 2018

july 26, 2018

When I think of Bordeaux I imagine familiar buildings yellowing in age with the smallest and most endearing balconies for watching people navigate la rue below. I inhale the scent of rich sauces and fresh bread wafting on to cobblestone streets from numerous Michelin Guide recommended restaurants and equally amazing casual cafes. I hear local musicians serenade diners and spectators with acoustic classics and church bells chime on the hour. I can feel the gentle and refreshing spray from the Girondins Fountain, strolling by with my dog on our way to the expansive Jardin Publique. Every day in Bordeaux had its special moments and small comforts.

 

My first home in France holds such dear memories. I spent many incredible days and evenings in this old city, more often than not with wine in hand and incredible company to share it with. A special thanks goes to the old friends who visited and the new friends I made. I’m looking forward to calling this country my home again, although I’m not sure when. But for now, santé!

 

A note on when to visit… there is an annual Wine Festival in June. It’s so fun and fantastic. Definitely research dates and try to make it happen. I was lucky enough to be around for these festivities, as well as Bastille Day and the celebrations in winning the World Cup. It was a very joyous summer.

SEE // DO

  • Soak in the incredibly French vibes of the Old Town. It’s incredibly walkable, both in terms of size and pedestrianized zones.

 

  • Le Cite du Vin, located north of the Old Town and easily accessed by tram, is dedicated to all things wine, particularly viticulture around the world and the history of wine making. Arrange your visit to end with dinner at the top-floor restaurant, overlooking Bordeaux and Le Gironde River.

 

  • Stunning churches are found in every corner of the city. The most notable is Saint-Andre Cathedral, where one can climb to the top of the bell tower for a decent view of the city. On the southern end of the Bordeaux is Basilique Saint Michel, and my personal favorite is the much smaller, but very charismatic, Eglise Saint-Piere.

 

 

 

  • Le Jardin Public is a beautifully laid out green space a stone’s throw from the Old Town Center. It’s a lovely place to occupy a bench with a book.

 

  • Palais Gallien, around the corner from Le Jardin Public, is a colosseum-esque Roman Ruin. The sight seems to be a bit unknown to tourists, making it a quiet and significant respite from the bustling streets in the city center.

 

  • Monument aux Girondins is a magnificent fountain of Trevi proportions. Pop by for a photo and a refreshing mist on those steamy summer days.

  • Le Miroir d’eau is another fun summer spot as this modern, flat fountain laid out opposite of Place de Bourse on the river docks shoots water up every 15 minutes. The place is always littered with people, especially children, enjoying the cool water and surroundings.

 

  • Marche des Capucins is a traditional market mostly frequented by locals. It’s traditional and cool and definitely worth leaving the tourist track for some picnic supplies and delicacies to bring home.

 

  • Darwin Eco-system is on the opposite bank of Bordeaux, which is much more residential. Set in a repurposed factory, Darwin shows off the next generation of art and conceptual living in Bordeaux. The exterior is painted with street art, while the interiors house cute boutiques, a co-working space, cafe, and an organic foods store.

Eat // Drink

 

For regional cuisine check out:

 

 

 

 

  • Lauza (lovely interiors and vegetarian options)

 

 

 

 

  • Echo (lovely location opposite l’Eglise Saint-Piere)

 

 

For Seafood…

 

 

 

 

 

For international cuisine…

 

  • Mampuku (French Asian fusion in trendy setting)

 

 

 

 

  • KO-SAN (locals, good happy hour, Asian bites)

 

  • Sushi DOZO (we all get that craving… even when surrounded by French yummies)

For wine, cocktails, and late nights…

 

 

  • Night Beach (roof of Intercontinental hotel, cocktails are good, but the burrata is also to die for)

 

 

  • La Comtesse (decorated with flamingos and Victorian Era decor)

 

 

  • Gintoneria (gin and tonics on a charismatic street)

 

 

  • L’Apollo (fun bar with pool tables, situated on a very happening square)


 

For cheap eats and quick bites…

 

 

 

  • Contrast (THE coffee and breakfast spot for Millenials)

 

 

Shop // Splurge

 

Bordeaux is heaven for boutique shoppers, such as myself. The Old Town is comprised of adorable little streets with endless specialty shops. There are honestly too many to even name here, especially when it comes to womenswear. Rue Saint-Catherine and Cours de l’Intendance are the primary commercial streets where all the big name and international brands can be found, while the boutiques tend to be found on the smaller streets coming off these two big ones.


I will say BAAAM has the cutest locally made craft and home-decor items and Le Comptoir Bordelais is perfect for food-centric souvenirs. Other than that, set aside an afternoon to wander and shop the Old Town boutiques.

Day Trip // Weekend Away

 

The city center itself has plenty to do, but all the wineries (with one exception) are located outside of the city limits of Bordeaux. There are also other lovely outdoor and historic activities within a short drive of the city. One can book a day tour with Aviator, GetYourGuide, or by popping into the tourist office, but these are often very very touristic, meaning overcrowded and pricey for the quality. I preferred more DIY options…

 

  • As mentioned above, there is one winery in the city limits which has a very cute little house and amazing eco-friendly wine. You can reach Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion by bike (20 minutes) or by taking the train and adding on a 10 minute walk. We also walked from there to Chateau Luchey-Halde, just outside the city limits. We were much less impressed with this winery in terms of both the tour and the wine, but it was fun to hop around to both wineries. The set of three photos above were from this half day excursion.

  • I can not recommend Memosine tours highly enough. Basically you rent these go-kart like things and drive around to Chateaus and wine-tastings, while an iPad points out local sights as you drive by, tracking everything with a GPS. It is self-guided, so you can pull over when you'd like for lunch or photos. It’s pretty affordable and you don’t have to deal with annoying guides droning on or fighting for a photo-op with dozens of other tourists. I took the one to the Medoc (€79pp/€69 for students) with my friend Annika and we were both incredibly satisfied with our decision to forgo a traditional tour. (picture in set below)

 

  • Chateau Brede, is unfortunately not the kind of Chateau that includes a wine tasting, but it is a must for history buffs. This moated castle was the home of Montesquieu, the founding father of sociology. I biked a full 20km to this castle and I really do not recommend this form of transport. It was not a well thought plan. Yet, you can arrange a tour - Memosine (mentioned above) offers them at €87-99/pp. (picture of the Chateau in set below)

 

  • For a seaside getaway, Arcachon and Cape Ferret are just over an hour away by car. Arcachon is a bit more accessible with plenty of day tours and the option to take a bus. Yet, Cape Ferret is apparently more beautiful and less crowded. Unfortunately, I somehow missed out on both during my ten weeks in Bordeaux. But, I have a feeling I’ll be back in the area again.

Getting There // Getting Around

 

Bordeaux is only about 2.5 hours from Paris by high-speed train (tickets start at about €20 if you book in advance).  From the Bordeaux St. Jean, the central train station, one can take the brand-new tram system, which takes about 10 minutes to get to the Old Town (Ubers will be €5-10, but take the same amount of time, so are therefore pointless unless you have a lot of luggage).  If flying into Bordeaux, there is an airport bus (€1.80, if I remember correctly) that takes about 45 minutes to get into the Old Town. It does get full and crowded, so it's not necessarily the most comfortable ride. Otherwise one can take an Uber or taxi, which generally range from €35-50.

The Old Town of Bordeaux is very walkable. Everything is pretty close and many streets are pedestrianized. There is also the aforementioned tram system, which connects to the central train station and the limits of the city/suburbs. One can also rent bikes - there is a vending service known as VELO with pick-up/drop-off locations throughout the city. I do not recommend using Uber to get around the city center, as it's really not necessary and there are so many streets the cars can not access. Usually, it's faster and easier to walk.