A long weekend in Bordeaux
Bonjour mes amis!
I can’t believe it’s been almost five months since we took our spontaneous trip to France.
With an upcoming move to the most isolated city in the world on the agenda, we decided on a whim to book one last trip before leaving Europe.
Without a firm destination in mind, other than knowing we wanted to be in close proximity of baguettes, wine and copious quantities of cheese, we looked for the cheapest flights to France on Skyscanner and up popped Bordeaux.
So we booked a last minute Airbnb, dusted off our French and off we went, for four nights in the City of Wine.
And you know what, it was AMAZING.
I often think the best trips happen spontaneously, when you don’t have a firm idea of what a place is going to be like. And that is exactly what happened with Bordeaux. We came home raving about it, so much so that my mum booked almost exactly the same trip a few weeks later.
Over the years I’ve spent A LOT of time in France – as a family we used to go every summer and even lived there for a year. But I’ve never been so taken with France as when I was strolling the streets of Bordeaux.
It’s a beautiful, historical and vibrant city that has held on to its character and its history. Just as Rome epitomizes Italy for me (read my guide to Rome here!) all of the best things about France are to be found in Bordeaux.
Even if you’re not a wine-lover the city has so much to offer (although I’d strongly advise at least trying the wine – you might have a conversion experience).
So here is my short and sweet guide to Bordeaux, read on for where to eat, sleep and explore!
We stayed in the quiet, residential neighbourhood of Saint-Seurin. It’s a bit of a walk into the city centre, but what you lack in buzzy atmosphere you make up for with peaceful streets lined with lined with traditional town houses, sleepy cafes filled with locals and the sense that you’re experiencing the real Bordeaux.
That quintessential French scene, with a church square and the local market and the old men walking tiny, very fluffy poodles all accompanied by the sound of accordion music and the waft of freshly baked bread from the local Boulangerie … well that’s what I found in Saint-Seurin. To top it off there’s also a great organic market every Friday morning in the Place des martyrs de la Résistance.
Our accomodation for the week was an Airbnb apartment on the second floor of a charming townhouse. Its high ceilings and huge windows with views over rooftops and the host’s walled garden made for a peaceful stay, despite being only twenty minutes away from the centre of town.
We were on a bit of a budget but if you have unlimited funds my dream place to stay would be here - it also on my (never gonna happen) honeymoon shortlist!
The city centre is a UNESCO world heritage listed site and it’s easy to see why – the architecture is truly breathtaking.
You can see the layers of history in Bordeaux’s streets. At every turn the city transformed before our eyes; one moment we were in Paris, the next in Rome, the next Lisbon. Its open squares, wide tree-lined boulevards and grand buildings sit next to tram lines and winding alleyways that open up on to towering cathedrals.
Centuries of English rule and Bordeaux’s proximity to Spain have certainly left their mark, and make it an architecturally interesting city to explore.
The Historic Centre
We joined a free walking tour on our first day and I’m so glad we did. Our guide Hubert, a local Bordelais, helped us to uncover the rich history of the city.
When you’re only in town for a few days there’s nothing like a local’s knowledge to help you get acquainted as quickly as possible with a new city and uncover hidden spots.
Or if you’re up for exploring at a more leisurely place, then Bordeaux is easy enough to find your way around and the scale of the city centre means it is easily walkable.
Start with a wander around the Saint-Pierre Quarter, the historic heart of Bordeaux. It’s hidden behind La Place de La Bourse, a huge open square located next to the river. In the centre is a fountain that is famously said to be flowing with wine!
Just opposite you can see Le Miroir d’eau (the mirror of water), a modern art instillation that is the world's largest reflecting pool. When the sun is shining La Place de La Bourse is perfectly reflected in its shallow water, which fills up and empties at regular intervals. It’s also a nice place to have a paddle on a hot day.
Just around the corner is La Porte Cailhau - a stunning gate built into the old city walls. It dates back to the 1400s and looks like a mini chateau has been plonked in the middle of the city. It is situated between the river and Le Place du Palais which is a picturesque square, lined with cafes and restaurants.
The gate overlooks Le Pont de Pierre, a bridge built by Napoleon in the 19th Century (and with 17 arches in his honour - one for each letter of his name).
You can walk across the bridge to see great views of the city from the other side of the Garonne. Or (to save your feet) rent a couple of bikes and cycle across. On our last day we had a fun time exploring the right bank on a couple of bikes from Esprit Cycles (and saved our sore feet from more walking).
Another picturesque spot is Saint Andrew’s Cathedral. Try and go late in the day - it looked beautiful lit up in the golden evening sunshine.
The Saint Michel Area
The area around Basilique Saint-Michel has lots of cute bars, brunch places and restaurants. There is also a vibrant ethnic scene here and its very lively at night. If you’re looking for a fun place to sit and have a drink in the evening, I’d head to the area around the Cathedral and enjoy watching the world go by.
Saint-Émilion is a charming medieval village (and another UNESCO World Heritage Site) surrounded by rolling green hills, vineyards and chateaux – the perfect place to see the French countryside and more importantly, taste some wine!
You can take tours if you’re feeling fancy, but to save some money we did the do-it-yourself option and took a train Bordeaux. Just hop on the train at Gare Saint-Jean and then get off at Saint-Émilion - the village is a pleasant 10 minute stroll away from the station. It takes less than an hour and costs between 5-10 euros each way - for train booking in advance (always a good idea) head here!
The steep and narrow streets are dotted with ancient buildings and caves as well as wine shops and amazing places to eat; it’s a beautiful place to spend a day.
La Tupina - if you only eat at one restaurant in Bordeaux, make it this one.
Before embarking on our trip we watched Rick Stein’s Bordeaux and this was the first restaurant featured on the episode – and I can’t recommend it enough. They serve fresh local produce simply cooked in the traditional ways over an open fire. Easily one of the best meals of my life.
We ate Filet de Boeuf - a juicy steak topped with a peppery mushroom sauce, lamb shank slow cooked with herbs and butter beans and (as if that wasn’t enough) crispy fries cooked in duck fat. Diet food it most definitely is not, but if you’re looking for authentic french fare and delicious wine (mais oui) it’s absolutely worth a visit!
La Terrace Saint Pierre - if La Tupina has emptied your wallet then head here for a cheap bite (it’s also in close proximity to most of the major sightseeing spots). Whilst probably not the best place for a mind-blowing meal out, it’s perfect for a couple of glasses of chilled vin rosé and for soaking up the lively ambience of the square. We were also served such a generous platter of charcuterie, cheeses and breads that we had no need for dinner.
La Mère Michel - a lovely place to eat a crêpe (or two) and enjoy the atmosphere of the Place Meynerd - a buzzing square around the cathedral. Our walking guide recommended this place and it didn’t disappoint!
Le Marché des Capucins - you can’t go to France and not experience the local market. We enjoyed walking around its vast stalls, filled with beautiful fresh produce and then stopped for a terrible coffee (sorry France but your coffee is AWFUL) and some shameless people watching.
Pâtisserie Maison Zürcher (4 Place du Pradeau) - this bakery was (dangerously) close to our Airbnb and en route when we strolled into town each morning. The scent of freshly baked bread would waft over the square and lure us in sample its dizzying array of french bread, cakes and patisseries. If you’re looking for an authentic Boulangerie, this is the one! You can also pick up some Canelés- a small cake flavoured with rum and vanilla that is a speciality of the area.
And a few destination tips..
August in France means closed – as do Mondays. And some Wednesday afternoons. And probably Sunday too. So if you want your city break with a bit of a buzz then plan your trip wisely!
If you want to visit a Chateau then you will need to book in advance as they only open up for appointments or tours (we had no idea and tried to turn up on the day to find one VERY closed Chateau).
Respect the french eating times or go hungry… you won’t get lunch after 2pm, or before 12pm. Breakfast is also served along similarly strict guidelines. So don’t just turn up somewhere and expect to be fed - do your research beforehand!
On a similar note it’s also a good idea to book a table for dinner. As a Londoner I’m used to rocking up sans-reservations but this probably won’t go down so well in France. So unless you want a look of contempt from the maitre d’ call up at least the day before.
And last but not least.. the french really appreciate if you at least try to speak their language so learn a few key phrases before you do. Although be warned, they WILL point out every small error you make along the way.
I hope you enjoyed my short and sweet guide to Bordeaux, to keep up to date with my latest posts don’t forget to follow me on Bloglovin’