This year we chose to spend our summer holiday in France. As with most holidays, food, drink and some good thermal springs or spas are always high up on the priority list when deciding where to go. I’m not sure where the idea came from, however when we started researching Bordeaux: the land of wine and cheese and an incredible sounding “Vinotherapie spa” – le Spa Caudalie – just a short drive from the city, we were sold! Sadly le Spa Caudalie quickly got scratched from our list, with the cheapest half day per person coming in at 215 euros. One for the “when we are rich and famous” list or even the “we haven’t just bought a flat and don’t have a wedding to pay for next year” list…!
Regardless, Bordeaux and its surroundings were enough to win our hearts, and what it lacked in thermal waters, it made up for in wine and cheese ten times over! So here are my highlights and top 5 things to do and see:
1. Architecture of the city
Bordeaux is a stunning city with lots of cobbled streets and grand buildings on every corner. We spent our first day wandering and taking in the grand sights of Place de la Bourse, Cathedrale St-Andre, Porte de Cailhau, le Grosse Cloche, Esplanade des Quinconces and the beautiful city gardens, stopping regularly for “hydration” breaks as we went. Place de la Bourse and the Mirror D’eau became one of my favourite places in the city and we returned on more than one occasion to paddle in the waters and take in its grandeur. Le Pont de Pierre is also worth a visit in the evening for a romantic stroll and to see the city all lit up at night.
When we heard there was a Sunday morning flea market at Flèche St-Michel, we decided it was worth an early morning alarm. The setting was beautiful – in the square of Cathedrale St Michel – and the market itself sold a mixture of everything: ranging from furniture and antiques to clothes and books, with a fair few oddities thrown in including a surprising number of rodent taxidermy (no really!) It was nice for a morning stroll but I’m not sure it was quite worth the 8am alarm! After the flea market, we headed on to Marche des Capucins – a food market just north of Place de la Victoire. This I would highly recommend visiting: there are market stalls selling wine, cheese, meats, fruit & veg, juices, seafood and more. We wandered the stall and bought picnic bits for taking with us to Arcachon the following day and then stopped for lunch at Chez Jean-Mi: the best seafood I have ever tasted (at equally incredible prices!)
3. Day trip to Arcachon
The nearest beach to Bordeaux is Arcachon which takes 50m on the train from Bordeaux St Jean and costs 24 euros return. Arcachon has nice sandy beaches and is also the home of the largest sand dune in Europe: la Dune du Pyla (or Pilat). A grand site and one hell of a thigh burner to climb in such heat! It was well worth the climb for the incredible views from the top of the dune and of the Atlantic coast line. They say on a very clear day you can look South and see all the way to the Pyrenees.
The beach at Arcachon itself was a bit too busy for my liking but the sand and water were clean and I’m sure if you wandered a bit further along, you could find a slightly quieter patch.
4. Day trip to Saint Emillion
A day trip to Saint Emillion should definitely be on the itinerary for anyone visiting Bordeaux. The train takes 35 minutes, again from Bordeaux St Jean, and cost 19 euros return. Stepping off the train in Saint Emillion felt like stepping back in time into the quaintest French town of rolling green vineyards and steep cobbled streets, complete with its own cathedral and many, many, MANY wine shops. We headed to the tourist office to hire bikes and attempted (with limited success!) to do our own tour of the Bordeaux vineyards. My advice to anyone wanting to do the same is to wait and visit in the afternoon as a lot of the vineyards only offered afternoon tours and tastings to visitors, and after cycling for quite sometime in the blistering heat having only been accommodated by one of the many vineyards we attempted to visit, we gave in and found a restaurant in amongst the town of St-Christophe and bought a bottle of wine and some lunch there instead!
When we got back to Saint Emillion in the afternoon we sampled more wine from various shops before visiting the Cordeliers to do a tour of the Monastery cellars, learn about how Cremant (the Bordeaux champagne equivalent) is made and of course, to sample a few glasses.
5. Vin et fromage galore!!
No visit to Bordeaux would be complete without eating lots of great cheese and drinking a lot of good wine. On our first day, our Air BnB host also recommended his local boulangerie to us, Le Hotel de Ville, which became a morning staple for our pain au raisin and cafe au lait. It’s right by Cathedral St-Andre and is well worth a visit. Also high on my list of recommendations: le Bar de Vin with its great wine list and charcuterie boards, Aux Quatre Coins du Vin for its DIY wine service and the bars and restaurants of La Rue du Parlement St Pierre.
We also spent a day at le Plage du Lac, a lake in the north of the city, enjoying the cool waters and sunbathing on the sandy beaches. If you have a few days to try something different, it’s worth a day trip although it got really crowded by the time we left so my advice would be to get there early.
So there you have it: my top 5 to see and do in and around Bordeaux. Happy travels!