Earlier this year in February, we decided to visit Bordeaux, yet another wine growing region of France (in an earlier post I talked about the Loire wine region). Bordeaux is located about 550kms from Paris and the easiest way to reach the city is by the high-speed TGV trains. These trains only take about 2.5hrs – driving takes about 5.5hrs – and are super comfortable. Bordeaux trains leave from Gare de Lyon in Paris.
Bordeaux is not only famous for its wines but is also a well-known tourist destination, with the second highest number of preserved historical buildings in France after Paris. My first impressions of the city was that it was a mini version of Paris – less crowded and very pretty with amazing transport links and lots to see and do.
We arrived there on a Friday evening, it just happened to be Valentine’s Day and K’s birthday weekend! So I had planned lots of tours, wine tastings and gourmet meals but we had only two days to fit in everything!
Out cute little B&B was a short tram ride away from the train station and we arrived at La Maison Odeia around 7pm on Friday. I chose this place because it was located on a quiet street, away from the hustle & bustle and yet walking distance from most of the city’s main sights and restaurants. Our hostess Camille showed us around the place – the building was old but Camille and her partner William, had renovated the entire place to make it very modern and comfortable from the inside. One of the main features of this house was the beautiful circular staircase that you can see below.
After checking in, we were ready to head into the historic city centre for some apéros and dinner. Bordeaux has some great places for cocktails and one of them, Madame Pang, was on my list. However, given it was Friday night AND V-Day, it was very busy when we arrived so we had to settle for another place instead. Bordeaux like Paris, has no dearth of cafés and we quickly found a place around the corner. Post drinks, we had booked a table at Le Chien de Pavlov (Pavlov’s dog!), a French-style bistro where the menu changes with the season. They only use fresh produce and you can either opt for a tasting menu or go à la carte.
Day 1.5 in Bordeaux
Saturday was choc-a-bloc with things to see in the morning followed by a half-day wine tasting tour. with no time to waste, we headed out bright and early to take in all the sights from Cathédrale Saint-André to Porte Cailhau; the Grosse Cloche to the Esplanade des Quinconces and the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. All of these are located in the historic city centre and an easy walk from one another.
Bordeaux, located on the banks of the river Garonne, also has one of the most beautiful waterfronts. The promenade is 80m wide and you can walk, cycle, skateboard or simply sit on a bench and enjoy the views.
One of Bordeaux’s most famous sights is the Place de la Bourse and the Miroir d’eau (as seen above) or the water mirror. It is a large shallow pool of water that is designed in a way so as to reflect the beautiful Place de la Bourse and the neighbouring buildings. This pool is in fact the largest reflecting pool in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Unfortunately for us, the reflecting pool is filled with water only in the summer months and since we were visiting in February, the pool was empty. I was heart broken as this was something I was really looking forward to seeing. Guess its one reason to visit Bordeaux again!
A wine tour of St Emilion
The Bordeaux region is the largest wine growing region in France with no less than 57 different appellations of wines made from more diverse grapes than any other region. Bordeaux wines are always a blend with the reds made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot; while white wines use Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle varieties of grapes.
Given the size and diversity of the region, there are several different wine routes to choose from such as the Medoc trail, the Graves & Sauternes trail, the St Emilion & Pomerol trail, to name a few.
Given that we only had one afternoon, we opted for the St Emilion wine route that includes the charming village of St Emilion, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The medieval village, located atop a hill, overlooks the surrounding vineyards and the Dordogne valley. St Emilion has the largest monolithic church in Europe and a large number of ancient buildings, caves and monuments dating from the Middle Ages. You can easily spend a few hours just wandering around the small alleyways and cobbled streets.
Our tour started with a visit to Chateau Beauregard in the Pomerol region. The property was founded in 1677 by Bernard Beauregard but it became a full-scale wine producer only in the 1800s. Since then it has changed hands several times and in 2014 the estate underwent a complete overhaul which gave it a new lease of life after it was bought by the Moulin and Cathiard families – the former also own the Galeries Lafayette chain of stores. The estate grows its vines organically and the grapes are split between Merlot & Cabernet Franc.
The other vineyard we visited was Château Fombrauge, the largest vineyard in the St Emilion region. The chateau is owned by Bernard Magrez a French wine magnate who owns around 40 vineyards globally!
The afternoon was over more quickly than we had hoped for and after two very informative estate tours and a walk through the history-steeped streets of St Emilion it was time to head back to Bordeaux.
We ended the evening with an advance birthday dinner for K at the famed Quanjude – famous for its Peking duck in Beijing – but in these parts known for creating Chinese food in a gourmet style using French techniques and local ingredients. The meal as you can imagine, was one of the best we’ve had.
Day 2.5 in Bordeaux
We only had until 5pm on Sunday to explore the rest of the city before taking the train back to Paris. We decided to take a long walk along the riverfront which took us through a fresh food market full of fresh veggies, fruits, different cheeses, freshly baked breads, sea food and a lot of ready to eat stuff. These makers are very common all around France and most locals prefer to shop in these markets for their fresh produce.
Continuing along the promenade, we reached the Cité du Vin, a museum dedicated to wine and its heritage, taking us on a sensory and interactive journey across cultures and ages. The museum is one of the largest of its kind and so be prepared to spend a good 3 hours or more here.
After the museum, we decided to head back to the city centre and just wander around the main square off the Grand Theatre and the surroundding areas. Being Sunday, most of the shops were shut so the main market street was quiet with only restaurants and cafes open. If you are not a shopper, Sunday is the perfect day to explore cities and towns in France as the streets are near empty making walking or driving a pleasure. But bear in mind that in smaller towns most eateries may also be closed!
We ambled the rest of the day away in the beautiful city and soon found ourselves back at the train station already planning our next weekend trip!