Recently I traveled to southwestern France and discovered its beautiful nature, cuisine, wine and its buzzing heart – the city of Bordeaux. Today I want to share with you some of my favorite discoveries and top travel tips for Bordeaux in France. If you ever embark on a journey to the capital of wine on the banks of the Garonne river, take your time to indulge in the beauties of this wonderful French city.
Bordeaux is home to more than 240,000 inhabitants and is an important port city with a very maritime character – although you can’t see the ocean from Bordeaux. But the Garonne river flows through Bordeaux and merges with the Dordogne river thus creating the wide Gironde estuary which opens up to the Atlantic ocean. And that maritime vibe can be felt throughout the city – not only its climate is mild, but the lifestyle is pretty southern here: the Bordelais love to eat, drink and socialize alfresco and seem to be way more relaxed than there Parisian counterparts.
When you arrive in Bordeaux you will be stunned by its beautifully preserved architecture. To me, Bordeaux felt instantly like a smaller version of Paris in the south, with its wonderful buildings, a slightly posh vibe, elegant people but minus the hectic and bustle of Paris but then with warm weather and lush, southern vegetation. No wonder many of my French friends say that Bordeaux seems like a very attractive alternative to Paris – if they ever had to leave Paris (Heaven forbid!). Bordeaux is also home to a very rich French cuisine that might shock any vegetarians or vegans among you – typical dishes from Bordeaux include greasy terrines, heavy pâtés, oozing confit de canard and – it is the original home of the so much loved or hated Foie Gras, a buttery version of goose or duck liver. Oh and then there is cheese. And a cheese restaurant (Baud et Millet) with an entire cheese cellar boasting more than a hundred French cheeses and you are allowed to serve yourself in the manner of ‘all you can eat’ – it is literally like going into a fine French cheese shop and being allowed to taste every single cheese!
For those with a sweet tooth I recommend to taste the traditional Canelés of Bordeaux – a good option is at Canelés Baillardran who have several boutiques throughout the town. Whether you like hearty dishes like that or not – Bordeaux boast a fine selection of very good restaurants with a wide variety of dishes that will entice your sumptuous desires – so no worry at all!
Wine is yet another story. Bordeaux is one of the world’s capitals of winemaking and its good wines have gained high acclaim throughout the world. Moreover, they are a sort of unrivaled standard and it’s the wine that makes a dish complete in Bordeaux (actually in all of France). I strongly recommend to train your palate while in Bordeaux and if you are not an oenologist yourself, simply consult the restaurant’s sommeliers or go to one of the many wine bars. You will not regret it. I also recommend a visit to one of the numerous wine estates around Bordeaux – I visited one very nice chateau and its vineyards, but I’ll tell you that story another time.
When in Bordeaux I suggest you start with the old town – its narrow streets will remind you either of some Mediterranean towns or the Marais quarter of Paris. Wherever you go, eventually you’ll end up on smaller or larger squares lined up with cafés, bistros, restaurants, shops. Wander down the Rue Parlement Saint-Pierre with its many bars and restaurants that transform the street into a buzzing spot for apéros and dinners, but it’s also great for a coffee break or lunch. Stroll to the central Place de la Comédie with its high-end cafés and restaurants overlooking the square and facing the opera, do not miss the Place de la Bourse either with its great fountain and frontal views of the Garonne river and the ‘Miroir de l’Eau’, the water mirror, where you can refresh your feet if you like. Another highlight is the large Place Pey Berland flanked by the impressive cathedral and the Hôtel de Ville.
Like any other old town, Bordeaux’s old town is best discovered by random roaming through its narrow streets. I particularly liked the Rue Saint-James with some great shops and cafés like the Books & Coffee (not to mention some very nice plants inside). It’s on this street that I discovered the atelier of a local ceramicist Damien Gruel called ‘En Terre d’Atelier’ – you can watch the artist hand-throwing his beautiful pieces and chit chat with him. Of course I could not leave the boutique without a little handmade souvenir.
Another highlight is to rent a bike (good renting spot at the Place des Quinconces) and ride along the Garonne river. The city has good bike lanes and you’ll discover a bit of modern Bordeaux too as you leave the cobbled street of the old town. Ride up to the the modern lift bridge that is so high that even huge cruise liners can pass underneath it and anchor in front of Bordeaux’s old town. I also suggest to drive to the other bank side of the Garonne river, the part of town known as Bastide. In one of its slightly forsaken corner with old factory buildings you will find the fantastic Magasin Général – a mix between an organic supermarket, a bakery, a cool café, shop and restaurant all in an old hangar building. The coffee at Alchemist roasters is fabulous and worth a cup or two – relax and take your time. After all this is the south, this is Bordeaux.
Good cafés, bars & restaurants in Bordeaux:
Café Kokomo, good coffee, cakes and lots of colours, 14 rue Ravez
Le Petit Commerce restaurant, 22 rue Parlement Saint-Pierre
Baud et Millet, cheese restaurant, 19 rue Huguerie
Magasin Général, coffee roasters, restaurant and organic supermarket, 87 Quai des Queyries
La Cagette, cool canteen, 8 Place du Palais
Le Garage, barbecue restaurant, 4 Place du Palais
Café Utopia, great to watch people and see a movie in the old Utopia cinema, 5 Place Camille Jullian
The Wine Bar – Le Boutique Hotel, one of many wine bars with a very cool sommelier and litter indoor garden, 3 rue Lafarge Monbadon
Black List, great third wave coffee, 27 Place Pey Berland
Books & Coffee, 26 rue Saint-James
If you wonder where to stay in Bordeaux: I’ve found probably the best airbnb in town and blogged about it HERE. Very recommended!