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A few days in… Bordeaux

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

With Bordeaux resident Helen’s tips and a few recommendations from our owners and our team to guide us, we’ve put together a five day itinerary for a trip to the heart of wine country.

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Day 1: Settling in 

On the assumption that you arrive at the weekend, leave things like the major galleries and the Cité du Vin for later in the week, when they’ll be much quieter. Make this a day for wandering. Drop in to Helen’s favourite bakery, Boulangerie “Au Pétrin Moissagais” in Les Chartrons, maybe taking your pastries and coffee down to a bench by the river to watch the boats go by.  

After breakfast, stroll south along the riverbank and you’ll reach the Mirroir de l’eau, a giant granite slab covered in a thin layer of water, where you can slip your shoes off and splash around if it’s a sunny day. A right turn, away from the river and into the city, will bring you to Cathédrale Saint-André. You can’t miss it, as the Pey-Berland tower, 50m high, stands in the same square.

The cathedral is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the tower is closed on Mondays, so time your visit to explore both. The view from the top of the tower, after a climb of 229 steps, is spectacular. The whole morning’s walk is only an hour long, giving you plenty of time to linger at each stop.  

Lunch could be at any one of Bordeaux’s many eateries, perhaps Helen’s tip, Le Carreau or Black List Café, recommended by Trish from Bordeaux Apartments. After lunch, Parc Bordelais, Le Jardin Public or another of the city’s green spaces make pleasant spots to while an hour or so, but you could also head back to Les Chartrons (famous for its boutiques and antique shops) or into St Pierre, the historic centre. Spend a pleasant afternoon strolling and staring before you have an early glass of wine and maybe a small siesta before dinner. 

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Day 2: Floating your boat 

Assuming it’s now Sunday, why not keep the laid-back feel of the weekend going with brunch and a sail aboard Le Luna? On the long, low boat, you’ll chug gently along the Garonne, getting wonderful views of the city from the rooftop seats, as you’re served a delicious continental breakfast. Sailings depart at 11.30am from Quai Richelieu and you land back at the dock at around 14.00pm. Booking is essential as space is limited.  

The spare afternoon gives you the perfect chance to see what’s going on in Utopia, an abandoned church that became an arthouse cinema in 1999. It now hosts talks and film clubs (which would be a real test of your French), as well as showing movies in the dramatic setting of its vaulted, beamed theatre. There are even al fresco film events on warm summer evenings that it’s well worth keeping an eye out for.

The cinema is neatly positioned between the shopping streets of Rue Sainte-Catherine and Rue du Pas-Saint-Georges, close to the old town, so you could easily kill a couple of hours with browsing and coffee if you’re too early for curtain up. 

Day 3: Time for wine 

You simply cannot come to Bordeaux and not go to Cité du Vin, even if it’s simply to marvel at the building itself. While it’s often thought to be look a little like a carafe, the architects themselves hold that it, “does not resemble any recognizable shape because it is an evocation of the soul of wine between the river and the city”, with the swirls and shining surfaces mimicking wine poured into a glass and the movement of the river.  

As awesome as it appears from the outside, it’s well worth going inside too. The museum, if that’s even the right word, is open every day and the permanent exhibition takes you through the history of wine. There are standard tasting workshops and other events that come and go, as well as the Via Sensoria, an art and wine tasting experience like nothing else. Cité du Vin is very popular of course, which is why we recommend waiting until a weekday, although this still won’t mean it’s deserted.  

Round out the day with visits to the Musée d’Aquitaine, CAPC (the modern art museum) and Cap Sciences on the quay. Your feet might get a bit sore, but you’ll work up an appetite, so maybe this is the day you book TentaziOni, Helen’s top tip, for a Michelin-starred experience of fine Italian gastronomy.  

Day 4: Beach day 

The beauty of Bordeaux is that it offers such variety. There are two national parks inland (Landes des Gascogne, an hour south and Perigord-Limousin, two hours north-east) to complement the city’s fabulous wine and food. But there’s also the coast. A one-hour drive will take you to Le Porge, a small town with a beach of the same name. As with some of Bordeaux’s other attractions, it’s only comparatively unknown.

Locals flock here on sunny days but there aren’t beach bars and rows of sun loungers, so it has a more casual feel even when busy. The undertow and currents are no laughing matter, so it’s more of a place to paddle than swim, but it’s a lovely spot nonetheless.  

Just down the coast you’ll find The Dune du Pilat, an enormous mountain of sand that makes for a surreal climb and great views of the coast, but if you’re in the mood for a more sophisticated day at the seaside, head over the water to Cap Ferret for oysters. While you could drive round to the town that hangs on the end of a hook of land across the bay of Arcachon, public transport from Bordeaux is more than possible.  

Trains from Bordeaux to Arcachon run regularly and take less than an hour and a ten-minute walk takes you to the quay where small ferries nip across the bay. Book in advance but don’t bank on the boats running promptly, as departures can be chaotic. As you cross, you’ll see the oyster beds all along the coast. Almost every building on the water has turned itself into an oyster bar and you’ll get a much better deal if you take a walk south away from the dock once you arrive.

For a handful of Euros, you’ll get a plate of incredibly fresh oysters, a great bottle of white wine and a delicious lifelong memory. The last train back is around 9.00 or 10.00pm, so it’s worth making an early start to fit everything in. 

Day 5: Vintage souvenirs 

A trip to Cité du Vin is one kind of wine experience, but a visit to St Emilion is a pilgrimage to one of viticulture’s most revered locations. The village sits in a remarkable location, with a perfect microclimate for growing and an array of soils that allow a range of grapes to flourish. It’s also well preserved architecturally, making it a fine place to sightsee even if you haven’t come to buy wine.

Trains from Bordeaux take about 45 minutes, are quite cheap and run regularly. While they do leave you a half-hour walk at the other end, it’s a pleasant ramble along pavements most of the way, as long as the sun isn’t too fierce.  

With so many of the village’s buildings being repurposed into wine shops, some feel it’s become a wine theme park, but there’s a sense of history and celebration that still makes it worth a trip. You can pick up a couple of souvenir bottles, ranging from the latest production of the local wineries to relics of estates that no longer exist. There’s also some of wine’s most famous names, although make sure to clear your credit card if you’re planning on picking up a several-thousand-Euro bottle of Petrus.  

While nothing quite matches St Emilion for the density of wine shops, there are alternatives if you feel like dodging the crowds. Paulliac is a couple of hours north on the train, and Margaux about 90 minutes, and both are home to some notable vintages of their own. Even without a day trip, you can ask your host or a local and they’ll point you towards the local Cave à vin, where you can browse the area’s incredible wine list and pick up some souvenirs to bring back the taste of Bordeaux wherever you are. 

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

Chris is our in-house copywriter, with a flair for turning rough notes and travel tales into enticing articles. Raised in a tiny Wiltshire village, he was desperate to travel and has backpacked all over the world. Closer to home, he finds himself happiest in the most remote and rural places he can find, preferably with a host of animals to speak to, some waves to be smashed about in and the promise of a good pint somewhere in his future.
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