After visiting the gastronomic capital of the world, it seemed only fitting to travel to the wine capital next – Bordeaux. This is also the second place on our short list of places to move during part of our sabbatical. After this trip, Bordeaux is a strong contender.
Bordeaux simply rocks. She is sometimes referred to as Sleeping Beauty, which I’ve read is a reference to a time when the walls were black due to pollution. No, I don’t really get that reference either, but over the last 10 years or so, Bordeaux has gone through a revival.
We took the same slow travel approach to this trip – that is, no plan and no to-do lists. So we wandered the streets and discovered the sites of the city haphazardly. The architecture, preserved in 18-century buildings throughout the city, makes Bordeaux feel old and full of history. But the energy in this city is anything but. Walking along the river Garonne, you see the public tram, ships, people running, walking, and cycling, a protest or two (we are still in France after all), and it all seems totally modern and lively. Also, I saw considerably fewer roller blades, which is my go-to mechanism for dating a city. That, and the presence of hipsters. Those can easily be found here.
We spent a lot of time at Place de la Bourse and the Miroir d’Eau (Water Mirror). I didn’t think I’d be that impressed by the Miroir d’Eau – since you know, it’s water…on the ground…aka a puddle — but I was totally wrong. It’s highly entertaining and addictive. We watched the water go through its cycle of filling up, misting, and draining until it starts to reflect, we saw a couple taking wedding photos (great idea), and numerous people – young and old — splashing around and enjoying themselves (and simultaneously ruining all of my photos).
The other striking things we noticed were the plethora of amazing street art and a high number of ethnic restaurants.
Bordeaux is the largest wine growing region in France. But as Kai Ryssdal would say, let’s do the numbers. It has nearly 300,000 acres of vineyards, almost 9000 chateaux (producers), and produces some 900 million bottles of wine each year.
So, having some good wine experiences was a key goal. We visited the Saint-Émilion region for a wine tour, which was lovely and will be described in a separate post. But an equally impressive wine experience was visiting Le Bar à Vin. 3 times. In 4 days. This place arguably belongs in the sight section, because I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the prices. They offer a wide selection of Bordeaux wine covering a variety of appellations, and a glass ranges from 2 to 8 euros. We tasted a Rosé, Clairet, and Sauternes and had wines from the Margaux, Médoc, and Saint-Émilion regions.
The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind.
Last but not least, the people. The Bordelais and Bordelaise (how lovely does that sound?) seemed particularly cool. Considerably fewer people spoke to us in English than in Paris or Lyon – and they even really engaged with us in French, despite our obvious shortcomings.
A Weekend in Bordeaux
In conclusion, here is my official recommendation for what to do in Bordeaux, should you have the pleasure:
- Listen to French people say Bordeaux – it sounds beautiful. It’s a great example of when the French accent elevates a word
- Go to Le Bar à Vin as many times as you can
- Walk all around the city, and especially along the river Garonne. The city is very pedestrian friendly
- People watch at Place de la Bourse
- Act like you’ve never seen a reflection before and take countless photos of upside down people, buildings, and clouds in the Miroir d’Eau
- Eat French Food. Try the Bordelaise specialties – L’entrecote Bordelaise, foie gras, seafood
- Eat something other than French Food at one of the ethnic joints
- Find a map of all the street art in Bordeaux and seek it out
- Take a wine tour and visit some Chateaux – either through an official tour or rent a car and do it yourself
- Try Canelé and Macarons (I’m referring to an almond cookie here, not the typical French meringue-based cookies) – sweet specialties of this region
- Probably be slightly less “slow travel”, and visit one or two more places listed in Trip Advisor’s Top things to do in Bordeaux for good measure
If Paris is a little like New York, Bordeaux reminds me a little of Austin circa 2004 – slower, more-relaxed, nice humans, interesting food scene, great place to drink, etc. But that in another 10 years, everyone will find out about it and it will be overrun with people and cars and food trucks, etc. So go visit, but don’t tell your friends.