Three reasons to book a weekend in Bordeaux
I go to France every year because my dad lives there. This is great, because I am guaranteed a visit filled with good wine, even better food and stunning coastline every year. But it tends to mean I miss out on exploring the rest of our continental neighbour. France is lovely and enormous, and for someone who goes every year, I’ve seen very little of my native country
This year was time for a change. And so, to Bordeaux. And I can tell you exactly why… Cite du Vin. Yes that’s right… Wine City folks. A city, of wine.
Cite du Vin opened a couple of years ago. It was dubbed a wine theme park at the time and I imagined slides you could ride and tumble into a ball pit where all the balls looked like big purple grapes, and I thought it might have a wine bottle-shaped mini train that took you from St Emillion land to Medoc land while you supped on merlot. I can tell you it has none of these things but it’s one of the best museums I have ever experienced and if I didn’t have a hundred other reasons why I’d recommend a trip to Bordeaux, I think this would warrant a day trip regardless.
Wine cities aside, Bordeaux is really worth a long weekend… and longer if you have time.
Bordeaux region is famous for its wine, but it’s not until you get there and take a trip out to the vineyards that you learn just how complex and intricate it is. We went with Winerist on an afternoon to explore St Emillion; it took in the ancient village as well as two beautiful chateaux, and of course, lots of wine tasting. The two vineyards we explored, Chateau Fombrauge and Chateau Siaruac, both had marvellously eccentric owners. The latter is related to the famous Rothschild family. The vines are two minutes drive from Chateau Petrus vineyard and bottles go for upwards of £10,000. Tours of both revealed the complexity of classifying wines and the myriad methods used to cultivate the grapes; the age of a vine to where it is in proximity to tree roots will affect the taste. It’s fascinating stuff.
And away from the vineyards, there are many many wine bars to appreciate the fruits of these fields. We liked:
- Rue Saint Remi, Rue Parlement St Catherine and Rue Parlement St Pierre are worth wandering down – these streets, the squares in between and the surrounding winding roads are buzzing in the evening. The Bordelais spill out onto the street with glasses in hand. Have a drink at the small and quirky Contesse cocktail bar
- A bit futher south and you’ll find the relaxed Place Fernand Lafargue and the Apollo bar (friendly bar staff, truly convivial crowd and watch out for the live music events) while round the corner down Rue Saint James you’ll find the cavernous wine bar, Wine More Time
- And of course, Cite du Vin. Your entry includes a free glass of wine on the eighth floor wine bar, which has stunning views over the city.
Most cafes will offer a ‘formule petit dejeuner’ that includes fresh orange juice, strong coffee and a croissant, which is plentiful and much cheaper than a buffet breakfast at the majority of hotels. Books and Coffee on Rue St James served its formule with a side pot of homemade apple compote along with coffee that was thick and flavoursome. Another great breakfast spot is L’Ombriere in Place du Parlement – the square is bathed in sunshine during the morning. In fact many of the old squares are great spots for a leisurely petit dejeuner.
In Books and Coffee we picked up a delicate financier to share later as an afternoon snack, and would recommend doing that whenever you see something in a window that tickles your fancy… you’ll find endless chocolatiers with gloriously tempting windows and you must try the famous Bordeaux canele.
You can’t go wrong for lunch and dinner in Bordeaux. Honestly we didn’t have a bad meal. But in particular, we liked:
- Plume (Rue Cheverus) is the essence of relaxed French style. 40 euros bought us a beautiful warm chicken and coconut salad, fresh pasta with pulled beef, two fresh ginger and apple juices plus two coffees. We resisted the homemade cakes… although for the life of me I can’t remember why.
- The sun was out in force when we visited Cite du Vin so we had lunch on the terrace. For a museum we didn’t have high expectations but this was Bordeaux – the cheese and meats platter was incredible, as was the fresh salad with smoked salmon and asparagus spears.
- We reserved dinner on the first evening at La Tupina (Rue Porte de la Monnaie). It was widely recommended before we travelled, particularly for its traditional Bordeaux fare. It was expensive, but the lamb shoulder with cassoulet was so full of flavour and the tender duck with seasonal veg and hand cut chips were cooked to perfection, so it was worth it. Portions were enormous and unless you’re really swayed by the dessert, they do give you little caneles to enjoy at the end of the meal.
- Our hotel, Mama Shelter, is a great spot for dinner and has some interesting dishes. We shared a whole globe artichoke, lentil salad and a plate of confit tomatoes with burratta.
- Saturday night needs booking if you want somewhere particular – Bordeaux gets busy. We had hoped to get into La Brasserie Bordelaise on Rue St Remi, but with an hour wait, we ended up in Le Bistrota few doors down – the food was fresh, modern and tasty.
- Just like Londoners, it seems the Bordelais like queuing for good food. We spied enormous queues for Entrecote, which is said to have the best steak in Bordeaux, and for Guy & Sons, which admittedly was serving free burgers as part of its launch weekend, but seriously, the queue was at least 100–people deep and after seeing its menu of burgers with fillings like blue cheese with balsamic figs or porcini mushrooms with melted comte… I can imagine there’ll be queues whether the burgers are free or not!
- And if you want posh nosh Place de la Comedie is where you’ll find upmarket restaurants like Le Pressoir d’Argent and Le Chapon Fin
Given the sumptuous wine and food on offer in this city, Bordeaux is actually a shopping haven too. There are so many affordable and original boutiques that line the streets of the old town, you can pick up some really beautiful pieces – we particularly loved the bags, jewellery, kitchen items and local produce on offer. For designer junkies, you’ll find the usual luxury boutiques lining Cour de l’Intendence, while Galaries Lafayette is perfect for mainstream and unique French brands (the underwear section is stunning… they simply do lingerie better in France).
Essential tips for Bordeaux…
- When you arrive at the airport, head to the information desk and ask for a city map – they don’t display them but they have a stash, trust me
- Take the bus into town – it’s 1.50 euro (compared with a 30-40 euro taxi) and only takes about 45 minutes to get you to the centre
- We stayed at Mama Shelter, which was really reasonably priced design hotel with a roof terrace, ping pong tables in the basement, super hero masks for you to play with in the rooms, and live music and DJs in the evenings. It’s centrally located with good access to the old district and buses
- Take the tram to Cite du Vin but walk back to the town centre along the river – especially if it’s sunny. The riverbank has been recently renovated and the majority of the shops (some discounted outlets), bars and restaurants are now open
- When you stumble on a mini supermarket (look out for Carrefour Cite or if you stay at Mama Shelter there’s a handy Monoprix opposite) go in and stock up! We found it impossible to find somewhere that sold a decent cheap bottle of water and an apple
- A lot of Bordeaux is a UNESCO world heritage site. I have to admit, we didn’t have time for much art and historical culture but did do our fair share of exploring the old streets and the cathedral
- If I went back to Bordeaux, I would take the hour-trip to the spectacular-looking sand dunes at Arcachon and treat myself to some local oysters. This can be done in a day or an afternoon in summertime