“‘Scrape Bordeaux’ surface – the wide boulevards and elegant 18th-century facades – and you’ll find hidden medieval side streets, buildings with interesting stories…and neighbourhoods with their own distinctive characters.”
Tim Pike, expat and blogger at Invisible Bordeaux
Another tip from Tim Pike…pick up LE MAP from Tourist Info Centre. It’s one of best maps we’ve come across with a summary of local history, restaurant tips etc. There’s more on Tim’s blog.
Our reasons for deciding on Bordeaux for a week long stay were numerous but the 3 main reasons that stood out were:
* we love SMALL CITIES with fascinating histories + with the close proximity of Spain, an innovative FOOD scene (often at more affordable prices compared to Paris & Lyon); sometimes with a fusion of French/Spanish &/or Middle Eastern. Of course plenty of traditional French restaurants but some (like 1 we decided on based on menu & large No of people there…probably tourists) can sometimes be v average + comparatively expensive; so if time permits, try to do some research first. We continue to learn from mistakes like the 1 just mentioned…more later on ways to find good restaurants (or “Neo-Bistrots”) in cities like this.
*TRAIN ACCESS in/out of Bordeaux is fabulous (we departed via rail to Sans Sebastian – Spain – a 3.5 hr trip…loved it!…next blog post); a good public transport system (their tram network is excellent – but avoid rush hr).
*Many enjoyable DAY TRIPS on trains/trams/buses to regional areas …as long as you learn basic greetings and you can read some of the menu, it’s often easy/fun to go anywhere – especially today as most young people (even middle aged now) can speak some English even in out of the way places.
Here are Lonely Planet’s “Unmissable Experiences” in Bordeaux 2017:
“* At Bar a Vin” you’ll find 30 Bordeaux wines by the glass & staff who know their stuff…it’s part of the Ecole du Vin!”
* The Gironde riverfront is Bordeaux’s new focal point. At it’s epicentre is the Miroir d’Eau, an immense reflecting pool; in summer, it’s a picturesque, cooling mist – a magnet for the whole town.” (Worth visiting during day & at night – see photos.)
* Neo-bistrots offer inventive food served in intimate spaces at very reasonable prices (especially at lunch). Try Miles or Belle Champagne to see what all the fuss is about.”; “Neo-bistrots – small, affordable places with passionate young chefs at the helm – where you can really feel the city’s gastronomical blood pulsing.”
These Bistrots are fabulous & popular so try to book in advance but we were lucky & walked in to get an early table 1 night. After a recommendation for 1 we asked the chefs to recommend others – you sometimes get to talk with the chef &/or knowledgeable waiter if you go early + sit at the bench/kitchen; you can sometimes watch them cook. Gives an added appreciation of the skill and hard work that goes into their food. Sometimes sad to see the beautifully presented food disappear so quickly!…but so delicious without breaking the bank like most Michelin star places – for people like us who haven’t inherited some French chateau or similar😉. I’ll list the ones we loved once we return home from coast (left journal there). If you do want to try a 2 Michelin star restaurant there’s Joel Robuchon’s La Grande Maison – if you go would love to hear more.
A NOTE ON DRIVING IN EUROPE – especially if you’re mostly familiar with LH drive like in UK, Australia, Sth Africa…
Taking a car to historic towns & villages can be a nuisance/stressful – streets are VERY narrow & car parking (if available at all) is limited. We know that some like the challenge of driving but we’ve been there/done that & we prefer to avoid it now, especially when you’ve been use to driving on the opposite side of Rd for most of your life. If you do drive in France (or Italy…lots of places in Europe) – expect lots of huge roundabouts + trucks on highways…another reason we prefer to sit back & enjoy the view from a train or tram. Once parked, ensure valuables are on you – we’ve heard many stories of hire car break-ins & the reason we sometimes consider a small group tour or in the more affordable places, a driver, to some of the more remote places. We did go to a few out of the way car parks in UK on this 2 month trip & had no problems – we tried to ensure car was as safe as possible + we have a system that makes a quick break/grab/go type theft difficult. Good travel luggage shops can give helpful tips. We use similar on road trips at home.
WHERE WE STAYED:
We had planned on staying at an Air BnB apartment (see photo of kitchen) for the whole week but because they were booked out for the first 3 nights we stayed at the Great Western in the Old Town – see staircase photo and photo of view from the small balcony. We enjoyed both and we were glad we moved as it all went smoothly…it was only a 15 min walk from 1 to the other – we stopped for coffee along the way as we had an hour to fill in between check out & check in! Both places had an interesting history especially the Air BnB (originally an armoury next to a medieval moat!) which was still in the Old Town but a little outside the very upmarket inner area.
Both places were also very well equipped and comfortable but both had 1 thing we didn’t like:
At Great Western, a young woman on reception was uncaring & unhelpful when we asked for assistance in finding an emergency dentist – we ended up ringing around ourselves until we found an English speaking dentist. Her English wasn’t the problem as she spoke English quite well…she just had a poor (I couldn’t be bothered😒) attitude when we asked for assistance to find an emergency dentist. At the Air BnB (will note name later as typing at coast today) there was a feeling of walking down ancient steps into a cellar although as you can see from photo it is equipped with a modern fitout – plenty of lights etc. We’re just use to living in a passive solar type house with big windows so it felt claustrophobic to us – maybe not others?? There was 1 window from bedroom & another in the living room overlooking the narrow moat/huge ancient wall (see photo) so very interesting if you have some history nerd traits like me🤓. A shame the owners haven’t made more of that by documenting the history in a coffee table book – like other B&Bs we’ve stayed in have done…especially in Australia (1 in Annandale Sydney springs to mind).
Our favourite little cafe in Bordeaux (in the middle of Old Town) – L’Alchimiste…coffee just like the Italians do so well! Also try the heavenly cream puffs “La Specialite du Cap-Ferret” made from super light/crunchy pastry + their own special recipe for aerated cream. There’s a little shop/baker just across from the cafe where you can pick up a bagful although that can be very dangerous on the waistline of course! See photos above and below.
CITE du VIN
10-15 min tram trip from Bordeaux City Centre. CITE du VIN is worth visiting even if you’re not into “a state-of-the-art wine lovers’ experience” (Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2017) – the Architecture and interior design features are impressive in their own right. We left it too late in the afternoon to do any “tours” but we wandered through the cellar & tasting room, the book shop and finally took the lift up to the top floor restaurant and bar area. There’s an outdoor space where you can have a drink whilst taking in the views of the river and the City. The development is still in the beginning stages and there are a few teething problems with crowds/slow lifts/rejuvenation of the riverfront nearby (there were workers picking up litter & rubbish there – like in many places a problem with plastics etc) but it is a great sign that Bordeaux is “wide awake and ready for action” (Lonely Planet). The last photo here (from Net) gives an impression of a pristine natural environment around it – in reality it’s not quite like that yet but still so interesting and there was a very excited vibe surrounding it all. Good thing is that having drinks there need not break the bank – a glass of wine ranged from about A$6 – whatever you’re prepared to pay. Everything we had, even $6 glass, we enjoyed.