Getting to Know Bordeaux, France
I’ve shared so much already about my visit to Bordeaux and some of the neighboring wine regions. I even shared the beauty of Bordeaux at night, a magical moment during my travels there.
I spent a lot of time in Bordeaux walking around by myself, an intimidating notion at first which is exactly why, when given the option by my hosts, I chose to walk around on my own as often as possible. Turns out that it’s not very difficult to navigate this city of a little over 200,000 people. It very much felt and functioned like a central city would, but it was also friendlier, cleaner, and more laid back than a lot of major cities in Europe, certainly more so than Paris. There is no guarantee that people will easily speak English the further you walk away from the tourist center…and I have to say, despite how bad my French is, that I completely respect that. Public transportation is easy and affordable and extremely reliable, though the city itself is very bike and pedestrian friendly. As a matter of fact, I had a few passes for the tram system and ended up walking around, even in the rain, most of the time.
And it is a pretty city, its architecture and art scene being some of my favorite features. Talk to those from the area however, and they will tell you how just 10 years ago the scene was in fact quite different. The city is also known as La Belle Endormie (Sleeping Beauty) because of the pollution that afflicted it some time ago. What are now beautiful, bright clay limestone buildings were once dark, black structures covered in smog residue from the cars and ships that docked in its port. What is now an open pedestrian way was once a wall that blocked out the city from the water views, “cutting off from the rest of the world”, some say.
To walk along the beautiful streets of this UNESCO World Heritage listed destination for its “outstanding urban and architectural ensemble” one couldn’t even have imagined the darker, gloomier scenes of yesteryear.
Of course, there is the wine. The incredibly, delicious wine. But most importantly, there are the people and the views and that air of sophistication and comfort found only in smaller European cities. It’s funny to think about how short my time there was when remembering how fulfilling my experiences were. Here are some of the most memorable.
Where I Stayed
The Hotel Experience
I had the pleasure of staying on the quite rue de Lurbe in the wonderful boutique Hotel LaCourCarrée. This is where old world meets new, as guests enjoy modern amenities and accommodations, including Wi fi and Continental breakfasts, while in a newly restored, centuries old building. I loved my room. It was large, even more so for European standards, and incredibly comfortable. What I most enjoyed was how centrally located it was allowing me to move around freely day and night with no need to take taxis. It feels incredibly intimate, so I am not sure how well families with little ones would feel there but couples, friends, and business travelers would feel right at home for sure.
The Château Experience
If you are looking for something far more extravagant and truly unique, then look no further than Château Pape Clément, a prestigious estate of Bernard Magrez wine and one of the oldest in Pessac, a short distance from Bordeaux’s city center. Formerly the estate of archbishop Bertrand de Goth, a tour through the grounds and wine cellars will highlight how his image is still very much part of the decor. Château Pape Clément is known, first and foremost, for its wines, a Grand Cru Classé of Graves. The estate also has a small shop a short distance away where they offer tastings and sell their wine selections.
Secondly, the estate hosts weddings, events, and tours, but also guests in its luxurious bed and breakfast venue (the château itself) and this experience is one unlike any other I have ever had in my life. The whole dream-like moment started the moment they estate had their driver pick me up at the train station in their Rolls Royce. Of course, I had to take pictures, because, Rolls Royce!
The rooms are like walking into a museum, with delicate details displayed throughout. It was screaming “romance”, though sadly I was there alone, but still enjoyed every second of my stay very much.
Between the tour, the wine tasting, the luxurious meals, the service, and the overall experience of staying in a French luxury château, I felt like a princess…and was treated very much like one. Also, the sunrise from the balcony off the dining room, overlooking the vineyard are breathtaking and worthy of an early wake up just to witness.
Where I Ate
I’m going to be honest here. I ate a lot while on this trip. A lot. But, I also balanced it out with wine…so it’s all good.
Here are a couple of the most memorable spots, mostly because of the food and the company.
Le Plat a Oreilles (8 Rue des Faussets, Bordeaux) gives the impression at first of being a small intimate bistro specializing in classic French cuisine. But look deeper and you will find a space ready to cater to larger groups in an environment with truly French style. I enjoyed the company of my host Brigitte Bloch of Aquitaine Tourist Board, while tasting my very first meal of the trip. It was everything one loves about French food: creamy, rich, filling, and delicious. Come with a large group and reservation in hand, and you might have a chance to dine in one of their upstairs dining rooms, which are far more sophisticated and formal.
Brasserie L’Orleans is a quaint bistro overlooking one of the city’s green squares and commuters waiting for the tram. It was a gorgeous day and I chose to sit outside, the moment bringing forth the joy that being in France and loving it, brings. Here, I ventured into tasting something new: Stuwed Lumprey Bordelaise (eel-like fish cooked in its blood with red wine and dark chocolate). Ugly, but delicious!
La Tupina is an experience. The kind that feels like walking into a French grandmother’s kitchen and having her serve you hearty dishes of some of the most traditional local dishes there are. Except that instead of a French grandma, the person in the kitchen is Chef Remi, who is also super charming and fun to hang with. When you come here, come hungry and ready to try everything. The whole journey starts from the moment you walk in. The view of the wood burning oven and meats and vegetables laid out on the counter, waiting to be prepared to order. It’s warm and cozy and French. If you go alone you are more likely to get the table right next to where chef is cooking and he is more than happy to chat you up and keep the food coming, so be ready.
Where I Raised My Glass
I raised my glass in many places, I mean, this is Bordeaux after all. Some of the best wines I have ever enjoyed I had during this trip. From Saint Émilion to Bergerac to Bordeaux, I got my fill of wine and loved it. But a great place to start before you venture out in to the many wineries, chateaus, and vineyards, is at l’Ecole du Vin. It’s a perfect place to start because a wine class will quickly familiarize you with the various regions, the break up of the same, and what you can expect to taste at each one.
The courses help break down the reasons why the varietals are the way they are, what you can expect, and where to best seek out your favorites. The classes are offered twice a day, one in English and another in French at a very reasonable price, and offer tastings throughout the course to bring what is being presented to life. This was an incredible class and so valuable in helping me understand what I was about to experience throughout my trip. I can say enough about it, other than don’t miss stopping if you can.
Since I returned from my time in Bordeaux, I haven’t stopped talking about it. It’s one of those trips that, when combined with a few other European visits I’ve been to this year, has made me wonder when I will have the courage to take the plunge and just move already.
Almost everyone I spoke to there has done the big city thing: New York, London, Paris. But something always kept calling them back, until they finally did come back and not one person seemed to regret it. Sometimes it’s hard to really explain what it is that will make you enjoy being in a place. My being alone so much while there really helped me to connect with the city, sounds, and people because I had nothing else to distract me. Whether it was an early morning walk down the avenue or a stroll through the park on a rainy afternoon, each second seemed to change me a bit more. Of all the wonderful things that travel can do, this ability to affect so deeply is probably my favorite. This visit to Bordeaux and its neighboring areas was that for me and I so hope that when you go you can feel it as well. Preferably with a glass of wine in hand.
To see more photographs from the trip please visit the following links:
All photos taken with my SonyNEX 5R.
Disclosure: I was the blogger of choice by Atout France and their partners to share the Bordeaux wine experience with you. I traveled as their guest. All opinions are my own.