Updated: Aug 18
It's August 2020, and we are experiencing a very hot summer in Europe and the strong sun is making it difficult to stay out for too long here in Paris. Suddenly an old friend of mine living in London suggested meeting in Bordeaux. I though: "Perfect! Bordeaux is just just a bit over 2 hours from Paris by train, and for her is also a pretty short and direct flight... so let's do it!"
I assured my train tickets immediately on oui.sncf and together we started to look for a good hotel deal in advance to assure more convenient fees.
DAY 1 - Monday
Very quickly time had passed and the day of the trip had arrived. I took the TGV train in the morning and she took an Easyjet flight in the afternoon.
After a couple of hours I had arrived to the Gare (train station) Saint Jean - Bordeaux. It was early, about 9am, so I decided to walk slowly towards my hotel located at Mériadeck neighborhood and use the opportunity to get to see some of the non-touristy section of the city too. I really love strolling without any rush, that way I believe you get to really know a new place. So, although the walk could have been 30 minutes, it took me the whole morning and I loved it! At first the way was not very pretty, buildings looked a bit dirty and nothing really impressed me until I arrived to the Place de la Victoire. I stopped here for a while as I was surprised by some monuments like the Porte d'Aquitaine, the Obelisk and two bronze Turtles. I decided to take a break at a Café in the same place and ordered a "Chocolatine" (in Paris we say "Pain au Chocolat" instead) and a simple coffee to get me some energy to continue my way to the hotel.
Some children were curiously approaching the turtles which symbolise the longevity of Bordeaux while the grapes and ancient coins decorating their shells symbolise the fact that this city produces wine since Roman times!
I continued my walk to the hotel and thanked Google maps at every minute because I was too tired to look for a traditional paper map, which I love, by the way.
After taking a quick nap and a good cold shower I felt ready to go explore the city while waiting for my friends arrival later on. I did what I love the most: get lost and stroll without a fixed destination. Without knowing much about the city at that point I realised 5 days were not going to be enough to explore it, but I promised myself to try my best to use my time wisely. I found a lot of street art, old and new, mixed. People were very festive despite the high temperatures the streets were pretty full, and restaurants busy. Many, many restaurants! At the many squares, next to monuments, churches... any place could be used for eating and drinking, a paradise for those that enjoy being out and socialising.
Some minutes before my friend's airplane landed and I had to head back to the hotel to meet her, I arrived to the "Mirroir d'Eau" (Water Mirror) a fairly new addition to the city that offers a wonderful space for everyone to relax, freshen up and play with the thin layer of water located right in front of the historical "Place de la Bourse". I sat down and observed how happy kids seemed by just playing freely, being out, running and getting wet... meeting unknown kids and laughing together.
At the background I could observe a massive fresco that showed a big "merci" dedicated to the medical staff that has been giving it all in the past month. This piece of art made by the artist JOFO intents to create consciousness among the local population to recognise the struggle the medical staff has gone through this year so that we can keep enjoying running out freely and healthy.
After meeting my friend Deb upon her arrival from the airport, we went for dinner near the hotel. Unfortunately it was already 10h30 and most restaurants close the kitchen by 10, so despite the high density of restaurants in the city, we had less options to chose from. So if you come to Bordeaux remember to eat before it is too late.
Trying to avoid the afternoon heat I decided to wake up early and enjoy the Bordelaise morning. I went to the Place Pey-Berland sat in one of the cafés facing the Cathedral and ordered by morning coffee with a croissant to start the day well.
Although it was pretty overpriced given the beautiful location it was the perfect spot to do some little work and research for the days to come and later on perfect to meet my colleague Iñigo who does walking tours in Bordeaux in Spanish, French and English.
My friend Deb eventually joined us and Iñigo shared with us some interesting information about the location with us, before he left to work.
We agreed to meet later on, and thanks to his instructions and suggestions we knew we could manage some time on our own.
Deb and I approached the amazing St. André Cathedral which is currently accessible if wearing masks and following a one direction path. I am personally a big admirer or gothic architecture, this because it makes me travel in time. A time when this monumental religious constructions were in the center of people's life. When locals and foreign visitors would come here to look for answers, to learn about existence and to look for hope. This churches were open books for the faithful to "read" the bible and traditions through sculptures, stained glass windows and paintings. A time when most of the population was illiterate and relied in finding the final truth in this "houses of God".
Saint André Cathedral was build along many centuries, between the XII and XVI, that is why there are elements from different times as well as scars from a past that were never be erased.
I hope you enjoy the selection of my best photos of our visit to this beautiful Cathedral:
(click to enlarge)
After this peaceful discovery of Saint André we surrounded the cathedral to find the bell tower which is located at a short distance from the main building. This, because in the XV century when it was built, the architects feared that the heavy bells could put in danger the rest of the structure. The archbishop Pey-Berland was who commissioned this tower, and for this reason the whole square where it is located has been given his name.
We had read that Pey-Berland's bell tower is one of the "must" in Bordeaux as it offers one of the best views over the city. Unfortunately due to the current circumstances the access to the tower was not possible. We hope that when you visit Bordeaux it will be open again, and we would love to see your wonderful photos! You can share them with us in our comment section below.
We continued our stroll towards the Grand Théâtre where we agreed to meet again with Iñigo later on, and on the way we found many nice decoration and souvenir shops that tempted us to start getting some gifts for our loved ones.
Always wearing a mask when entering closed spaces, everybody seemed to be respecting this rule inside the boutiques.
We finally met Iñigo and he recommended that before lunch we go discover one of the most incredible wineshops in Bordeaux: L'Intendant. He was right, the spiral staircase gave the boutique a unique charm and the iconic bottles for sale made it a whole experience not to be missed.
This was the most spectacular wine shop we visited in Bordeaux, and no wonder why! L'Intendant is owned by DUCLOT a wine merchant since 1886, owned by the Moueix family; The owners of the brand Petrus at Pomerol.
Prices at this shop are pretty elevated, for this reason we recommend it for those that see wine as an investment or if you have a high budget and wish only the best of the best. The most expensive bottle we could find was a Château d'Yquem from 1949 for 13500 euros.
For those that only wish to see and admire the beautiful boutique it is also a great place to discover, but if that's your case don't let yourself intimidate by the staff that might get a bit serious when they suspect that you are there only to window-shop.
We continued our stroll and passed in front of the most luxurious hotel in Bordeaux; the Intercontinental "Le Grand Hotel". Stay here to feel all the the glamour of Bordeaux!
This area has a "something" that makes me remember Paris. Iñigo explained to me that the famous Baron Haussmann (the urbanist behind the largest modification of Paris in history) married a Bordelaise women and he lived in Bordeaux for a while before returning to Paris and starting with the colosal project that transformed the face of the capital forever.
Bordeaux was certainly in his thoughts when redesigning Paris during the second half of the XIX century. It was fun to try to find the similarities.
We passed by the Grand Théâtre again and we started feeling hungry again when reading the tempting menu of the One Michelin Restaurant "La table d'Hôtes - Le Quatrième Mur" located inside of it. The Chef of this elegant restaurant is Philippe Etchebest who has created a concept of 7 dishes for a unique "degustation".
But you can also enjoy an experience at this place for a much more affordable fee at the "Brasserie" where for 29€-34€ you can have a wonderful lunch during the week or 50€ for an extraordinary dinner or weekend lunch.
During this trip I could not find time for this experience, but it is waiting inside my bucket-list maybe for a more romantic occasion.
We continued our walk through shopping area and we turned towards rue Saint- Rémi and passed by many good looking restaurants, among them the La Brasserie Bordelaise that Iñigo recommended.
The street was very lively and it was hard to make a decision but we finally agreed a nice Crêperie would be a good option for a quick lunch.
Iñigo took us Chez Sergio, where they had A/C, just perfect considering that temperatures were very high that Tuesday afternoon.
The three of us went for the galette (that's how savoury crêpes are called in french) called: La Gujannaise with Emmental cheese, eggs, goat cheese, apple with butter, duck and honey! It was wonderful choice accompanied by a Cidre Brut and a large green salad. We ended with sweet crepes, and this time we all got different options.
Our waiter was Lindsay and she was extremely kind and did an excellent job. I think that half of a gourmet experience is the service, and when you feel so welcomed all tastes even better.
After this simple but excellent lunch Iñigo walked us a bit through the shopping area and we planned to do a live tour at the end of the week. You can see it HERE.
As it was so hot that day we decided to return to the hotel to rest a bit a freshen up before going to eat again. We decided to just get lost and be spontaneous, and this way we found the PLace Saint-Projet, a beautiful square full of restaurants, a youth hostel and a tiny pizzeria Les Dèlices de Vèrone that looked promising as a lot of people were lining up to get a pizza to go. We lined up too and enjoyed an easy and very tasty lunch watching people pass and talking about life.
On our way back it was already dark and we got to see Saint André Cathedral illuminated, the shadows really give a special touch to this amazing monument.
Today Deborah was in charge, she had selected all the activities for the day and to be honest I was very happy with this change! As a tour guide I usually make most of the decisions.
She selected a great place for breakfast Gusco, located in a corner with lots of tables outside under the trees and inside comfy seats with cushions next to the decorative Coffee machines. They had a variety of pastries, of course lovely coffee, granola and fresh orange juice. Waiters were very friendly and welcoming, so it was the perfect spot to start our day. There were very few people that day, but given the quantity of tables they has available and the great comments online we imagine it should be very popular.
Next we slowly walked about 30 minutes towards the "Marché des Capucins", enjoy the lovely ambiance and get tempted with the wonderful smells and flavours that surrounded us. As we were planning to possibly do a picnic later on we got a bit of different things that we could eat easily. So we got some Comté cheese, some lovely Serrano ham, some eggplant pâté, fresh pressed orange juice, some olives and of course a fresh baguette.
I personally felt like having some oysters, but that was going to be too complicated to eat during in a picnic, so I had to pass for this time.
The ambiance was very lively and if we had had more time we would have stayed longer for sure, but in about 30 minutes we had all we wanted.
The use of mask was mandatory and everybody seemed to be following the rules, but we found pretty funny that at one of the shops they posted the President's (Elysée) and Primeminister's (Matignon) telephone number in case anyone had a complaint.
An excellent way the butcher found to avoid a heated discussion with those that might not agree with the new demands.
Next we walked to the "Pont de Pierre" (stone bridge) the first bridge built in Bordeaux to connect the city in the left bank of the river Garonne with the right bank. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who commissioned the construction of this bridge after having to cross by small boats with all his soldiers in his way to Spain. On his way back, defeated and tired he realised the bridge was still not completed. Very much like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the "Pont de Pierre" was only completed after Napoleon's death. It was inaugurated in 1822 and it became the pride of all the Bordelais (locals from Bordeaux). As a consolation for Napoleon Bonaparte, the quantity of arches of the bridge matches the quantity of letters of the Emperor's name: 17!
Since 2017 only the tram, taxis, bikes, buses and pedestrians have access to cross the bridge. This makes it a very enjoyable experience as there is no traffic and the side walks are wide. It will take you about 10 minutes to cross the bridge walking.
When on the right bank of the river we approached the pier to grab the next BAT, this are boats that belong to Bordeaux' public transport system.
This boats are a great way to move along the Garonne river and enjoy a different perspective of the city at the same time. The price is very convenient: less than 2€ for a 1 hour unlimited usage. You can also download their App called Witick and prepay with your card, otherwise you can pay onboard too. There are convenient rates for students and children, check HERE to find updated information about this.
Below some pictures from our boat experience that will allow you to familiarise yourself with this fun way to move around that we highly recommend specially if it is a sunny day.
Almost arriving to our destination, our boat passed underneath another spectacular bridge. Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas, inaugurated only in 2013, it's an engineering masterpiece and the tallest lifting bridge in Europe!
We finally arrived to our destination: one of the highlights of our trip: la Cité du Vin :
We entered this incredible "new generation museum where wine comes to life through an immersive, sensorial approach, all set within an evocative architectural design. The Cité du Vin gives a different view of wine, across the world, across the ages, across all cultures and all civilisations. The Cité du Vin invites you on a lively, eye-opening journey around a world of wine and culture."
We got in line and got our tickets for 20€ per adult and since there are not too many tourists we only waited for about 5 minutes. But we can imagine how busy it could be in normal times. For this reason we encourage you to get your digital tickets in advance and with free cancellation option (24h before your visit) by clicking HERE.
After eating some of the delicious things we had bought at the marché, we started our discovery.
Deborah got the audio guide in English and me in Spanish, but we could have chosen other 6 languages offered.
In order to discover the Cité du Vin this audio guides are necessary, that is why they are included in the price.
The museum is interactive and invites the visitors to get lost exploring the many different sections that allow you a very good understanding of the world of wine.
This is one of the great things to with kids in Bordeaux. Yes, kids in the wine museum! They have free access and there are so many interactive things for them to discover they will certainly love it and start looking at wine with other eyes.
Click on each image to enlarge:
We were inside for about 3 hours at least, there was so much to see! But we decided to treat ourselves with the last thing included in our entrance: the wine tasting. For this we went up an elevator and entered a large room full of empty bottles hanging from the ceiling.
Finally we had our wine and it was time to make a toast! So we went outside towards the balcony in the open air where everyone was allowed to take off their mask and there, with a wonderful view towards the Garonne river we finally could say: Cheers!
While we were enjoying our lovely wine from Bordeaux a friend of mine calls. He was in Bordeaux for a couple of hours and wanted to meet us!
Luckily he did! As the last boat returning to the city center was about to leave! We ran outside and were lucky to catch it back. Otherwise we could have engaged other way of transportation, but we had enjoyed the boat so much, we preferred that way.
We arrived to Place de la Bourse where my friend Cris was waiting for us, he had been to Bordeaux many times, so he suggested a nice square we could go to: Place du Palais.
When Cris left, Deb and I approached the beautiful 500 year old door "Porte Cailhau". This 35 mts. tall tower was built to commemorate the victory of King Charles VIII in Fornovo (Italy).
This monument is accessible and from the top you have a wonderful view towards the "Pont de Pierre".
You can get your flexible tickets HERE.
We kept walking and as we love to do and got lost between the narrow streets and the terraces. Smelling amazing scents we realised it was already dinner time! We found an amazing little Latin American contemporary restaurant and we could not resist to try the ceviche. We also ordered another dish with Tuna and raspberries and I have to admit, it was an excellent choice.
We recommend you the place called Malavida for more exotic flavours, and why not a pisco sour.
After such a nice meal we went straight to the hotel and slept deep to recover energy for our exciting next day.
It is time to go outside the city and my friend and guide Léonor had proposed showing us near her village. We woke up early and grabbed the tram to the Saint Jean Rail Station. We got the tickets directly at the rail station, but we should have gotten them online to be more calm and to get a better deal.
Click HERE to search your train and reserve you online train tickets.
If you wish to have access to many of the places we mentioned in this blog you might want to consider getting the Bordeaux City Pass for 48 or 72hrs HERE.
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