I am not a wine aficionado but I am growing fonder of wines day by day. In fact one of the reasons that compels me to travel to a particular city or country is the desire to visit vineyards and to taste wines. Bordeaux being famous for its first-class wines, makes it one of the top cities I wanted to visit.
Although the primary reason why I wanted to visit Bordeaux is the wine and the food (and I would definitely write a separate post just about the wine), the city itself does not fail to impress! Bordeaux, in my humble opinion, is just as charming as Paris, minus the Eiffel Tower and the overwhelming tourist crowd. The city has more of a “laid back” kind of feel, and life here seems to be running at a slower pace. But the artistic, cultural and music scene in Bordeaux is very vibrant. There are definitely a lot of interesting places to explore and so many photo worthy sceneries to see.
I managed to get a decent hotel at Cite Mondiale (Mercure), which is an excellent location. The hotel itself is not too bad either! It’s within the historic part of Bordeaux. It’s very accessible and a lot of the interesting sights were around this area. Plus it’s studded with shops and restaurants, so if you are looking for superb food or cheap buys, you don’t really have to go too far.
The historic corner of Bordeaux is on the UNESCO World Heritage list mainly due to its captivating 18th century architecture. And one of my favourite sights in this part of the city is the Place de la Bourse. The square (and the symmetrical palace-like buildings around it) looks absolutely stunning especially in the evening. The best spot to admire its beauty would be from across the street, where there’s this so-called “Miroir des Quais” (the Quay Mirror) which covers the ground with a thin layer of water giving the buildings that “mirror” effect, making it look even more astonishing.
On Sundays, a lot of the shops and restaurants are closed (or closes earlier) but something else keeps Quai de Chartrons busy. It’s the Marche de Quai; a flea market held only on Sundays from 8am to 4pm. I decided to spend one sunday morning there just sifting through the small shops selling a hodgepodge of all things French and what not. Snapping some quick shots with my camera along the way. I managed to grab some small bites as well. It was the perfect way to spend that Sunday morning, I couldn’t have done it any better!
This trip wasn’t exactly well planned, so I didn’t really do much research on the best restaurants in Bordeaux. But there’s this one Michelin star restaurant called “Le Gabriel” that I think is worth mentioning. It’s a fine dining restaurant situated right in the middle of Place de la Bourse. If you manage to get a table by the window, you will have a romantic view of the square (I know! It’s because I was standing right in front of the restaurant watching the people upstairs happily eating their dinner while I couldn’t get in without a reservation 😐 ) and the Fontaine de Trois Grace (Fountain of the Three Graces). It is a little bit on the upscale side but the menu did intrigue me and I thought it was worth the try. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a reservation that works with my schedule. The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays, so you might want to put that into consideration in case you decide to have dinner here.
No Le Gabriel for me, so the next best option was to scour the alleys for potentially good restaurants. Scouting for a good place to eat in a city you are unfamiliar with is not an easy task. First of all, it requires a LOT of walking and it involves a bit of trial and error. But it’s a fun experience!
Admittedly I have made a few bad choices but I did manage to find a few noteworthy restaurants. Two of them are Lou Grill (Salle au 1er Etage) and L’Olivier des Chantrons. Both of them are brasseries (not fine dining) so you don’t have to worry about dressing up or eating with too many forks and spoons. But they both have decent menus.
L’Olivier des Chantrons is open for lunch but it is usually their busiest time of the day. A lot of the locals would come here to eat and drink coffee so prepare yourself for a moderately chaotic atmosphere. The waiters/waitresses will be very busy and they don’t have all day, so make sure you have made your decision on which food to order before calling them over. And oh, it helps if you speak to them in french!
Lou Grill would be an excellent choice for dinner. It’s not too hard to find, it’s at the corner of Rue Saint-Remi and Rue Piliers-de-Tutelle. They pride themselves in serving “Cuisne Traditionelle Francaise” (Traditional French Cuisine) and you can get a 3-course menu that includes wine that’s reasonably priced. The service is not too bad either. And being at a very accessible spot, it can easily be flooded by tourists. Well the good news is, the waiters can speak good english. If you ever decide to drop by this restaurant, their Escargot is definitely a must-try.
I’ve managed to make a last minute booking for a whole day wine tour to Saint-Emilion. We went to a few well-known vineyards. I learned a lot about the history of the medieval city of Saint-Emilion, the many wine appellations in that area and their tedious process of making their wines. We tasted a lot of really good wines in this region. I tasted more or less 21 wines and about 4 of them were vintage. All swallow, no spit! When we got back to the city, I was feeling a bit tipsy. This wine tour was definitely the highlight of my trip to Bordeaux. I will be writing a separate post about this wine trip soon.
I did another wine tour to Blaye and Bourg (half day). Although the wines in these regions are considered not as good as the ones in Medoc or Saint-Emilion, I still think they are of good quality! Their process of making the wines in the chateaux that we visited are not as meticulous as the ones in Saint-Emilion but the wines they produced were still impressive at a not-so-steep price! You can in fact get a good bottle of wine for about 10-20 euros.
Wine tastes better while sharing a few good laughs with some new friends and engaging conversations. During the tours, I’ve managed to make new friends. I’ve met a chatty Australian bunch who were also in Bordeaux for a holiday. It was fun exchanging experiences about recent trips with them and sharing tips on where to eat and stay.
In one of the wine tours, I’ve met this lady named Chloe who I spent the remainder of my stay in Bordeaux with. We went exploring the city by foot, eating ice cream and drinking beer (although I didn’t really like drinking beer). She was also a solo traveler, hopping from one European city to another. She was a very intriguing character, i should say. And yet again I’ve made the mistake of not asking the last name and exchanging contact info. We don’t know anything else about else about each other apart from the stories we told, our first names and the fact that we’ll both be in Paris later this year. The last thing I remembered she said to me was “I’ll see you in Paris next year”. Will we meet again? Well, we’ll just have see!