Beautiful Bordeaux – a city dedicated to celebrating wine. Here Nat gives you a guide to exploring the rustic French region in 48 hours.
Bordeaux is famously known for its delicious wine (and I can confirm, it is indeed very delicious), but over the past decade what was once a sleepy town has shed its Sleeping Beauty stereotype and become a vibrant hub for food and wine lovers alike. This has mainly been the vision of one man, Mayor Alain Juppé, who over the years has pedestrianised boulevards, restored historic artefacts, created a modern public transport system and regenerated a derelict area, once known as the industrial wet docks, into a hub of chic eateries, shops and residential flats. Today Bordeaux is fast becoming a friendly and welcoming destination with charming locals (often referred to as ‘Bordelais’), laid back eateries and an overall more rustic vibe.
1. Bordeaux is a crescent-shaped city mostly renowned for its Gothic Cathédrale Saint-André and public gardens which line the curving river quays
2. 18 sq km (around half of the city) is Unesco-listed, making it the largest urban World Heritage site
3. It has the biggest shopping street in Europe called the Rue Sainte Catherine
4. The city plays host to the world’s main wine festival, the Vinexpo, which happens every year
5. Bordeaux is located in the southwest of France and is surrounded by more than 100,000 vineyards – that’s a lot of wine!
Late brekkie because no one in Bordeaux wakes up early! I did mention it was once referred to as a sleepy town, well some of these characteristics remain – but that’s ok… we are on holiday!
We ate at a quaint little place called Plume. It’s a small little cafe, but has a few seats outside which are perfect for people watching and sitting in the sun. For breakfast you can expect granola, healthy pancakes, hams, muffins, eggs and fresh juice – and of course coffee. All reasonably priced and quite yummy. A great way to kickstart a day of exploring.
Address: 32 Rue de Cheverus, 33000 Bordeaux
Contact: 09 81 18 69 55; plume.coffee
Opening times: Mon – Sat 10am-8pm / Sun 10am-3pm
Walk over to Rue Sainte Catherine for a spot of retail therapy. The 1.2 km long pedestrian street is jam packed with the usual high-street stores, but also has some cute little boutiques which run from Place Victoire to the Grand Theatre. You could spend the whole day on this one street… but we won’t do that. Do check out Jimmy Fairly for some designer specs and Maisons du Monde for all your homeware desires.
So we need quick street-food, but as the French don’t really do ‘street-food’ as such, Santosha is a mix of Thai & Indonesian cuisine. With inspiration from Southeast Asia the colourful eatery offers fresh curry, pad Thai and tom yum among many other Asian inspired dishes. The interiors are quirky and mismatched with pop paintings on the walls and retro decor. There’s also outside seating, but you have to snap these up quickly!
Address: Place Fernand Lafargue 2, 33000 Bordeaux
Prices: Cheap and cheerful
Opening times: Mon – Sun, Midday-4pm / 7pm-11:30pm
Love ice cream? Fancy an a la carte frozen treat? Well this is just the place for you. On the outside it looks more like a designer outlet, but delve deeper and you will realise this shop is full of frozen delights in very beautiful packaging.
Created by three childhood friends, Fabrique Givrée was born from a love of gastronomy headed up by Jérémie Runel, a third generation chef who has spent 15 years working for prestigious confectioners. In 2012 Jeremie choose to leave the world of pastry, instead creating sweet treats on ice.
This place really is the creme de la creme of ice cream and is a must when exploring the city of Bordeaux.
Address: 25 Rue du Pas Saint Georges, 33000 Bordeaux
When I heard the words “City of Wine” come out of the mouth of the concierge at our hotel I was immediately excited. I have to say I was a little disappointed to find out it is almost a galley of wine, rather than the romantic vision of a vineyard I had in mind, but none the less we gave it a go and it’s actually really fascinating.
The City of wine, or Cité du Vin as it’s known locally, is described as a world of cultures and plays host to exhibitions, shows, movie projections and seminars on the theme of the much beloved topic of… you guessed it… wine!
The rather unusual shaped building is said to represent a “swirl of wine” and is packed with Digital and interactive elements, architectural delights and of course, some rather delicious wines. One of our highlights from inside the exhibition is the sensory section where you smell all the different flavours that combine to make wine – this is really interesting and also quite funny!
We didn’t make it all the way to the top, but I am told the best view of Bordeaux is from the 8th floor Belvedere gallery… so definitely venture up there!
Address: 134 Quai de Bacalan, 33300 Bordeaux, France
Contact: 0033 556 162020, lacitéduvin.com
Prices: From €15.50 per adult
Opening times: Mon – Sun, 9:30am-7pm
As wine is the beating heart of this city it would be rude not to continue on the theme and do a wine tasting. Luckily there’s a wine cruise that starts at Cité du Vin… rather convenient! For the grand sum of €21 jump aboard the cruise and experience the river by boat while sipping guzzling wines and discovering Bordeaux’s fascinating history. The guided cruise travels along the 18th-century facades of the “Port of the Moon”, passing under the Jacques Chaban-Delmas lift bridge then the Pont d’Aquitaine bridge. After turning around after the village of Lormont, off the Bassens port zone, the cruise returns to The City of Wine at 6pm.
For more information and to book tickets click here.
Once off the boat head back into the city centre with a walk down the river while having a little look around the newly developed area of Chartron quays.
When it comes to eating as a veggie in Bordeaux I’m not going to sugar coat the situation, it is pretty tricky. But that’s France generally – they love their meat! However they also love fish so if you like fish you will be able to eat just about anywhere. Unfortunately for me I don’t eat meat or fish so instead of giving you the mediocre veggie eateries, I will give you the full on carnivorous choice, jam packed with hearty cuisine, tender cuts and home grown ingredients.
Brasserie Bordelaise is one of those old gems people need to know about. Located in the St Pierre district the restaurant not only boasts great food, but with over 700 different choices it’s also a celebration of wine – two birds with one stone! They love wine so much the tables are made out of old barrels and there are bottles lined along every wall.
The setting is traditionally French with the eatery playing host to both locals and tourists engulfing great meat and shellfish while soaking up the hustle and bustle of the dining room. Meanwhile you will find me guzzling wine and snacking on delicious cheese in the corner.
Address: 50 rue Saint-Rémi 33000 Bordeaux
Contact: 00 33 5 57 87 11 91; brasserie-bordelaise.fr
Prices: Three courses from €28; A la carte mains from €15
Opening times: Mon – Sun, Midday-3pm / 7pm-midnight
Well what can I say, this was one quirky hotel, but then when booking I knew it would be. Located on the quiet pedestrian street of Place Saint-Christoly, in the heart of the city, is Mama Shelter. The 97 bedroomed hotel is the mastermind of globally renowned designer Philippe Starck and boasts comfort and style with a touch of fetish and bold interiors throughout.
For a peaceful area this is a pretty buzzy hotel. Walking into reception you are greeted with a huge dining room and bar that looks like you have arrived into Mexico. Glass cabinets surround the reception desk with gifts in the form of sex toys, and smellies and blindfolds can be purchased. The elegant rooms are bold in design with ceiling-high windows, marshmallow baby pink walls, checkered monochrome carpets, and bursts of lime green throughout. The furnishings are white, modern and minimal and decoration includes a nod towards a naughtier side with masks and shower gel with a cheeky strapline “mama loves you top to bottom”. Along with a bright en-suite there’s a small kitchen area (although I’m unsure if this is needed), an interactive iMac/TV and space to hang your glad rags. What this hotel doesn’t have is room service, but with a huge restaurant beneath your feet there’s really no need to order in – it also encourages you to be social and join in the party.
This hotel has many well-thought out design touches and a few surprises throughout. Mama Shelter is fun, creative and above all it offers a welcoming ambiance that many hotels, especially in France, seem to lack. Staff were excellent and it’s equipped with a variety of facilities to make your stay that bit easier. Would definitely go back when visiting Bordeaux in the future.
Address: 19 rue Poquelin Molière 33000 Bordeaux
Contact: +33 (0)5 57 30 45 45; mamashelter.com/en/bordeaux
Prices: From €79 per night
Grab a quick breakfast at the hotel. Food is tasty, quick and reasonably priced. Above all if it’s hot outside breakfast will be served on the roof terrace, which is a nice start to the day. Oh… and you can start the day a little earlier with brekkie from the hotel as they seem to be awake before everyone else in the Bordeaux!
With a large amount of the city pedestrianised it makes it really easy to get around without the fear of being run down by traffic coming in the wrong direction. Bordeaux has some beautiful squares, a sprinkling of modern buildings set among historic structures and very interesting architecture. It really is a charming region.
With not a great deal of time to explore it’s not possible to do everything but there are a few things that you should consider visiting. The main attraction is the cathedral of Gothic Cathédrale Saint-André on Place Pey Berland which is pretty central to the city itself. To see panoramic views from a height go up Pey-Berland Tower, but do be warned, it’s a pretty steep climb.
Public gardens and tree lined streets surround the river with one of the most beautiful being Jardin Public which is set back just off the river quay, a 20 min walk from the cathedral. The picturesque garden combines honey coloured stone from 18th century buildings with a relaxed atmosphere where a pond surrounds old trees. It truly is a calm and peaceful retreat.
10 mins walk away from Jardin Public is the Opera House, which is one of the most well-known and appreciated public buildings in the city. It stands on the site of Les Piliers de Tutelle (a former temple) and is one of the oldest theatres in Europe.
Meander back into the centre and towards the river is the district of St Pierre, which consists of Place du Parlement, Place Saint-Pierre and Place de la Bourse – one of the most recognisable sights in Bordeaux. To the front of Place de la Bourse lies the Three Graces fountain which overlooks the water mirror, Miroir d’Eau. We discovered this reflecting pool was particularly brilliant for paddling when we got too hot in the afternoon heat. This is one of the best areas in Bordeaux – streets buzzing with activity and it’s a great place to eat, drink and enjoy life amidst some of Bordeaux’s coolest cultural surroundings.
Whilst in Saint Pierre, try O p’tit bahut for lunch. Rated at #14 out of nearly 2,000 restaurants in Bordeaux on Tripadvisor, this eatery has a great selection of cheese and charcuterie boards accompanied by a good… you guessed it… wine list. It’s typically French and not too pressing on your purse strings. Perfect stop for an afternoon nibble.
Address: 10 rue des Bahutiers, 33000, Bordeaux
Contact: +33 (0)6 34 22 13 08; o-ptit-bahut.lafourchette.rest
Opening times: Mon – Sun, Midday-2pm / 6:30pm-10:30pm
We sat and had cakes in the upper dining area of Patisserie Opera one afternoon and I’m pleased to report it’s definitely not style over substance as we were delighted to discover the pastries taste just as good as they look. The shop itself is stunning – a vision of glass in a sea of cobbles. Walk in and your senses go into overdrive as pretty pastries accompany the smell of freshly baked bread. The style of the cafe is typically French with chic monochrome interiors and a splash of bling. As far as pastry shops go this is up there with the best (and that comes from someone with a major sweet tooth). Make sure you try one of the chocolate cakes along with a hot chocolate. Super naughty but very delicious. I would highly recommend visiting Opera at least once – or twice!
Address: 7 place Puy Paulin, 33000 Bordeaux
Opening times: Mon – Sun, 7am-8pm
Well what can I say… I’m not ashamed to admit we spent a lot of time on the rooftop of Mama Shelter and drank a lot of rosé (Le Canon to be precise)! Up on the 5th floor, the 300 m² terrace has stunning views over the city following the same eclectic style as the rest of the hotel. The fun and playful area is a multi-coloured delight with bags of character, a few games scattered around (huge table football available!) and great service. Brilliant spot for an afternoon drink that can trickle into night-time before you know it. Sunset is particularly lovely up on the roof and if you don’t make it to dinner then you can grab a bite from the rooftop snacks menu to keep you going.
To contrast the dinner from last night, tonight’s dinner is set in a contemporary eatery with a fine dining edge. Featured in the 2017 Michelin Guide the handsome restaurant Garopapilles has an intimate feel with limestone walls, planked rustic flooring, exposed brickwork and a small wine shop upfront and wine cellar.
Garopapilles (loosely ‘get ready taste buds!’) is well-named with dishes that are tasty, fresh and created from only top quality products. Chef Tanguy Laviale, who cooked in Paris with Jean-Louis Nomicos at Lasserre and Guy Martin at Le Grand Vefour, style is classic haute-cuisine and strays away from the traditional food of Bordeaux. With somewhat hesitant Bordelais unsure about the initial menu, they have now come to love the experimental dishes like scallops with creamed wild mushrooms and veal with praline, pears and cockles (maybe even the squid ink gnocchi!).
Do bear in mind that Garopapilles is quite tricky to get a reservation so to avoid disappointment do book in advance!
Address: 62 rue Abbé de l’Epée 33000 Bordeaux
Contact: 09 72 45 55 36; garopapilles.com
Prices: From €28 to €69; €75 evening 5-course tasting menu
Opening times: Tue – Thurs lunch, 12:15pm-2pm / Thurs & Fri dinner 7:30pm-9pm
A little after dinner wine is what you need. Why not try Aux Quatre Coins du Vin where you can buy by the bottle or by the glass from a self serve dispenser with a card – sounds awesome right?! This allows you to browse and taste wines from around the world without having to commit to the full bottle.
Open until 2am is Barberousse a rum bar / club with great ambience, quirky staff and comes highly recommended by locals on Tripadvisor. For a more romantic ambience head down to Le Petit Bois with hanging lanterns, indoor oak trees and candlelight this place screams date night. It’s down a tiny street set back from the riverfront (18 Rue du Chai des Farines) and is open from 7pm – 2am. Alternatively stay at Mama Shelter and head to the downstairs bar of orchestrated madness with tasty cocktails, DJ sets and a whole load of neon. Best bit is… you only have to get into the lift to crawl back to your room. Bonus!
Bordeaux truly is one of those cities that has grown in time while staying true historic background. It celebrates wine, gastronomy and culture with it’s a beautifully rustic characteristics and rather friendly locals. I would definitely recommend it for a long weekend away for wine lovers and city hoppers alike. Normally you would say Bon appétit to start a good meal, but in this case I think it’s more appropriate to say à votre santé (cheers) to toast the start of a great journey. Enjoy!
If you are planning to stay longer than 48 hours in Bordeaux I would highly recommend visiting a vineyard, in particular one in the region of St-Émilion, which is about 45 minutes outside of central Bordeaux. We didn’t get chance to do this as we didn’t have time, but next time this will be one of the first things we do – the second being shipping wine back to the UK!
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Images © To Work or Play / Mamma Shelter