The beautiful city of Bordeaux, world famous producer of wines since roughly the 8th century, is perhaps one of the most elegant cities I’ve ever stayed in, second only to good old Paris. I ended up visiting it solo in July for the pure and simple fact that I typed my departure date from Gatwick into Skyscanner, clicked ‘anywhere’ in the destination box, and a £24 British Airways flight to Bordeaux was the cheapest thing that appeared. Obviously it was destiny as I’m all about that bargain travel life. BORDEAUX HERE I COME.
Live the AirBnB life
Under normal circumstances, a cheeky hostel would have done me fine, however Bordeaux is such a classy city that there are only two hostels in the entire place, both of which were fully booked up for the four days I was there; therefore I opted for a classic AirBnB stay over remortgaging my non-existent-house-because-I-can’t-actually-afford-a-house in order to stay in one of Bordeaux’s exquisite hotels. But here’s the thing pals- as with 90% of my AirBnB stays throughout life, it did not disappoint.
My one bedroom, two floor apartment was located on the top floor of an old building just behind the Place de la Bourse (ie pretty much in the centre of everything you need to be near), overlooking a narrow cobbled street. It was absolutely bloody beaut I tell you. The only slight downside was that every morning whilst tucking into my breakfast a man living in the apartment opposite would open all his windows and proceed to sweep his floor whilst wearing not a shred of clothing. I did my best to avert my eyes/back away from view as stealthily and silently as possible, but on day two he began nakedly leaning out of his window to call out ‘Bonjoooour!!! ‘Allooo!!’ This routine continued daily, making me feel more and more uncomfortable as the days wore on, and also altogether confused about the question of whether by repeatedly yelling greetings across the street whilst he happened to be completely starkers he was just being a friendly neighbour or if it was actually borderline harassment. I mean, where do you even draw the line on these things???
Aside from The Issue of the Naked Neighbour, as a lass staying all by myself, the AirBnB choice also meant that I didn’t have the awkwardness of repeatedly having to dine out alone, as I could just buy my own ingredients and cook up a storm instead. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve taken myself out for dinner before, but despite the fact that Bordeaux is a culinary hotspot of Europe, filled to the brim with Michelin-starred restaurants, first and foremost it can be mildly awkward to deal with the baffled looks of the waiter, and secondly, frankly my budget did not allow for even one evening meal out, let alone four in a row. Add to this the fact that I really appreciate buying food that comes in cool packaging, like this tin of tuna, and I was as happy as Larry.
(I didn’t just eat nicely-packaged tins of tuna for four days, promise)
Become a wine expert
The Cité du Vin is a flashy new museum located in what was once a pretty derelict part of town, designed to look like a swirl of wine sloshing into a glass. Fancy that. At €20 per ticket entry it’s on the pricier side of the museum entry fee scale, however when a glass of wine is included in that price, I’d say it’s 100% worth it. Good one, semi-free wine. Good one all around.
And the museum itself is actually a truly fascinating place, where I managed to learn more than I ever thought I would about wine in general; from the history of winemaking to attempting to get a grasp on what on earth connoisseurs are talking about when they say wine has earthy, blackberry undertones. And all this knowledge is presented in an interactive, high tech and highly flashy way. Visitors have to wear a set of headphones which talk you through what you’re seeing, and most exhibits involve you having to smell or touch or wave your hand over something. I full on loved it I tell you!
On the top floor of the museum alongside the bar is a great viewing point over the river Garonne and the rest of the city, and it’s up there that you can choose whichever glass of wine takes your fancy on that day to sip from whilst you think about how well-informed you are about wine these days.
Appreciate the Place de la Bourse and it’s ginormous reflecting pool
The Place de la Bourse is a wide open square right next to the river in the centre of town, built in the 1700s to make the city look generally more welcoming and resplendent to visitors arriving by ship (as this bad boy is actually a port city despite it being inland.) The buildings that surround it are classic pieces of French architecture, and between the square and the river is the grandiose Miroir d’Eau, which as it happens is the world’s biggest reflecting pool, and looks basically beaut at any time of day or night. (I’m not gonna lie, I did go back several times just to check it out with different sunlight surrounding it.) The Miroir is a big old meeting point for people across the city, who come to literally chill out a bit in the hot summer months, either by running through it, skating across it, or even having salsa lessons around it. True story. What a lovely location.
Eat Canelés. You’ll thank me for it.
Some people say go to Bordeaux and eat duck. But I didn’t fancy that. Others say drink wine. But I’d already done that, even having headed one day on my trip to the wine-growing village of Saint Émilion. What is left, I hear you ask!?
CANELÉS. GLORIOUS CANELÉS.
Back in the day, wine in the region was filtered into a vat using egg whites (don’t ask me how because I’m not enough of a wine expert yet to be sure of that method), but the discarded yolks were passed on to nuns who used them to bake these beaut little doughy cakes called canelés. These days, rum and vanilla are added to the mixture and all I’m saying is it produces the most delicious thing I’ve tasted in a long old time.
After I hunted down one of the Baillardran cafes (just past the corner of Quinconces, near the opera house, if you’re interested), I settled down at an extremely red and shiny seat in the extremely red and shiny shop and began to tuck into my coffee and canelé combo. It was JOYOUS.
On my second sip of coffee a Frenchman with a silk pocket square tucked in his pocket and a newspaper tucked underneath his arm sat at the table next to me, nodded ‘bonjour,’ (if he’d been wearing a top hat he definitely would have tipped it at that point because I feel like that’s the kind of old gent he was), and was joined a minute later by another old chap. Monsieur Pocket Square went on to ask all the questions…why I was in Bordeaux, where I’m from, do I like France, how long am I here for, you know- all the classics. The problem was that he said 98% of it in French, which I can understand the basics of thanks to Years 7 to 9 of secondary school but which I find completely impossible to actually speak myself. So for my replies I opted for a combination of English, large facial expressions, and the art of mime. This seemed to go down surprisingly well as when I asked the waitress if I could get the bill Monsieur Pocket Square insisted on getting it for me. What a kind old chap!
Relax in Le Jardin Public
The public garden is a blooming lovely place to stroll through or sit and have a read or a picnic if you’re that way inclined, and is definitely one of the prettier city parks I’ve been to in my time. After a great many hours worth of pacing across the city and standing on trams I was craving some fresh air and open space and this is a lovely location to disconnect from the city slightly. Whilst en route to the garden through a rather classy-looking part of town (although let’s face it, pretty much everywhere I went in Bordeaux looked beaut), I accidentally strolled onto the film set of a TV show and stood waiting in hushed silence while a runner held back me and four other passer-bys from interrupting a fight outside a fake police station. It was a right laugh I tell ya.
Get Educated at the Musee d’Aquitaine
Aside from the flashy Cité du Vin, there’s a massive collection of other museums and galleries spread across the city (just housed in a slightly older collection of buildings). Although every exhibit in the museum is in English, I still managed to learn a lot about the city and its influence on the rest of the world which as a mild history geek I really did appreciate. I mean- fact number one is that Bordeaux and the entire Aquitaine region was actually English territory for about 300 years, thanks to Eleanor of Aquitaine who dumped the French King for the English one. What a sassy lass. And it’s during that time that Bordeaux became a full on wealthy location due to its wine being exported to the English shores.
Having just spent several months visiting several French Caribbean islands, second in the list of Things I Found Interesting At the Museum is that the city also accumulated a fortune due to a booming slave trade, and the fact that many residents of Bordeaux made the journey to islands like Guadeloupe, Haiti and Martinique to colonise them and get rich quick from the profits of their newly-founded and slave-dependent plantations. It’s kind of amazing to visit two completely different parts of the world and see how their histories are interlinked, however appalling the reasons for the connection are. This dark but rather massive part of Bordeaux’s history is barely spoken about, although there are still several roads around the city named after the richest and most successful slave traders back in the day.
Marvel at the big bell of Bordeaux
Along with the Place de la Bourse, the Grosse Cloche is another landmark of the city, and is one of the oldest belfries in the whole entire land! And by land, I’m referring to France, FYI. The gigantic bell tower has been around since the Middle Ages and as well as a massive bell, houses a casual jail where anyone who disturbed the peace was swiftly thrown into for an overnight stay. I like to think it has a faintly Beauty and the Beast vibe about it.
Don’t confuse the old Grosse Cloche with Porte Cailhau though my friends. (An easy mistake to make as they’re both exceedingly similarly designed) This second tower was once the city gate, back in the time when the city had actual walls and before the more welcoming Place de la Bourse was constructed.
Stroll around the Triangle d’Or
Three grand 18th century boulevards make up a literal triangle shape right in the heart of the city, filled with splendiferous architecture, all the shops featuring exceedingly high price tags, and lined with trees. The Place de la Comédie is a large square right in front of the Grand Theatre, with trams running through it and an olden-times carousel grinding merrily away as a backdrop to the shoppers casually purchasing bags and bags of designer gear. It’s like Bond Street round here, you know.
Further along, the Esplanade de Quinconces is France’s most biggest square ever ever, starting at the top with a gigantic fountain and statue creation, and leading all the way down to the river. When I was there, the circus was in town, so Quinconces had been overtaken by a brilliant brightly coloured tent and a fleet of trucks and vans to transport the circus equipment with. Good. Times.
Get lost in the Saint-Pierre district
I’m not gonna lie here pals, when I say get lost what I really mean is stroll around, stop for coffee, stroll around some more, and then maybe stop again for a second coffee. This place is full of quirky little coffee shops and even quirkier actual shops, as well as the usual main street which is home to the same set of stores as everywhere else on the planet. (As much as I’m not a fan of every single high street in the universe looking identical, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to walk past a Zara and not go in, so I’m in a real quandary with that one.) Saint-Pierre is a web of medieval lanes and alleys, and is the perfect location for spending an afternoon exploring; you never know what you might find.
Personally I was rather taken aback when I almost collided with a priest in full robes texting in a back alley. I know we’re in the 21st century now but it’s still not something I expected to almost crash into in a Medieval alleyway, know what I’m saying?
- An airport shuttle connects Bordeaux airport to the city in a mere half an hour, for €8. Cash or cards are accepted on the bus, or you can pre-buy your ticket online, and there’s a 10% discount on a return ticket if you buy it at the same time.
- Or there is a local bus, which takes longer but is cheaper.
- The tram network is DA BOMB. It’s super easy to figure out, and the cost of a single journey is €1.70, bought from a machine at the tram stop. I bought a 10 journey ticket, although it was kind of pointless as the ticket validation machines didn’t work for three journeys, I only used it for seven journeys, and my ticket wasn’t inspected once.
- But still, it’s a good idea to at least attempt to validate your ticket in one of the yellow machines when you board a tram. Just for a laugh, more than anything.