As soon as I knew I was heading overseas to Southwest France for my friends’ Caroline & Sam’s wedding, I instantly decided I would stop and spend a few days in Bordeaux after the wedding. While I’ve been fortunate enough to explore a lot of France, I had never been to Bordeaux and the famed wine region and knew I wanted to get to know the area better.
If you’re craving a truly French experience that does not come with the Parisian crowds, Bordeaux is perfection. The architecture and history is similar to that of Paris (I later heard that Paris was modeled after Bordeaux for its city planning) but it comes with a delightful unassuming charm. The people are friendly, so fond of their city and seemed truly delighted to have tourists seeking it out. The food was some of the best I ever had and unlike Paris, Bordeaux feels a bit more seamless to integrate into the way of life that is slower and celebrates enjoying the good things such as wine due to the region’s rich heritage in the craft.
It’s truly no wonder that the New York Times named Bordeaux the #2 place to visit on their list of 52 Places to Visit in 2016, but I’d argue 2017 may even be better given there will be a new bullet train from Paris available that cuts the trip down nearly in half. If you’re looking at planning a trip to France, you can also check out other great day trips from Paris here. (I’ve been pinning some of my Bordeaux photos there in case you want to see more!)
I spent three amazing days in Bordeaux and its surrounding wine country and today am excited to share photos & tips should you be planning a trip there (which truly I can’t recommend enough.) Without further ado…
Walk Rue Saint Catherine: Said to be the longest pedestrian street in the world, Rue Saint Catherine is a great way to get yourself acclimated with Bordeaux. Rather commercial in nature with many shops, you can take a variety of detours down smaller, winding side streets as well to get lost on purpose (one of my favorite pastimes when traveling alone.)
Bernard Magrez Luxury Wine Experience: If you’re looking to dial up your experience in Bordeaux and truly get a taste of everything the region has to offer, I can’t recommend the Bernard Magrez Luxury Wine Experiences enough. As background, Bernard Magrez is one of the most famed wine makers in France – if not the world. His label has since launched curated luxury experiences that allow you to soak up the magic that French wine country really has. My experience working with their team was so seamless and I learned so much about French winemaking that it became the true highlight of my trip to this part of the country.
While they offer several packages for your stay, they will work with you to expertly create something ideal for you to have the best wine and stay at one of their amazing chateaus while you’re there. I had an incredible lunch and visit with a tasting at Château Fombrauge which also allowed for a quick stop in the historic town of Saint-Émilion (more on that below.) Then also visited and stayed at Château Pape Clément (see further down) Your experience can include Rolls Royce transfers, exquisite meals and tours full of rich history. The experiences are so perfectly curated that you could book one for truly any occasion – a family trip, your honeymoon, a trip with friends – any scenario and their team will put together an unforgettable itinerary for you to enjoy the splendor of Bordeaux and its countryside. It is the epitome of experiencing the Bordeaux area and its wine heritage.
Saint-Émilion: When I go back to Bordeaux, I hope to soak up a bit more of this village. I just had time to peek inside the church and quickly see the town that sits atop a hill overlooking miles of vineyards but it couldn’t have been more charming. Saint-Émilion has deeply rooted history meaning it features spectacular architecture (including ruins) and is believed to have been put on the map when the Romans first planted vineyards in the area many, many centuries ago.
Place de la Bourse & The Miroir d’eau: You can’t miss this spot when visiting Bordeaux. The extraordinary symmetrical place sits looking out on the Garonne river and features a beautiful fountain and even better? As of several years ago, it is just opposite to The Miroir d’eau which is the largest reflecting pool of its kind. My breath was taken away by the beauty in the evening as the Place de la Bourse reflected in the Miroir d’eau. It’s stunning isn’t it? In the daytime children play in the water, adults remove their shoes to cool off and the pond actually self-cleans itself and the water regularly throughout the day even producing beautiful fog at times. It was such a lovely site!
Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux: This beautiful theatre sits on a place in the middle of Old Bordeaux and very much feels like a quaint yet bustling part of city center. You can take in the beauty that is the Grand Théâtre by having a drink at one of a couple spots situated in front or just next to the theatre.
Rent a bike: While Old Bordeaux is incredibly walkable, there are also bikes a plenty due to their bike sharing program. Rent a bike and ride it along the Garrone river that has a substantial section that is beautifully manicured.
La Grande Maison: This hotel is the epitome of luxury. Small and intimate there are only six rooms but the entire property feels incredibly elegant yet approachable. The turn down service had my bed ready to be crawled into, water by my bedside, slippers out and towels being warmed in the bathroom. The gorgeous bathroom itself featured Hermès bath products that beckoned me for quite possible the most relaxing bath of my life and the hotel staff was gracious and attentive throughout my stay. If I could have stayed here a week, I would have. I awoke feeling like Sleeping Beauty – like I had slept years but was utterly refreshed and restored. It was quite possibly my favorite hotel I’ve ever stayed at. If you’re able to stay on property longer, don’t forget to ask about the amenities they are able to arrange such as a river cruise, personal trainer or even romantic touches for your stay (rose petals & champagne anyone?) This hotel would be utter perfection if you’re heading to France on your honeymoon. It’s a true slice of heaven.
Château Pape Clément: What history this place holds! One of Bernard Magrez’s properties, Château Pape Clément is one of the oldest Grands Crus of Bordeaux. I was fascinated by the fact that the first harvest on the château’s land took place in 1252. It took place under Bertrand de Goth, of a noble family from the Bordeaux region. He went on to became archbishop of Bordeaux and in 1305 was made Pope under the name of Clement V. This is where the Château inherited its name from and its wine began its storied path. The most magical part of this historic vineyard is that you can stay on-site! It’s a spectacular experience and I highly recommend you try out the beautiful on-site tasting room and have a tour of the grounds which are marvelous in nature and hold many trinkets Bernard has collected over the years to maintain the site’s rich history.
Eat / Drink:
Le Regent: Talk about having a drink with ambiance. Le Regent sits on the square that’s home to the Grand Théâtre so you can take in excellent people watching. This spot actually came to me at the recommendation of Grey Goose’s global ambassador at a dinner they hosted earlier this year and it was a great location for a pre-dinner drink. A bit expensive but worth it for the atmosphere.
Le Gabriel: One of the more memorable meals I’ve had, Le Gabriel has both a more casual bistro and the famed restaurant that each look out over Place de la Bourse (for which the restaurant is named as Gabriel was the architect of the impressive place.) I enjoyed foie gras with a pear and berry crumble and 5 spices and two other dishes that were equally as modernized French fare. They offer a prix fixe but bring you additional small dishes as part of the experience to make for an enjoyable meal that just kept getting better and better. If you’ll be a party of two at the bistro, I highly recommend asking for a window table with a view when you book your reservation.
Garopapilles: This beautiful restaurant is very minimalist in design but the food is anything but. An impressive wine list accompanies your menu (the restaurant is also home to a cave du vin) but you’ll just choose your courses rather than what you’re eating. The prix fixe is seasonally inspired so expect your dishes to have whatever is in season at the Bordeaux markets and from the town’s surrounding farms. For a reasonable 35 euros you can have an Entree, Plat and Dessert or if dessert isn’t your thing, go for just Entree-Plat at 28 euros. I don’t usually like mushrooms but instead I found myself eating it twice during this meal and actually really enjoying them. The plates are so thoughtfully put together (not to mention strikingly beautiful) and feature unique combinations. Foie gras ravioli with shitake mushrooms and tuna crudo and then hake with squid ink gnocchi and white asparagus from the region. If you come on the earlier side of the evening in warmer months, I recommend having a glass of wine at one of their small garden tables before you dine.
Karl: Similar in feel to a Le Pain Quotidien, but a tad chicer and less commercial, Karl opens early and offers a series of different petite dejeuners and assiettes in the morning on a beautiful little square.
Dan: I never thought I’d have French-inspired Asian food but Dan was one of the most interesting meals I’ve ever had. Choose from a variety of prix fixe menus including one that offers a series of their signatures dishes. I ordered that at the hostess’ recommendation as she noted it “encompassed the Dan universe.” It was inclusive of foie gras and shrimp ravioli, pork with a spicy eggplant flavored by sichuan peppers (one of the most flavorful dishes I have had in recent memory) and then tapioca with coconut gelato and a sweet mango glaze that had me practically licking my bowl. The whole meal was rich yet light at the same time (not something you typically describe French-influenced food as being). No wonder the New York Times recommended it.
Bordeaux Home: This spot is on one of my favorite streets in Bordeaux (63 Rue Saint-Rémi) and this darling home shop is full of colorful pillows and tea towels.
Rue Fondaudège: This street is very authentic to that of a classic French neighborhood. The baker, the cleaner, the wine shop. But also smaller more intriguing specialty shops that make it worthwhile to stroll down. If you stay at La Grande Maison, I recommend
Rue de la Porte Dijeaux: If you’re looking for more mainstream shops, you’ll find them on this street (don’t miss Zara Home – we still don’t have those in the States!) I recommend taking the street to the West where you’ll come out onto Place Gambetta which is beautiful and has a lovely park at the center of it.
Le Comptoir de Mathilde: This is a chain store but offers up lovely little treats if you’re looking to bring back a taste of France to friends and family. Everything from chocolate and foie gras to candies and jams – all in delightfully designed packages.
Truly I had the most magical stay in Bordeaux. I can’t recommend it enough should your travels take you to France in the future.
[All photography by Meghan Donovan]