From sweeping vineyards to stunning 18th century architecture, Bordeaux has a wealth of beauty waiting to be explored.
Bordeaux is exquisite, but few people know that it's also known as Port of the Moon. A name dating back to the Enlightenment. From its architecture to Atlantic influences, gastronomy to Garonne, we find it an enlightening place to visit. It is also becoming increasingly accessible by rail. In 2016, we saw the city connected to Paris with a new Paris Bordeaux high-speed line meaning journey time to the city from the capital is now around 2 hours. There is also a new summer direct service from Brussels every Saturday during July and August, with prices from around £50, leaving at 08.20 hrs from Brussels, arriving in Bordeaux in time for lunch on the Garonne.
Vieux Bordeaux and the River Garonne
One of France’s finest provincial UNESCO-listed cities, Bordeaux has the second highest number of protected buildings in France, after Paris. The Old Town (Vieux Bordeaux) connects several historic areas that developed around former church parishes. One of these areas, Saint-Michel, is filled with colourful buildings and bustling cafes. Here, you’ll also find Flèche Saint-Michel, a landmark 114m high church spire. An entrance fee of €5 is all you’ll need to pay to venture to the top.
Vieux Bordeaux has a refreshing location on the banks of the River Garonne, with many river cruises leaving from this part of town. Cycling or strolling along the Garonne is another delightful way to explore both Bordeaux and the surrounding area.
The city’s V3 TMB public bike scheme has over 1500 bikes available for hire and drop-off throughout the city. The Roger Lapébie cycle track, for example, is an easy 23km route between Bordeaux and Créon, following a converted railway line. The route has a long section along the banks of the River Garonne. If river cruises or cycling aren’t for you, a walking tour of Vieux Bordeaux with a local expert guide costs, on average, €12.
Food, drink and culture
Bordeaux is considered by many experts to be France’s finest wine region. Viticulture is running through its veins. It’s very easy to catch a regular local train to either Margaux or Pauillac, which will take you to the very heart of its world-renowned wine region. Taste the finest Margaux wines or visit Château Pontet-Canet, a winery in the Pauillac.
With three Michelin star restaurants in the centre, the reputation for food matches the city’s cultural and historic charm. ‘Entrecôte à la Bordelaise’ is one of the city’s most celebrated dishes. As well as the classics, there’s a growing hub of vegetarian and vegan places popping up too. Those with a sweet tooth will probably already know what a canelé is, the small cylinder-shaped pastry flavoured with rum and vanilla, and a delicious Bordelaise delicacy.
Bordeaux is also well known for culture and museums. You’ll find 11 museums covering areas such as the fine arts, contemporary art, decorative art and design. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux is the largest French museum outside of Paris and houses the work of many French and Dutch painters. Among other attractions is La Cité du Vin, a museum and cultural centre devoted entirely to wine which opened in 2016. Bordeaux loves its wine and food events such as the ‘Grand Crus’ weekend, making it a great destination for foodies and wine enthusiasts to visit.
Musée Mer Marine Bordeaux is a maritime museum which opened in June 2018 focusing on the city’s historical and cultural links with the sea.
Day trips from Bordeaux by train
For a coastal trip from the city, hop on the 53-minute train from Bordeaux to Arcachon on the Atlantic coast. Arcachon Bay is a stunning stretch of coastline which is home to Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe. Hourtin Lakeside Beach is a huge body of water that is perfect for outdoor activities from wild swimming to paddle boarding. As well as beaches stretching along the Bay, just inland from the central area of the bay, you’ll find Réserve Ornithologique Du Teich, a wetland nature reserve home to a variety of wild birds.
Cyclists will be pleased to hear that Arcachon is located on La Vélodyssée - France’s longest waymarked cycle route. Stretching from Brittany to the border with Spain along the Atlantic Coast, the route is incredibly varied in landscapes. Connect with the route at Arcachon to head south on the trail. For example, it's a 130km cycle along La Vélodyssée from Arcachon to Léon, a small coastal village. During this section, you’ll pass through Mimizan-Plage also known as the Pearl of France’s Silver Coast, with some popular surfing spots nearby too, such as at Hossegor. From Léon there’s only around 100km left until you cross the border to Spain.
Photo credits top to bottom: Bordeaux river bridge with St Michel cathedral in background iStock ©MartinM303, Bordeaux Vineyard-Medoc-France ©Esperanza33, French travel destination: Dune of Pyla near the town Arcachon iStock ©Tree4Two, Cap Ferret Lighthouse iStock ©Fouque.
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