France has many regions to tempt boomer travelers. You can road trip through Champagne country or bike the Loire Valley. But, at some point, you’ll want to explore the Bordeaux region for its elegance, history and wine. Nicole Jewell shares her tips for exploring Bordeaux.
I went to Bordeaux on a whim a few years ago and although it’s been a while since I visited, my mind often wanders back to the wonderful time I had exploring this beautiful French city. I didn’t know much about Bordeaux before the trip, only its reputation of being a major wine-producing region.
And yes, great wines abound in Bordeaux, as do wine tours and wine tastings and everything else that comes along with the world of oenophilia. And even though I love wine, I quickly realized that Bordeaux has a distinct elegance and energy apart from its famous vineyards. In fact, did you know that Bordeaux has the highest number of preserved historical buildings in France after Paris?
The city is a joy to explore because it’s compact and fairly easy to walk around and leisurely see the sites. However, I have to admit that my husband and I fell hook, line, and sinker into a Le Petit Tren Tour around the city to get our bearings.
We were exhausted after a very early morning flight and taking the train from landmark to landmark was just the break we needed, albeit a bit embarrassing at times. The next day, we tried to regain our coolness factor by renting bikes to get around, which I also highly recommend.
Visit the history: Bordeaux Landmarks
First and foremost, Bordeaux is a great wandering city. So, even if you’re not into amazing wines or French history, you’ll still enjoy the picturesque setting and easy-going pace. Of course, if you are into history, architecture, and local culinary tastings, well, you’ll be in heaven.
Place de la Bourse and The Water Mirror
The 19th century Port of the Moon is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble” of the 18th century. The port area follows the natural bend in the river Garonne and is at the heart of Bordeaux ‘s historic center. For tourists and locals alike, the Royal Square, or Place de la Bourse, is a beautiful place for a stroll while enjoying the surrounding gorgeous neoclassical architecture.
Adding to the beautiful area is a reflecting pool right in front of the square. The water mirror, or le miroir d’eau, is a large set of granite slabs that make up what is the largest reflecting pool in the world. Here is where you’ll want to take out that camera for some beautiful shots, especially at sunset.
The St Andre Cathedral
Bordeaux’s beautiful cathedral, St Andre, is not to missed either. Dating back to 1096, when it was consecrated by Pope Urban II, the ornate building is a Romanesque structure located right in the center of town.
Walking around the city, you’ll come across significant sites almost at every corner, which is why a local walking tour is always a great idea. We must have walked under the Grosse Cloche ten times before reading in our guide book that it is one of the oldest belfries in France. The building’s gateway was once used as a prison for the local disorderlies.
Tasting Bordeaux wine
Okay, let’s not kid ourselves here. I know and you know that in an article about Bordeaux, we’re going to be talking wine.
Obviously known for its world-famous wine region, Bordeaux is a sweet little town that is simply glorious for wine lovers. In fact, wine has been produced here since the 8th century, so rest assured that you’ll have a great variety of wine tastings to choose from.
The problem? Deciding where to go among the seemingly millions of options.
While we were there, we were a bit overwhelmed with so many choices, but in the end, we decided to take two day trips to the major adjacent regions, north to the Medoc region and eastwards towards St. Emilion.
Although I do love wine and visiting wineries, I have to tell you that I find multiple winery visits a bit tedious. My best advice is to pick one or two because you really can’t go wrong. In fact, if you really want to try a large variety of wine, but don’t want to commit to multiple time-consuming tours, you’ll find plenty of Bordeaux wine bars that offer indvidual tastings from different regions.
Visiting St. Emilion
If I had to recommend just one of the many wine regions to visit on a day trip, I’d pick St. Emilion. While there, we visited the Chateau Rochebell and Clos de Madeleine wineries while on the St. Emilion petit tren tour and they were both great.
(Disclaimer: I know it’s kind of goofy when adults ride little trains, but, believe me, it’s a fun and easy way to visit some of the wineries without having to worry about driving, parking, tour times, etc.)
Apart from tasting its amazing wines, you can’t visit Saint Emilion, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, without learning about the town’s history, which actually goes back to prehistoric times.
The town was named after the monk Émilion, who lived in a hermitage carved into the rock there in the 8th century. You can and should visit the underground area where he lived.
In fact, wine lovers owe Emilion a big merci beaucoup because it was the monks who followed him to this region that started commercial wine production in the area. So to really do this charming little area justice, take a tour of the town itself to learn about its amazing history.
If you’re planning a visit to Bordeaux soon, here’s a good website with tips on visiting the surrounding wineries.