It is August and nearly 100 degrees, despite this we loved Bordeaux soon after our arrival. The modern tram is 100 meters from our doorstep and takes us to the heart of the city in minutes. We got an early start our first day to beat the crowds as well as the heat, the cool morning temps with a nice breeze off the Garonne river were our reward. We put together a self guided walking tour of the historical city highlights for our first excursion. Bordeaux is home to 362 historic monuments, only Paris has more, and there are beautiful buildings on every street corner. One of our first discoveries was the Girondins Fountain, my new favorite second only to the Trevi Fountain in Rome. The Girondins Fountain has been described as a “riot of horses” and if you look carefully you can see their feet are webbed claws and the back end of the horses appear to be dragons tails.
The Bordeaux Cathedral is where 15 year old Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful and wealthiest women in Europe, married the future King Louis VII in 1137, I can only imagine the elegance of such an important wedding in those days. This cathedral captured my attention having recently read a historical fiction novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine, who later married King Henry II and produced 3 future kings of England.
Bordeaux city center is a hub of activity with endless restaurants, cafes and bars to satisfy any craving, along with numerous wine tasting venues….Bordeaux is the worlds major wine industry capital producing over 900 million bottles each year. In addition to an abundance of food and drink there is Rue Sainte Catherine, the longest pedestrian street in France filled with shops of every description, and crowds of shoppers to match.
During our walk we came upon a cruise ship moored up on the riverside and wondered how it came to be there since we are an hour away from the ocean. We found out the Garonne river is deep enough for ocean liners to travel this far inland, who knew!! There were also much smaller river boats which would fit under all the old bridges further inland, a large cruise ship can go no further than Bordeaux.
The next day we were on the road by 7:30am, driving West to see the Dune du Pilat before the crowds arrived. A friend recommended we go there and it turned out to be a very interesting visit. It is the tallest sand dune in Europe at approx 110 meters high, and is moving inland at 1 to 5 meters per year!! There is what appears to be a moveable plastic staircase ascending the Eastern, and steepest side, of the dune. Once at the top the views are magnificent and you can walk along the top or down the gentle Western slope to the Atlantic Ocean. There were only a few people on the top of the dune when we arrived but when we left it was getting very crowded at this popular destination. We took a drive along the beach road into Arcachon for a look around, then back to the dune for a walk along the beach below. What a great feeling to be back by the ocean, even though it is much colder than what we are used to in the Caribbean. There were a few very hardy souls out swimming!
We returned to central Bordeaux the next day for a leisurely wander down the entire length of Rue Saint Catherine, early enough that the crowds were not fully out yet. The road ends near the Grand Theater, where we found the Tourist Office and across from there the Maison du Vin. We had read about this place on another travel blog as being an inexpensive place to try Bordeaux wines, which is what you do in Bordeaux, so we were all in for this. 26 Euros, 2 hours, 12 wines (between us) and 1 cheese board later we wholeheartedly agree this is a great place. What we really appreciated was the small portions available to purchase allowing us to try many wines. A return visit is certainly in order before we leave Bordeaux 🙂
Keeping the wine theme going, we headed out to Saint Emilion, an hour’s drive East of Bordeaux. It is a beautiful region of France to drive through with vast expanses of vineyards dotted with chateaus. The town of Saint Emilion is closed to vehicles, as are many of the old historic towns, so walking around is very pleasant. Our first stop was the tourist office to book a tour of the underground monuments at 2pm, this gave us ample time to wander, visit a couple of tasting rooms, purchase some wine and have lunch. The underground tour was informative and provided a remarkable view of the town’s origins and what lies beneath the village. The highlight is the monolithic church, carved out of one piece of stone in the hillside, believed to have been built because the hermitage was a pilgrimage site on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela route. The person who commissioned the building of the church is said to have gotten the idea to build underground while passing through Capadoccia, Turkey. It is also rumored that at one time Emilion’s body was buried here but there is no trace of his relics, just a story passed down the ages. The church is vast and the largest of it’s kind in Europe with two rows of massive columns supporting the ceiling above which the bell tower is built. The Saint Emilion region produces high quality Grand Cru wines and we blew the budget purchasing 3 bottles, which will be saved for special occasions. Or any occasion before we fly on November 10th 🙂
After busting the budget on our Saint Emilion day we stayed close to home in Bordeaux for the next couple of days. Sunday morning we went for a run along the boardwalk beside the Garonne river admiring the river cruise boats meandering their way through the city and perused the offerings at the market busy with early morning shoppers. If we had more than 2 days left it would have been easy to stock up on the mouth watering pastries, cheese, bread, fresh meat, seafood…..the list goes on!!
Our last day in Bordeaux we rode the tram to the Cite du Vin wine museum, a gorgeous building offering tours devoted to the history of wine civilization, as well as tasting rooms, restaurants, wine shop (of course) and gift shop. The wine shop is circular and the photo below only shows 1/4 of the room which is filled with wines from all over the world.
The museum tour is expensive at 20 Euros each, we decided to spend that money going back to Maison du Vin and taste 10 more wines, that was easy!! This is not only a wine bar but a wine school as well offering 2 hour tasting courses in English or French. Here is a quote from Bordeaux tourism promoting the Maison: “The wine list offers a selection of thirty wines for the greatest happiness of all”……yep, we were pretty happy all right 🙂
We took another pass by the Miroir d’eau and this time the water levels were topped up higher than our first visit and was a completely different view of this attraction. The water is only released from 10am until 10pm during the summer months so I suspect there is never a time where there are not tourists here.
We have been surprised and awed during our time here and would highly recommend visiting Bordeaux, not only the city but the surrounding wine regions. Sadly for us it is time to leave, although our livers are happy for a respite. Northward to Normandy we go…..