The bon-vivants visit Bordeaux

Bordeaux is the ville definitif of our whirlwind tour through the south of France. The eighth largest city in France, Bordeaux was long known as La Belle Au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty).

And beautiful is Bordeaux, with its wide boulevards and magnificent architecture – half of the city was UNESCO World Heritage listed in 2007. However, ‘sleeping’ is not an adjective I would use to describe Bordeaux!

Bordeaux bicycles and the Tower of Pey-Berland

Old and the new: Bordeaux bicycles and the Tower of Pey Berland

In contrast to its stately buildings and architecture, Bordeaux is buzzing and cosmopolitan. A perfect example of this is the city’s modern Miroir d’eau (water mirror), which was installed on the banks of the Garonne River as part of the recent gentrification process.

When we arrive at the square, the granite Miroir d’eau lies dormant, with the elegant Place de la Bourse reflected in its inches of water. The Place de la Bourse is also known as the royal square, and was completed in the 18th century as the old Stock Exchange. A quick glance at the architecture will completely validate the city’s UNESCO heritage listing. Suddenly the stately silence is broken as mists of water begin spraying up from the ground, the French kids go crazy, and laughter and shrieks fill the air.

Place de la Bourse, reflected in the Mirior d'Eau, Bordeaux

Place de la Bourse, reflected in the Mirior d’Eau

Adam wandering on the Miroir d'Eau

Adam wandering on the Miroir d’Eau

Bordeaux is easily navigable. The city is quite flat, so it’s a pleasure to walk around – in fact, Bordeaux is home to one of Europe’s largest outdoor shopping streets, Rue Sainte-Catherine. You could also hire a bike, or catch the tram if your feet aren’t up to the task. I always advocate walking – you miss out on seeing funky shops, trendy restaurants and chic French people if you’re crammed in a tram.

Brasserie de Michel, Bordeaux

Random chairs and miscellaneous household items adorn Michel’s Bistrot & Brasserie

We have a few hours of rain during our stay in Bordeaux. Thankfully, Bordeaux offers some fantastic museums, and we choose to spend a few hours in the Musee d’Acquitaine. Entry is free, and we pick up audioguides for 2.50 Euros each. The museum is comprehensive – cave paintings from the prehistoric era, Bordeaux’s impressive role in 18th century trade (and the city’s far-from-impressive role in the slave trade), and wine-making techniques throughout history.

An easy day-trip from Bordeaux is to world-renowned St Emilion. Thirty minutes by train to the home of red wine and macaroons? Yes please. We really squeeze a lot into the few hours we spend in this medieval town.
First impressions of St Emilion

St Emilion – vineyards as far as the eye can see!

Medieval town of St Emilion

The medieval town of St Emilion

We book a vineyard visit through the helpful staff at St Emilion tourist office. 28 Euros buys us both a two-hour, mini bus tour in English (ignore what the Lonely Planet guide says, English-speaking tours DO run on weekdays) to visit a chateaux. Our guide Marion is extremely knowledgeable, and we learn loads about the region and winemaking.
Saint Emilion is UNESCO World Heritage listed, and is the oldest wine region in the Bordeaux jurisdiction. The wines are robust – predominatly merlot and cabernet franc varieties – and much emphasis is placed on the terroir – which is explained as a combination of soil, climate, topography and human factors which contribute to the production of wine.
There are 7,400 hectares of vineyards in Saint Emilion, and 860 wine estates. Some are quite small, such as the vineyard we visit, La Tour Du Pin Figeac, which is set on 11 hectares.
We take a tour of the winery, learn about the fascinating science of wine-making, and finish with a wine tasting (Adam: What can you taste? Jess: Grapes). We learn that 2005 was a stand-out vintage and buy a bottle of the Grand Vin as a souvenir.
La Tour du Pin Figeac

La Tour du Pin Figeac

We join another tour upon return to Saint Emilion, which guides us through the impressive monolithic church, underground catacombs and Saint Emilion’s cave. Adam is quick to steer me away from the stone that is believed to enhance women’s fertility.

Verging on ‘grumpy-hungry’ when we return to Bordeaux (wine and macaroon tasting can really work up an appetite), we head straight to seafood restaurant Le Petit Commerce. Rickety tables sprawl down Rue Parlement, milimetres apart, in a sea of laughing, smoking, smiling Bordelais out for dinner. We loved Le Petit Commerce – the deliciously fresh, simply marinaded, perfectly cooked seafood was the ideal contrast to all the rich and heavy French food we have consumed throughout our travels. We inhale a plate of squid, a plate of mussels and a serve of grilled John Dory in a lemon and parsley marinade.

Le Petit Commerce - 7 euro squid

Our favourite dish at Le Petit Commerce

Aux Quatre Coins du Vin, just around the corner on Rue de la Devise, is a great place to do some additional wine tasting in the heart of Bordeaux. You can load some money onto a prepaid card, which is then inserted into machines and credited when you make a choice – not an easy feat considering the 32 wines on offer – 16 red wines (8 Bordeaux, 8 from elsewhere) and 8 white wines. At 9.50 a taste for some of the better wines, it’s easy to fly through the cash, but we enjoy the novel concept and appreciate the knowledge of the helpful sommelier.
Aux Quatre Coins du Vin

Aux Quatre Coins du Vin

Adam selects La Tupina on Rue Porte de la Monnaie for our last supper in France. It’s a little bit of a walk from our hotel, through the non-UNESCO and less-lovely part of Bordeaux. The restaurant was voted one of the best bistros in the world by the International Herald Tribune, and offers traditional French dishes.
We don’t have space for starters, but I notice dishes like ‘pancake blood’, scrambled eggs with caviar, foie gras fried with peaches and pork knuckle on the menu. We do receive a freebie starter that sounded lovely when the waiter presented it to us with a small smirk, using its French name. This was deliberate. They were fried intestines. They were unpleasant!

Thankfully, our main courses were amazing. I think Adam had been expecting a whole roast chicken and was a little disappointed when he was asked if he wanted the chicken leg or “chest”. I ordered braised lamb shoulder, which was cooked to perfection, with the meat falling away from the bone. Accompanying our main courses were a cannellini bean soup and a serving of amazing French fries, cooked in duck fatty deliciousness.

La Tupina - the Rotie

La Tupina – the Rotie

We avoided food coma by walking back to the hotel, past impressive churches lit up against the night sky, stopping to take a quick photo in front of the Grand Theatre, and wandering the rest of the way along the riverbank.

Thank you, friends, for following me through France! All these posts/photos have been compiled using only my iPhone and I have enjoyed sharing them with you. Improving my photography, learning to make shortcrust pastry and also lose a few French kilograms are all on my list of things to do when I return back to Sydney.

If you have any tips for me on pastry or photography, I would be eternally grateful to you!


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