Following on from The Wine Scholar Guild’s excellent October Bordeaux wine tour, our locally based Tour Manager, Sarah, is continuing her series of articles about travel tips to Bordeaux. This fourth blog looks at some of the others things you should see & do here during your next Bordeaux wine tour.
1. Walking tour of the City
I regularly do half day walking tours of Bordeaux for smaller groups, sometimes taking in food & wine tastings on the way! Here we cover the main sites but also some that are mostly only known to us locals (I’ve lived here for 25 years so far!). One of my favorite itineraries follows:
Start in Place St Michel, for me the beating heart of the cosmopolitan city to the South, and visit Bordeaux’s most important market, the Capucins (every morning except Monday). Wander the back streets towards the famous Grosse Cloche gate (which figures on the City’s coat-of-arms). Go through it & down the pretty rue St James (following in the footsteps of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela) and onto Place Fernand Lafargue, which was the centre of the medieval city. Then take in the Place du Palais and the other gorgeous medieval gate, Porte Cailhau. Walk on the quayside to the Miroir d’eau, then of course to the iconic Place de la Bourse, herald of the glories of the 18th century city rebuild, and the closeby Place du Parlement. On to Place de la Comédie with our classical Opera House at the apex of the “golden triangle” area. From there walk past the Tourist Office to the Monument des Girondins. Then you could meander around the main wine merchants’ district in the North of the city called Les Chartrons. Or walk back towards the “Grands Hommes”, passing the beautiful baroque Eglise Notre Dame and through the intimate Passage Sarget, to Cours de l’Intendance. From there continue on to the Cathedral.
And here I’ve just given an overview of the City!
2. Boat trip on the Garonne
Bordeaux River Cruise, Place de la Bourse
A few companies do short boat trips on the Garonne river, which is a great way to see the city and area. Some have dinner cruises and wine tastings tours. I’ve selected here one of the companies that I’ve used and enjoyed: "Bordeaux River Cruise", who offer several cruise programs, with departures from Bordeaux, Blaye or Pauillac eg. afternoon cultural cruises visiting unusual places, including a walk on Ile de Patiras or evening wine cruises accompanied by a winemaker. Book in advance to avoid disappointment!
3. Museums in Bordeaux
I always think of our City as a place to be enjoyed outside: a stroll by the river, a drink on the terrace of a café, some window shopping in the Golden Triangle, a sunny afternoon spent reading a book in the public gardens (Jardin Public) … but we also have many museums for a rainy day.
Cité du Vin
Musée du vin et du Négoce
The commercialization of the top Bordeaux wines is a unique system. Find out all about the “Place de Bordeaux” at this lovely museum hidden away in the heart of the wine merchants district of Les Chartrons. See http://www.museeduvinbordeaux.com
On the banks of the Garonne beside Bordeaux’s newest bridge, Cap Sciences offers scientific, cultural & fun outings for all the family and a great place to take the kids if it’s raining! It has an interactive exhibition centre, with animations dedicated to science, as well as lectures and guided tours.
Musée des arts décoratifs
See how rich Bordeaux merchants lived and entertained in the Golden age of the 18th Century at this lovely museum in the centre: https://madd-bordeaux.fr/en/museum
There are also several art museums including the Musée des Beaux Arts, the contemporary art museum called the CAPC, which is worth seeing for its lovely old warehouse building alone. The submarine base, dating from 1941-43, is one of five built by the Germans on the Atlantic coast for U-boats during the Second World War. This venue has been converted into an original, "underground" cultural location by the City of Bordeaux. The Base offers multidisciplinary activities all year long: exhibitions, concerts, opera, jazz, theatre, dance, etc.
4. Bordeaux's Right Bank
When you go to Bordeaux’s Right Bank for your Bordeaux wine tour there, I do suggest a stop at Libourne’s art museum.
Libourne's Town Hall
Go on a Tuesday, Friday or Sunday to enjoy the open air market in Libourne’s lovely main square, so typical of the Bastide architecture created when Bordeaux was English. This little gem of an art museum is on the second floor of the Town Hall (the imposing neo-gothic building in the main square) – it is open from Weds to Sat & Tues afternoon.
5. Château de la Brède
The philosopher Montesquieu was born, lived and wrote the majority of his works here. His library and bedroom are both preserved as they were in the 18th century. He wrote the famous “Spirit of the Laws”, which is used in the US Constitution. The castle was built in the Gothic style starting in 1306, on the site of an earlier castle. It is surrounded by water-filled moats & an English garden. Despite modifications over the centuries, it has kept its character as a fortress. It is open to visitors from Easter to mid-November.
6. Town of Saint Emilion
Your Bordeaux wine tour must include visits to the wineries in the St Emilion area but do leave yourself time to explore and enjoy this lovely UNESCO world heritage town. See http://www.saint-emilion-tourisme.com/uk/1-discover/31-the-12-inescapable-monuments.html
7. Citadelle de Blaye
The Côtes de Bourg & Blaye and the Fronsac areas are often overlooked on Bordeaux wine tours but these more affordable wines have seen a revolution in quality in the last 30 years and should be sought out on your tour. And whilst in the vineyards, don’t miss out on a short visit to the Citadel of Blaye. Built by France’s extraordinary military architect, Vauban, in the 17th century as the then King of France, Louis XIV, wanted to protect the city of Bordeaux from a possible English attack. Vauban decided to improve the medieval fortifications and, in order to completely close the estuary, he also built Fort Pâté on an island facing the Citadel of Blaye and Fort Médoc on the opposite bank. These three forts and the Vauban’s system of defence are listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. If you are visiting between the 11th-14th July this year, you may want to take in some of the International Showjumping held in the Citadel. See https://www.tourisme-blaye.com/en/
8. Castillon La Bataille reconstruction
From mid-July to mid-August in the evening, Castillon La Bataille, east of St Emilion, has a famous reconstruction of the last Battle of the Hundred Years’ war between England & France in 1453. Performed in a large natural arena, very close to the original battleground, hundreds of volunteers, including actors & horseback riders re-enact this historic fight – a show not to be missed! Reserve your places & a simple dinner on site at https://www.batailledecastillon.com/en/reserver/
9. Bay of Arcachon
Dune du Pyla
Spend at least one day on the Bay of Arcachon:
- at the family resort of Arcachon itself, with its lovely walk along the front, bayside restaurants, shops and the famous Dunes of Pyla. The climb up Europe’s largest dune is well worth the effort for the stunning views from the top.
- or go to the now bustling and vibrant Cap Ferret, where you can eat oysters in cabins by the side of the bay.
- or enjoy the quieter resorts in between like Andernos.
- several boat trips are available too.
And if you like surfing Lacanau is the place!
Caves of Lascaux
About 3 hours drive from Bordeaux, you’ll find yourself in the heart of the lovely Dordogne at the town of Sarlat and nearby the famous caves of Lascaux – the Sistine chapel of prehistoric times. Reserve in advance at https://www.lascaux.fr/en/prepare-your-visit/visit-lascaux/international-centre-for-cave-art
Read on …
With all this talk of top things to do and see in Bordeaux, you are perhaps hungry for your next Bordeaux wine tour? We have some more helpful reading for you – see our entry on our favorite Bordeaux restaurants with great wine lists. Also read about our selection of best Bordeaux wine shops and ideas about how to organize your Bordeaux wine tour …
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BY Sarah Graham-Beck
Sarah lives in Bordeaux and has 15 years of experience in the Bordeaux wine industry. She has been manager of a top Right Bank chateau and worked for several top Bordeaux wine merchants. She now guides wine tours in the region and handles logistics for wine-related events.