10 Must Dos in Bordeaux16 March 2023 | Caroline Wilson
Having fallen madly in love with Bordeaux over the last few years, I am by no means an expert - just a loved up obsessive! The architecture, the people, the food and wine... it’s the definition of joie de vivre.
In a world that has changed in so many ways over the last few years, I can confirm that Bordeaux remains the same today as it did when I first visited in 2019.
So, here’s a list of my top 10 things to do in Bordeaux!
SIT IN A SQUARE AND PEOPLE WATCH
Porte Cailhau is a must go. The backdrop is nothing other than magnificent. Visit Chez Fred for petit dejeuner including that wonderful French butter or enjoy a bite and a glass at Avant Comptoir (having spent several hours in their Paris sister establishment, it’s great to see them in Bordeaux too). There are many squares all linked up around Vieux Bordeaux so it’s the place to wander.
TAKE EN PETIT TRAIN
Grab a ticket to En Petit Train at the Tourist Information Office and hop on this little electric train just outside to hear the history of Bordeaux as well as see so much of the city without having to move a muscle.
VISIT THE MARKETS
I mean how could you not! Capucin is the main market and I wouldn’t be lying if I told you that I literally dream about this place. Stunning produce, gorgeous casual cafes serving everything from oysters to côte de boeuf, whole fish and a wonderful buzz. This is a place that firmly reminds me the French really know who to live aka know how to eat! Locals flock on Sunday for seafood platters at Chez Jean-Mi, join them, you won’t be disappointed.
Another Sunday market is on the waterfront at Chartrons, it’s a more pop up affair but worth a dander if you want something more small scale. The other must do market is Halles de Bacalan. Wow, just wow. More like the modern European ,arkets that we have all come to know, there’s a small amount of delicious fresh produce such as meat, fish, cheese etc, but this place is the perfect spot for grazing... why have one dish when you can have four is my motto. You can’t go wrong. It’s opposite Cité du Vin (think Titanic Museum for wine geeks and the Bassins de Lumières (submarine base turned art installation) so whilst it is a little outside the very centre, it’s absolutely worth the trip.
JUMP ON A BIKE
Be it an electric one or join a brilliant bike tour with Jean Christophe at Bordeaux Bike Tour (BBT), just get on one and do like a local does. The BBT is a more personable and energetic option to the petit train! Bordeaux is so well connected with trams, bikes, scooters and even Vespa hire, it’s easy and cheap to get around but electric bike has changed my world! Don’t judge me, when it’s 33 degrees you’ll want an electric bike too. I used Lime, worked well but there are plenty of options.
GO ACROSS THE RIVER
I discovered the Darwin Centre on the BBT and knew I needed to go back. It’s a centre for co-working as well as a brewery, bakery, restaurant, skate park, Veja recycling centre, bike repair shop and so much more. It’s vast and a lovely space for a walk around followed by a cold beer made right there.
VISIT THE JARDIN
City breaks can be hectic, so take some time out in the Jardins Public. Bring a blanket and your book, lie on the grass and take in the beauty of this peaceful place in the heart of the bustling city.
EAT THE SWEET TREATS
Bordeaux is famous for canelés. Short story, nuns used up leftovers, including vast quantities of egg yolk from wine making process, added rum and came up with these little mini castles of deliciousness. Dunes Blanches, named after the white sand dune, the largest in Europe, in nearby Arcachon. These are melt in the mouth so just go get them at Chez Pascal. Finally Le puits d’amour, a scandalous name, the place to get them is Maison Seguin, you can find them in the Capucin market.
PLAN YOUR MEALS
I realise this sounds daft but the French have breakfast until 11am. Lunch is 12-2pm and dinner is 7-9pm ish. Do not expect to find much on offer outside of these times, even if you rock up at 1.30pm to a near empty restaurant thinking they will let you in. The French take their time so they wouldn’t dream of letting you in at 1.30pm as you couldn’t possibly leave until after their break time and that simply won’t do. Dining reservations are highly recommended particularly if visiting at the weekend. If you haven’t got a reservation and aren’t veggie/pescatarian, see point 10.
Right in the centre beside the opera house (also worth a visit), you will see the queue for L'Entrecôte before you see what the masses are queuing for. As someone who picks what people eat and drink for a living, it’s a delight to walk into a restaurant without any choice. Entrecôte only serves one starter, one main and either sundae or profiteroles for dessert. Pillows of dressed lettuce scattered with walnuts are delivered without discussion, followed by a silver tray of entrecôte steak swimming in the most addictive sauce (98% butter) known to man with a plate of the best frites. My tip, go towards the end of service and cross everything you get in before the board goes up to show the end of the queue.
Bordeaux has direct flights from Belfast International Airport. These finish at the very end of August but continue from Dublin all year round. Go for the scenery, the food, the people.. go for the joie de vivre... I will no doubt see you there!
NB: Nothing gifted, no invites.
Words by Caroline Wilson.