Bordeaux – imagine a week in this cycle-friendly city
Bordeaux on a Sunday morning: gentle ride along the riverfront to take in the farmers market set up on the quayside. At the end off the market take a late breakfast of oysters and chilled white wine (if you haven’t already dined on paella, brochettes or prawns en route). Pause to admire the exploits of the lads on the skate park ramps before turning left to reach Bordeaux’s premier park Le Jardin Public. Here, either find a shady spot to enjoy some of your spoils from the market or secure a lounger in front of the Orangerie for an hours rest while sipping a long drink.
The water mirror, Bordeaux Riverfront
Not sufficiently energetic? Rent in-line skates at Place Gambetta the evening before and zip the 4 kilometer length of the quays from Pont St Jean to the new bascule bridge and cross this elegant structure to then ride Bordeaux’s new right bank cyclepath to Pont de Pierre. Crossing this brings you to within a couple hundred metres of the market around Eglise St Michel. Afterwards, on most days, you will find the water mirror (Le Miroir d’eau) enthralling children and on hot summer days the temptation to kick off your shoes and join them is hard to resist.
Begin Monday morning: with a visit to the Bordeaux Ecole Des Vins to brush up your wine tasting skills. Lunch could be taken at one of the brasseries favoured by Bordeaux’s young professionals (such as the Brasserie des Negotiants on Quinconnces) or, very slowly, at any pavement café, to observe the Bordelais in their natural environment. This can be followed by either a tour of the Musee des Negotiants (wine shippers museum) in the Chartrons district or an afternoon visit to one of the great wine chateaux that are now embedded in the Bordeaux’s outer suburbs as preparation for a day of degustation and chateau visits later in the week. Perhaps finish the day by calling into the Bar a Vins for a very special aperitif from one of the great Bordeaux houses.
But, if that is too much imbibing in one day then Bordeaux’s other museums and galleries offer alternative cultures to ‘viniculture’. Degas, Goya, Rubens and Rodin await you at at the Musee des Beaux Arts; archaeology, anthropology and history are displayed at the Museum of Aquitaine; examples of the finest French decorative arts can be found at the Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, or Modern Art at the former Laine Warehouse (such an atmospheric building its worth a visit even by those of us who don’t ‘get’ modern art). If you are lucky enough to be in the city when an exhibition is open in the Base Sousmarine grab the chance to see inside the building – one of Bordeaux’s hidden treasures.
Bordeaux market BistroStart Tuesday: with a walking circuit that begins at the Cathedral square, (Place Pey Berland), and an ascent of the bell tower before exploring some of the city’s more obscure byways to reach Rue St Catherine and follow it as far as Place Victoire. From here it is a couple hundred metres to the aromas, sights and sounds of the Capucin Market which may detain you before you reach St Michel and, as the locals know it, ‘la Fleiche’. This bell tower can also be climbed for the view of Bordeaux’s roof-tiles but most days there is enough to see in the markets at its feet.
This quarter – home to many of the city’s migrant communities – boasts some of the most interesting and (modestly prices) restaurants where four courses, coffee and wine can cost less than a burger and chips with ice-cream dessert at an English pub. A mint tea taken in the square while the market traders pack their wares can be followed by another loop that takes in more of the 13th century heart of the Bordeaux to bring you back to Place Berland along the Rue de Loup (Street of the Wolf). If you believe that walking is best enjoyed in small doses there is an outfit that rents out Segways and offers Segway tours of the Bordeaux’s riverside sites.
Wednesday: may be a good day to devote to some serious shopping and there is no better place to start than Grand Hommes – an ancient market place that has been transformed into a slick retail centre at the heart of the golden triangle (Triangle d’Or). Here select boutiques rub shoulders with the best of the French retail chains. But if a little retail therapy goes a long way, then there is no shortage of ’safe-houses’ where tired feet can be rested and purchases admired. My own favourites include Le Paulin (facing Grandes Hommes and thankfully not yet modernised) or any of the cafes around Place Gambetta or at the top of the Rue De Remparts. Bordeaux’s best-kept shopping secret? The Moroccan shops along Victor Hugo, and the side streets running back towards Capucins market, for leather bags, garden lamps and fun jewellery. And of course the bric-a brac and bygones for sale at the St Michel market are always worth a rummage. But then the selection in the Chartrons antique-shop district are worth a half day as well. And I have forgotten the warehouse filled with massive items of furniture that …
Thursday already: and you haven’t yet visited one of the Medoc, Graves or Sauternes Chateaux? The tourist information office by the Grand Theatre will be happy to explain the options and if a grand chateaux and serious wine sipping does not appeal you could choose to jump on a train and simply take in a pretty town like St Emilion with a rich history of wine-making but on a scale such that you can ‘do it all before lunch’. And to balance that lunch there is no better way to waste an afternoon than a self-guided walking tour through St Emilion’s surrounding vineyards. There’ll just be time for a glass of your favourite in the town square before heading back to Bordeaux. (cont’d)
Did we mention that Bordeaux is a city of Culture and that much of it is open to those who do not understand a word of French? Have a look at what live music is on that weekend. A kiosk opposite the tourist office, by the carousel, has details of all the current events. Jazz venues such as ‘Le Port de la Lune’ down in the irregular end of town do live music accompanied by a reasonable dinner. The conservatoire in St Croix has an eclectic programme ranging from accordion master-classes to chamber music. Not far away an Irish pub has a Friday night open mike session hosted by a versatile Mexican guitarist that attracts both the talented and the eccentric (though, apparently, not many Irish). And of course if you book ahead the Grand Theatre features opera and ballet programmes while if you hit the right weeks in July and there are free Salsa lessons, hoedowns and tangos on the riverfront.
Friday morning: could be another busy day but instead why not slope off for a picnic in the countryside? A ride along the quayside down to the St Jean bridge can cross you to Bordeaux’s right bank where following the river upstream takes you past a more-than-adequate grocery shop (The Auchan at Bouliac). From here it is a three mile jaunt along the river to Latresne where the Roger Lapebie cycle path leads you into the verdant depths of the Pimpine valley.
You may picnic in the first convenient meadow or carry on to the Bistrot at Lignan de Bordeaux. If you need to earn your calories there is the option of carrying on to Creon -13th century bastide town with a very pretty choclaterie (- chocolate being an essential fuel for cycle tourers). Alternatively climb up to the church at Latresne to get a view of the city or head further inland to time your arrival at a microbrewery about 4pm when they welcome visitors dropping by
Saturday: should be a slow day allowing you to mooch Bordeaux’s back streets and pick up gifts for those left at home, but …. a tram ride to the station and a forty minute train ride through the Landais forest can deliver you to Arcachon and all the fun of the seaside with Belle Epoque flourishes. Another chance to sample oysters and white wine (perhaps having seen the oysters landed at your quayside shack moments before) or any of the other local seafood specialties.
A boat trip across to Cap Ferret allows you to cycle along the Atlantic coast (you did bring your bikes didn’t you?) or along the shore of the Basin. If you have the legs for it you could even head south to conquer the Dune de Pyla – the highest in Europe and watch the paragliders launch themselves from its crest. And if watching others take risks gets your adrenalin pumping, the seafront casino will be happy for you to contribute to the municipal coffers.
Cycling the Atlantic Coast
Return to Bordeaux for a celebration meal – did we mention Bordeaux’s choice of Michelin starred restaurants? Or a river cruise with dinner? Or a restaurant down by Notre Dame for serious carnivores? Or the restaurant quarter’s collection of world cuisines ….. Vietnamese, Lebanese, Brazillian, Japanese, Moroccan, Turkish, Guyanese …? all accented with french style.
Perhaps you had better schedule two weeks for Bordeaux but if you have only one day available be sure to take a cafe table by the Grand Theatre and just let Bordeaux parade in front of you.
- The Port of the Moon,
- The world’s capital of quality wine
- An 18th century neo-classical architectural gem
- a table groaning with dishes and wines perfectly matched
The list goes on but you may have only a few hours to enjoy its riches.. where to go? Which to choose?
- A cycle friendly city…
- An ancient city…
- A city for wine lovers
- A city that flaunts its riches in boutiques, stalls and fairs
- A city of restaurants, bistrots, brasseries and guignettes
and for those with a little more time …
- A city of culture
- A city that reaches out to the countryside
- A city of hot jazz-clubs and cool music pubs
- A city of parks, pavillions and gardens
- A city of quirky and obscure treasures
Film festival, antiques fairs, vintage sailing regatta, dancing lessons on the quayside …Would a Bordeaux Calendar help you plan your visit?
we are working on it – add us to your favourites and pop back in a couple of months.