For our second weekend trip, we took the train west to Bordeaux for the day with our friend, Steve. I know I’ve only been to a couple cities/villages in France (so far), but I think Bordeaux is my favorite. It seems a little livelier, has more interesting architecture, and really makes the most of its assets (like the Garonne and wonderful wine). In fact, Bordeaux has the second most historical landmarks in France (only Paris has more) and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List (the historic part of the city) as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble” of the 18th century. As if that isn’t enough, it’s also a bit of a wine capital. Jim and I are already planning our next trip, where we hope to see a show in the Théâtre, hit some wineries, and relax and do as the Bordelais do.
From Toulouse, it’s about a two hour train ride with stops in Montauban, Agen, and Bordeaux. It’s sunflower season here in France and much of the landscape between Montauban and Bordeaux was covered in sunflowers along with hillside towns with gorgeous churches hugging mountaintops. If you can drive or take a train there, I’d recommend it.
We arrived around 11am, and made our way from the train station to the Marché des Capucins to investigate the oyster/rosé situation as well as check out the offerings (i.e. compare it to Reading Terminal and Victor Hugo). This was one of the only sites recommended in our guidebook (which really surprises me…I’d think Bordeaux could have a whole chapter, not just two pages). Regardless, we wandered inside, and I have to say it reminds me a little bit more of Reading Terminal than Victor Hugo, as it has more restaurants/prepared foods mixed in with produce, fish markets, and butcher shops. I was quite the fan of the herb selection (you can see tons of lavendar, thyme, rosemary, cilantro, etc.).
We surveyed the entire market, then settled on eating tapas and rosé at La Maison du Pata Negra (we weren’t feeling the Oyster place, though it was VERY busy). Essentially, it’s a Spanish tapas place so the rosé was a Rioja (!) and all the cheese was manchego or another Spanish brebis (my favorite!). You grab a seat, then it’s sort of like a buffet of tapas. You’re just instructed to keep your toothpicks for the end to pay. It was absolutely delicious, the wait staff was insanely friendly/nice, and it didn’t feel too filling plus there were lots of options (jamon, jamon, jamon, smoked salmon, quail egg, shrimp [my favorite], sausage, etc). This really set the tone for the remainder of the day.
After lunch, we just started walking around toward La Fleche Saint-Michel (Bell Tower for the Basilique de Saint Michel). As we approached, we walked through what seemed a bit like a French flea market (we met some English tourists who compared it to Morocco). The church was not open yet (opened at 2pm), but the tower was open. The tower is 114 meters tall and built in the 15th century in the Gothic style. In the basement there used to be catacombs and mummified bodies (though they aren’t there now and we didn’t know enough French to find out who they were or why they were there). We climbed to the top, which is actually a bit of a workout and were rewarded with some pretty great panoramic views of the city (below).
After the tower tour, we went in search of a hat for Jim and sunglasses for Steve. Unfortunately for Jim, only Steve was successful. In our walk we came across a couple buildings which we saw from the tower (Grosse Cloche de Bordeaux, Place de la Bourse, and the Water Mirror). The water mirror was heaven to our feet. It was in the mid 80s yesterday and the water was refreshing and much appreciated. Essentially, the Water Mirror is situated between the Place de la Bourse and the Garonne. I can only imagine it is a beautiful sight to see at night with all the lights and the water.
After our cool respit, we walked along the river toward an area with lots of lounging. Then crossed the street toward the Esplanade des Quinconces. The photo with all the trees is nothing but trees and tram tracks. It reminds me a little bit of riding the streetcar in New Orleans. The Esplanade is also where they’ve got the Euro 2016 Fan Zone set up for tonight’s game (starting soon!). These are some of the things I find the most endearing about Bordeaux – the trees, the parks, and the gorgeous architecture. It’s just so smart to have all those trees line the river, prime for a good picnic on a nice day.
In search of gelato, we started to head back toward the théâtre and grand hotel. I think this is one of the prettiest areas of the city (it’s probably also the most posh). There’s a large carousel, multiple tram lines, and the gorgeous opera/ballet theatre. Jim and I took a tour of the inside (it’s stunning, below). We found some gelato at a chocolate shop (delicious) and then found ourselves at the Bar a vins. Jim had a rosé (a really dark one), and I had a white wine the waiter recommended (I think mine was better). This was a really gorgeous building and one of the only places open late afternoon before restaurants open for dinner. Check it out if you’re in town.
Then we decided to go on a tour of the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, which is across the street from the IHG hotel – the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux (it’s VERY fancy inside). The theatre was a little smaller than we expected, there are more lights in the ceiling chandelier than seats for patrons (1,000). The inside is also decorated in white, blue, and gold to represent the colors of royalty. We were told the best seats in the house were the four in the very front, stage right (almost inside/above the orchestra pit). There were also smaller side rooms, equally beautiful. We decided we’d love to see a show there. After our tour, we spent a decent amount of time outside the hotel listening to a busker play various classic rock tunes and a few of his own. I love live music.
With our train leaving after 9pm, we decided to grab dinner a bit closer to the train station. We settled on Calabash, which is a Caribbean tapas restaurant. It was extremely tasty and they give everyone a gratis shot of Cream de Rhum at the end of the meal (which was pretty yummy if I do say so myself). If you’re wanting to eat, but need to be close to the train station, I highly recommend this joint.
After a long day of walking (Steve said we were almost 30 or 40k steps), my feet hurt and I slept like a rock. We accomplished a lot, but I can’t wait to go back and see some museums, some gardens, and stay a little longer. Highly recommend you add this city to your list. I loved it.