I’ll be honest with you now – 24 hours is never going to be enough time to visit any city. Cities are generally large, you need time to get accustomed to the local public transport network, get used to the native tongue (even if you think you know the language) and of course get your bearings – because half the time will be spent going back down the same road you just came up. But sometimes all we have is just 24 hours. Be it a trip for work and squeezing in that quick city tour or having no holiday left at work and so you can only visit on a weekend. That’s where Bordeaux comes in. It’s the perfect 24 hour escape, not the most common tourist attraction and it won’t cost you the earth.
Bordeaux is most famed for being one of the most important wine-growing regions in the world and located along the Garonne River in southwestern France. The city is split by communes and in two halves by the wide river between it, which has not only made an excuse for some impressive architectural bridges, but is an important part of vine growing – moderating temperature and humidity of nearby vineyards. You can fly to Bordeaux from most major UK airports and it takes approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. Bordeaux airport is so small you can be out of it, in a taxi and in the centre of town in just 30 minutes – another reason why this city is so perfect for a short break.
Bordeaux really knows how to do an entrance too and by far the most impressive way to enter it is over the Pont de pierre aka “Stone Bridge”. While its name and translation isn’t exactly the most romantic, the bridge itself is. Connecting the left and right banks of the Garonne, it was commissioned by Napoleon back in 1822 and was the first stone bridge ever built-in Bordeaux. The cobbled streets of Bordeaux are perfect for wandering around too and of course the second most important thing you must do – is stop at one of the many al fresco terraces for a glass of French, local red wine. Heaven!
Arguably the most famous attraction in this city is the Place de la Bourse. Built over the course of 20 years in the 18th century, this historic building has become a symbol of Bordeaux from across the globe and has had additions to it throughout the years, with the most recent being he “Fountain of the Three Graces” in 1869 and the reflective “Miroir d’Eau” which sits at its front and is just 10 years old. It’s particularly magical at night when the water fountain is spitting high and illumined by lights. The many boats on the river are worth getting up close with too, especially the exquisite looking Trois-mâts Belem
One thing that is true about Bordeaux is that you’ll never (rarely) have a bad meal and the one dish you must absolutely eat is the classic steak frites. Here in Bordeaux they refer to it as Entrecôte Bordelaise. A seared peppered steak, sprinkled with onion. The just as delicious Entrecote à la Bordelaise is similar but served with a red wine, shallot and marrow sauce. For those not looking to break the bank head to Le bistro Regent. Here you can pick up this lovely piece of bavette, a huge bowl of crispy fries, side salad and half a bottle of local red or white wine for under 20 euros a head. I believe the chain is throughout France, however the quality is excellent. For a more authentic affair then try the world-famous restaurant L’Entrecote – though be prepared to queue!
After lunch you’ll most likely be wanting to walk off the gigantic bowl of crispy fries you just consumed and there is no better place for that then at one of the many Bordeaux markets, or depending on what time of year you visit the Bordeaux Christmas market. Expect pretzels drenched in cheese, raclette, arts and crafts and of course a good glass of warm Vin Chaud (mulled wine). The market usually starts around November 27th until December 27th. If Christmas isn’t your thing then the city offers other popular street and flea markets throughout the months such as the amazing Capucins Market – offering more French produce than you could ever dream of.
But it’s not just about the markets in Bordeaux, especially when it comes to food. The streets and sidewalks are lined with food vendors serving up traditional Bordeaux delicacies and local produce. One of the most famous is the canelé. A rum and vanilla heavy pastry which has a thick crust and crunchy toasted exterior. You’ll find these heavenly snacks in every restaurant, cafe and shop. Cheese is also big business and in the winter months it’s used even more so in big hot pans of bubbling cheese, potatoes and smoked ham.
After exploring the city inside and out, you’ll be well and truly after a little TLC – in the way of luxury and lots of you time. For luxury, the best and only option you should consider is Les Sources De Caudalie. A Small Luxury Hotel set in the vineyards of Bordeaux in Martillac, with an exterior which has been completely created using recycled local materials by architect Yves Collet. The honeymoon suite in particular is heavenly. On stilts in the middle of a lake and redesigned every year by a new designer.
The pool is the perfect place to relax too and is one of the most magnificent indoor pools I have ever come across. There’s even a hot tub to spend the late afternoon in and sip Champagne whilst the sunsets. For dinner head to the hotels more casual restaurant, La Table du Lavoir – which you can read all about on the blog!
The next morning, make sure you wake up early enough to enjoy the misty mornings at Les Sources De Caudalie and enjoy one of the finest breakfasts in Bordeaux. A magical dining room serving one of the best buffet breakfasts around. Think cheese, ham and pastries – in a mountain sized abundance.
While you really won’t want to leave the romantic Les Sources De Caudalie, if you’re lucky enough to have a late afternoon flight then I highly recommend a visit to the connecting vineyards and winery of Château Smith Haut Lafitte. Owned and run by the same family as the hotel, this winery is really pioneering with modern and dynamic new wine-making techniques in the way of bio-precision. The vineyards are absolutely beautiful and the winery itself is immaculate with a shop, tastings rooms, meeting rooms and bits of history dotted around. Even the barrels are handmade on site using a mixture of new and old oak. They may be saying the barrel making industry is dying a death, but it’s not for this master cooper.
Delving deeper into the heart of this estate you’ll find one of the most important parts, the winery. It’s here where the whole grapes are transferred into large wooden vats (un-crushed) and the temperatures lowered for a cold maceration. Indigenous yeast then does the important part of turning this grape must into alcohol as it feasts on the sugar, before being macerated and having time to obtain its richness, tannins and acidity.
After the wine is then separated and placed into barrels, the wine must is given an opportunity to interact with the wood in the barrels and the second fermentation takes place here in the barrel, or at least part of it. Kept on its lees for some time, the wine makers mix these wines manually into the lees in the barrel through a process called, battonage. I even had a go myself and it’s certainly harder than it looks!
The final arrival in the wine cellar is as spectacular in real life as it looks here and the smell is unforgettable, as like any winery in the world. There was even an exposed wall as you leave, showing just what these porous soils look like below ground, why they are so important and how they can retain and disperse water – making sure the wines get exactly the right amount of water they need.
We finished the tour with a tasting of some of the estates latest vintages and a brief history lesson from the master and owner himself, Daniel Cathiard. If you’re lucky enough to meet him, he may even show you his secret underground cellar below the tasting room. It’s a bit like a scene from Thunderbirds when the floor suddenly opens up! Tours start at a mere 18€ and gives you the opportunity to see everything in this post and more.
Sadly, we had to leave Bordeaux and head back to the airport for our flight. As mentioned before, 24 hours in Bordeaux is never going to be enough time to explore even a fraction of what it has to offer, but if it’s all the time you have then follow in my footsteps and you’ll want to return to this wonderful city for even longer. Food, wine, shopping, luxury hotels and an endless supply of rolling vineyards – what more could you possibly need? Perhaps only to finish with a stunning view of France from the sky – it always gets my excited!