Travel Diary: Seven Days in Bordeaux, France
Bordeaux is famous for its wine. And rightfully so. However, there is a lot more to the city than just its regional vineyards. I visited Bordeaux for one week, staying in an apartment near the center of town, and explored what the city had to offer. Here are the highlights:
I arrived in Bordeaux at the Saint-Jean train station, from Paris (a 2-hour TGV train ride), late in the morning. First things first, I had to get to my lodging accommodations (a family friend’s apartment) to drop my stuff and get settled in. A great option to get around the city is tramway, which I used to arrive to said apartment. The tramway system is simple and reliable, and a car is not necessary to visit Bordeaux.
A walking tour of the city was in order, a great way to discover the city. The best way to get to know Bordeaux is to walk from one relevant monument/plaza to another, letting yourself get lost in the smaller streets in between. Here are just a few of the places I encountered on my first walk through the city:
Porte Dijeaux- historic gate that opens up to the city’s major commercial district
Place de La Bourse- city’s most popular square, made iconic by the mirroir d’eaux
Grosse Cloche- 18th century bell rung on special occasions
Basilisque Saint Michel- grand Gothic basilica with adjacent tower
At one point during our walk, we stopped at a well known Tunisian bakery named La Rose de Tunis. I’ve been living in France for about a month now, and I’m in no way tired of all the amazing pastries, but trying something new was also refreshing. The patisserie featured Northern African and Middle Eastern desserts.
We ended the day with a play at TNBA, the National Theatre of Bordeaux. We saw “La Nostalgie du Futur,” a play based on the writings and works of filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and the philosophy of Guillaume Le Blanc. It was not classical theatre, rather a contemporary interpretation of philosophical and cultural themes. The theatre has a diverse season of shows, so it’s likely that most will find at least one show that may interest them.
Biking. My preferred way to get around Bordeaux. Many streets are small and crowded, which makes driving and/or uber frustrating. The tram is efficient, but doesn’t hit every corner of the city. Walking is great, but not always quick enough. With a bike, you can really see the entire city without limit. Bike lanes are on almost every major road, and you won’t go 30 seconds without a bike riding past you somewhere in the city.
Lunch at les Halles de Bacalan followed. An indoor marketplace and food hall dedicated to local and global specialties. So much good food here. I got a vegetable quiche, a mille-feuille pastry, and an espresso.
We then rode our bikes to the other side of the Garonne river to explore Darwin Ecosystème, an absolute must-see if you come to Bordeaux. Former military barracks, the space has been completely transformed into a green-economy hub. It features an urban farm, gardens, a skatepark, an organic supermarket, co-working spaces and much more. The entire project has a industrial-chic feel. Be sure to try the coffee at Alchimiste Torréfacteur, the best cup of coffee I had during my visit to Bordeaux.
Started the day with a workout. While in Bordeaux, I walked more than 10,000 steps each day in combination with biking for miles on some days, so the gym every single day was not necessary. However, I am a member of a French gym, and they had a location right by the apartment, so I had to take advantage. Interesting things about gyms in France: many require you to bring a towel and to wear designated sneakers that you only use when inside the gym.
Another early evening city tour, to purchase some specialities, was up next. We went to Fromagerie Deruelle to sample cheeses and bring some home for dinner. Two cheeses we went with while in the city: Saint-Félicien (soft, creamy, and semi-strong cow’s cheese) and Brebis (semi-hard, salty, grainy sheep’s cheese). I don’t eat much cheese when in the United States, so cheese tasting in France is definitely a cultural culinary experience. We bought a baguette and a loaf of raisin bread (to accompany the Brebis). After, we stopped for coffee and a treat at La Zone du Dehors, a bookstore and coffee shop. A café allongé, cheesecake, and a purchased book later, we headed home for a light homemade dinner. With some Bordeaux wine, of course.
Sunday, aka time for the Marché des Capucins. The huge covered outdoor marketplace has everything you could ever want at a French food market-hall and things you didn’t even know you needed. There’s an abundance of wine, cheese, vegetables, fish, etc. Plus, there are global carts (Kurdish spinach and feta tarts, Martiniquaise fish accra, Basque Pintxos) and all of the desserts. The best part about the market are the prices. There are free samples at many of the carts and you can buy different desserts for as little 1 euro. There are also restaurants within the marketplace that offer three-course meals. The Marché is open everyday, but really comes alive on Sundays.
Right by the Marché is Passage St. Michel, which features a classic French bistro and Les Brocanteurs du Passage Saint Michel, an eclectic and overflowing antique shop. Imagine Rococo dinnerware alongside art deco furniture. Even if you’re not looking to add something to your apartment, it’s fascinating to see so many historical interior design trends all in one place.
Started the day with a matinée movie viewing at Utopia, a former church converted into independent movie theatre. You can still see religious paintings and relics in some of the rooms. They show the best international films of the moment, and also feature a restaurant/café in the foyer. There’s no popcorn here, and you will rarely see anyone eating while watching a movie. Better to wait until the end of the movie for an espresso and panini on the plaza right outside.
A promenade in the shopping district occupied our afternoon. Rue Sainte-Catherine and Rue de la Porte Dijeaux are two major commercial streets filled with French as well as international brands. For luxury shopping, head to the Triangle-d’Or.
Another matinée movie at Utopia. The first showings of the day are only four euros, so we decided to go again and see another French film, because why not?
Still early, we headed to Base Sous-Marine, a former submarine base converted into an art exhibition space. We viewed the exhibition “Medio Aqua,” a show fittingly based on the theme of water. Read about it here.
For our final night in Bordeaux, we headed to a nearby Thai restaurant, Sala Thai. I had a wonderful three course meal with a glass of Bordeaux: Shrimp and vegetable stew, green curry with Cantonese rice, and fried banana for dessert. The food was fresh and well cooked. Service was great and the decor was warm and inviting.
My train back to Paris was in the afternoon, so I made one last quick run to the Marché des Capucins to buy some souvenirs. I bought some organic Bordeaux wine, fig jam, and olives as gifts for family and friends. Good end to a successful week.
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