An intoxicating cocktail of 18th-century savoir-faire, millennial history and urban street life, France's sixth largest city is among Europe's most exciting and gutsy players
Bordeaux might look unsullied, perhaps too proud of the grand sweep of 18th-century classical architecture that has made its waterfront and historic old town UNESCO-protected, but like any port city, it has always had an eye on the wider world.
Roman empire-builders, Basque merchants, British colonizers, Dutch shippers, Chinese billionaires: all have passed through here over the past 2,000 years, leaving their mark on the architecture, the commerce, and the food
This is the world's largest urban World Heritage Site, cradling half the city in its Unesco-listed treasure chest. From the elegant symmetry of place de la Bourse, palaces strung with stone-sculpted mascarons, to tree-shaded boulevards laced with mansions built for 18th-century wine merchants, Bordeaux architecture is world-class.
Contemporary architects continue the trend for excellence, with breathtakingly wild and beautiful creations resembling giant wine decanters, gleaming white pebbles, all sorts. An interesting portfolio of art museums embracing all periods and genres is the icing on the cake to this magnificent architectural heritage
Striding through Bordeaux on its leggy route north past traditional wine-producing chateaux to the Atlantic Ocean, the River Garonne is never far away. From this Gallo-Roman city's golden past as medieval wine trader and key port in Europe during the Age of Enlightenment, to the prestigious vineyards and vibrant quayside culture the river fuels today, the Garonne has been the city's lifeline since birth. Be it strolling, jogging or cycling along the silky-smooth water's edge in a loop from Left to Right Bank, lounging over drinks on a riverside terrace or cruising along the water, Bordeaux's riverside riches merit your full attention
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Bordeaux is slap-bang in southwest France, three hours from the Basque country and the Spanish border, with its spicy Espelette peppers, Brébis cheese, and salted anchovies. It’s an hour from the Dordogne, land of black truffles and glistening foie gras, and two hours from Toulouse, with its cassoulet and abundance of sunshine-fed fruits.
You can enjoy all of this in Bordeaux, often straight from the producers who head over to Bordeaux’s central Capucins market when their produce is in season. But Bordeaux also has food all of its own that reflects the particular advantages of being a port city, on the crossroads of global trading routes
This is a wine capital hemmed in by green, sun-drenched vineyards. Viticulture here is an ancient art and tradition bearing its own unique trademarks and no other vineyards in the world produce as much fine wine. Best up, from celebrated premiers crus aged for years to the very first vin nouveau cracked open at festivals after the autumnal harvest, tasting is an intrinsic part of daily life.
Paired with the city's exceptional dining scene – a sassy mix of traditional French kitchens, experimental neo-bistros, creative fusion restaurants, food trucks and barista-run coffee shops – there is no tastier marriage. Santé!
From oysters to spices to Sichuan carpaccio, Bordeaux’s food reflects the perks of being a city on the crossroads of global trading routes...
Bordeaux in few Dishes
Oysters, La Cabane d’Hortense, Cap Ferret
Modern cultivation of oysters in Arcachon dates back to the 19th century, but it was the Romans—who arrived in 56 A.D. and stayed for more than three centuries—who really fired up local appetites. The Romans had a serious obsession with oysters. Emperor Vitellius supposedly devoured over 1,000 of them in one evening. As they expanded their Empire, they were constantly on the lookout for new sources of edulis to be sent back to Rome, and they quickly found that in the Bordeaux region the best were gathered
Keep it simple with a squeeze of lemon, or do like the Bordelais and add red wine vinegar and finely chopped shallots
Ships loaded with barrels of wine from Bordeaux would head of to Hamburg and other Baltic cities, then leave carrying oak, and head off to the Americas and the West Indies before returning to Europe loaded with exotic spices, as well as on occasion, fee-paying travellers—and, of course, non fee-paying slaves. There is a monument to the slave trade on the Quai de Queyries on the right banks of the river in Bordeaux, and remembrances of the city’s spice trade on menus everywhere.
One of favorite places to track down unusual spices is the brilliant Dock des Epices on rue Saint James, a pedestrianized street in the city’s old town that dates back to the 13th century and the Compostela pilgrimage route. This store is the single best place to come in Bordeaux to find black lime, or Siam Tulip, or sumac.
Or you can keep it truly local and head to Chantal Palette’s organic crocus farm just a short way to the north of the city in Ambares-et-Lagrave, where she cultivates her own saffron
Entrecôte à la Bordelaise, Brasserie Bordelais
Maybe it’s the oceans of red wine that they consume (the vineyards are 90 percent given over to red grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) but the Bordelais are carnivores through and through. A local speciality that dates back to the 18th century is the Agneau de Pauillac
To really keep things traditional, you need to find Bazas beef, a local grass-and-grain-fed breed that was first developed over 700 years ago.
Every year on the Thursday before Shrove Tuesday, you’ll find the oxen festival in Bazas that has taken place since the 13th century, where the butchers parade their best specimens through the streets. When it comes to eating, locals will grill the entrecote over vine shoots, then serve with a sauce made from red wine, butter, shallots, herbs and bone marrow. You could always try asking a friendly vigneron for some offshoots if you are here during pruning season and grill up a steak yourself.
Or if you’re hungry in downtown Bordeaux, head to the Brasserie Bordelais restaurant. Always busy, walls lined with wine bottles, this place is hard to beat for sheer juicy consistency of their entrecôte—served, of course, with a large plate of frîtes cooked in beef fat
Cèpes de Bordeaux
Traditionally when the wine harvest ends, cèpes harvest begins, the French never never wash them in water, but instead simply brush the dirt off or wipe them with a damp cloth to ensure the flavor is in no way diluted. If they are not prepared perfectly, they can be almost greasy, so rich are they in texture, but when simply fried in butter with salt, shallots, garlic, and a scattering of parsley, they are delicious.
They are at their height in late summer right through until November, where you find them on roadside stalls and local markets. If you don’t find them the easiest mushrooms to cook at home, the best thing to do is to head to a traditional bistro like Café Lavinal up in Pauillac, and ask for the simplest preparation that they do, matched with a local glass of Pauillac or Saint Julien wine
They say the French have been cultivating asparagus since the Renaissance and Louis XIV grew it in his greenhouses all year round.
The Bordelais go mad for the fleshier, thicker version grown in the Bourg and Blaye region, with their creamy flesh and faintly prurient violet tips. Bourg and Blaye are directly opposite the Médoc, on the other side of the Gironde Estuary, but while the Médoc gets all the glamor and the money for its wines, the producers over here toil for a fraction of the reward, which may be why so many of them also grow asparagus on their farms, making their loss our gain. The key is that the black sand soils, rich in humus, are perfect for coaxing out a sweetness and smoothness in the asparagus that makes them melt in the mouth.
Try it at La Tupina restaurant in Bordeaux, where Jean-Pierre Xaradakis, who has a family house in Blaye, receives them fresh every day during asparagus season, from April to June, and serves them with a simple vinaigrette
The Bordelais have a sweet tooth. Maybe it’s a hangover from all those days shipping colonial sugar around the world, but you’ll find patisseries fighting turf wars in every corner of the region.
The oldest sweet delicacy you can find will be by pushing open the door of 9 rue Guadet in Saint Emilion. This Medieval village overlooking the Dordogne valley has its own take on the macaroon, showing the brightly-coloured confections of Parisian names like Ladurée and Carette that subtlety and understatement is best.
Dating back to 15th century, the local macaroons are made from just three ingredients: egg whites, icing sugar, and almond flour. They make clear that Saint Emilion has always had its own rules: This is a place built on religion, and was a draw for the pious long before the local wine came along. Even today it’s a pilgrimage site, so no surprise that its most famous delicacy was first made in 1620 by a community of nuns known as Les Ursulines
You may have heard that the Bordelais know a thing or two about wine. There have been various groups making wine here continually for two millennia, handing knowledge over from one generation to the next. One of these is the practice of fining wine, meaning using protein to bind together and then easily remove the various bits of yeast cells, fragments of grape skins, and phenolic particles that are left after a wine has finished fermenting its sugars into alcohol.
In Bordeaux, this process is traditionally done with egg whites, usually by whisking them up in a bowl then adding them directly to the barrel, leaving them for around 40 days, then racking off the now clean wine. Because the side effect of all of this is a whole load of egg yolks, and over the years inventive locals have come up with a host of uses for them.
The best one must be the canalé, a tiny domed cake that is just a little bit burnt on the outside and soft and chewy inside, made with flour, sugar and egg yolks, and flavored with vanilla and rum.
The first canalés dates back to the 16th century
Les Dunes Blanches de Bordeaux
Completing the trio of Bordeaux patisseries are the dunes blanches de Bordeaux, named after the mighty Dune de Pyla sand dune that towers over the Atlantic coast on the southern tip of Arcachon Bay. It stands around 360 feet tall, around 1640 feet, wide and 1.6 miles long. In 2009, Pascal Lucas, a patissière in Cap Ferret, took the dune as his inspiration to make what has become—-in under ten years—the staple choice for discerning dinner parties all over the region.
Tiny choux buns filled with lighter-than–air cream, dusted with sugar. They’ve been compared to Proust’s madeleines, and just like the original sand dune. A perfect way to round off any of the meals on this list of Bordeaux’s most important and best-loved dishes. There is now a store in downtown Bordeaux where you can buy them
Your day trip to Saint Emilion
Wine enthusiasts don’t need an introduction to Saint Emilion. The small wine appellation has long gained a reputation as one of the greatest wine regions in the world. It’s no wonder it attracts more than a million tourists every year. However, when many visitor plan their day trip to Saint Emilion they don’t realize it’s also one of the most beautiful and fascinating villages in the Southwest of France, registered as a heritage site by UNESCO.
For many decades this picturesque town has been an economic and religious center attracting royals, winegrowers and pilgrims. Every square in the small village center is packed with history and some incredible architecture. Thousands of hectares of vines surround the medieval village making the landscape an unforgettable scenery
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Biarritz from Belle Époque...
Biarritz, situated on the Bay of Biscay in South Western France, remains as popular a resort today as it was two centuries ago.
When a young Spanish countess named Eugénie first discovered Biarritz and had fun swimming in the sea with the children of local fishermen, it was still a little “white village with red roofs and green shutters, set amongst grassy hills” as Victor Hugo described it upon his first visit.
But when she came back a few years later, by then having become France’s newest empress, she would witness this idyllic spot being transformed into the fashionable seaside resort it still is today. As a token of his love, Napoléon III decided to build a summer residence for his wife, the “Villa Eugénie”, where every year the couple would come to enjoy the climate and the invigorating effects of the sea, setting a new trend for countless numbers of princes, dukes and even kings who also decided to have their own beautiful palaces and villas here.
After the abdication of the Emperor and his exile to England, the Villa Eugénie was sold and became the Hotel du Palais, but the little resort did not lose any of its appeal. As the Second Empire gave way to the Belle Époque, European royals and members of high society, mostly English, kept coming to this part of France, bringing with them polo, fox hunting, golf and lawn tennis.
Later on, they would be followed by celebrities from the world over, from Sarah Bernhardt and Coco Chanel, to Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra
This rich history explains why the Basque resort charms the visitor, whatever the type of holiday they are looking for. For lovers of architecture who can easily walk through the streets of the city, admiring magnificent 19th century villas, the superb art deco casino, the Imperial Chapel, a charming quiet monument built in Byzantine and Hispanic-Moorish styles for Empress Eugenie’s use, and the 73 metre high lighthouse which offers a beautiful view over the coast and the town
Biarritz is influenced by three different cultures, French, Basque and Spanish, at least. The good news for visitors is that this is also reflected in the cuisine on offer at restaurants in Biarritz. So on top of beach food and restaurants offering world food from Japan, China and Italy there are places offering the best in French cuisine, tapas and other Spanish specialties, plus Basque cooking too.
As you’d expect there are places to eat which have great views situated just behind the main Quai de la Grande Plage on the seafront. This is certainly a good place to start to look for places to eat. But don’t restrict yourself to the seafront. Some of the best restaurants in Biarritz are to be found scattered throughout the town. Try, for example, rue du Port Vieux, rue Gardères, avenue Édouard VII, the part of avenue de la Marne nearest the seafront and the rue des Halles
- 1 Day: You arrive to Bordeaux, start to enjoy your first day in France and stay overnight
- 2 Day: Your second day in Bordeaux and stay overnight
- 3 Day: Your third day in Bordeaux, your day trip to Saint Emilion (55 min), come back to Bordeaux and stay overnight
- 4 Day: Train from Bordeaux to Biarritz (approx. 2 hrs 10 mins), enjoy your day and stay overnight
- 5 Day: Your second day in Biarritz and stay overnight
-6 Day: Your third day in Biarritz and stay overnight
- 7 Day: Take a nice breakfast in your hotel, have a nice walk (depends on time of your fly tickets) and fly back home
For 7 days / 6 nights of a fabulous journey with stops in 3* hotels with breakfast and paid tickets for trains between cities
* The price of the hotels is based on a double room, so you will need to buy a trip for two
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