How to explore the best of Bordeaux in 4 days, from a local slow traveller
When one thinks about Bordeaux, he or she immediately thinks wine. We are so lucky to have these incredible vineyards around the city. However, did you know:
- It is the location of the highest dune in Europe?
- Rue Sainte Catherine is a 1.2 km long shopping street?
- Bordeaux was under English ownership for 300 years
- The city is classified UNESCO World Heritage
- Bordeaux used to be nicknamed “the Sleeping Beauty”
- Bordeaux has a submarine base
Yes, there are lots of fun facts to discover! It is what a slow traveller loves, would you agree?
So, come and accompany me in a visit of Bordeaux and the region…
The city of Bordeaux
I would recommend at least one day to visit the city.
Suggestion of itinerary:
Go out and explore the city freely, at your own rhythm. Go to the Place de la Comédie, le Monument des Girondins, Pey Berland square ; the old town: place Saint-Pierre, place du Parlement, place du Palais, la grosse cloche.
These are must see and touristy but should not be missed. On your way stop over to a “la Toque Cuivrée” shop and try a “canelé”, a typical sweet pastry from Bordeaux made from egg yolks. It is a must!
Make your way up to a borough named Saint-Michel, visit the local food market “les capucins” (closed on Monday). There will be plenty of spots for you to experience local food such as cheeses, meat platter, seafood, dunes blanches (cream pastry).
Make your way to the Basilique Saint-Michel and the river banks. Walk your way back to Place de la Bourse and the water mirror (miroir d’eau) where you may take pictures of the buildings reflecting on the water.
Thereafter, take a “batcub”, a public boat allowing you to cross town via the river, from the Ponton d’Honneur near Place de la Bourse to the wine musuem (Cité du Vin). Allow yourself at least 3 hours for the visit.
Then, either take the tram back to the centre, or if you still have some energy left, you may explore the borough named “Les Chartrons” or walk by the bank to enjoy the scenery of the city.
Don’t care much for the food market? Then make your way to visit and lunch in Darwin
Located on old military grounds, Darwin is an ecosystem that gathers professionals, entrepreneurs and artists who focus on developing a sustainable (green and economical) and socially responsible future. There is an urban farm, an organic supermarket, a skatepark, street art, a garage where you can repair your bike…
Darwin has a different vibe from the rest of Bordeaux and is definitely worth a visit. If you enjoy street art then you are in the right place. On that note, once in Bordeaux, you will notice a lot of street art in the city. For the last few years, street artists have realised many murals in places such as Darwin, les bassins à flots (near the submarine base), by the train station… places and sites off the beaten path.
In the evening, how about trying out some of the many wine bars in Bordeaux?
The bar à vin located 3 cours du XXX Juillet in front of the tourism office will enable you, for a small budget, to taste various wines from Bordeaux.
Off the beaten paths
- The submarine base, the borough of les bassins à flots, near the wine museum
- For art lovers: les vivres de l’art
- The borough of Sainte Croix
- The borough of Saint-Seurin and its basilique
- The Borough of les Chartrons
- The Ermitage park in Lormont (other side of the river)
- The park “Bordelais” and “jardin des remparts”
Transportation in Bordeaux
- Bikes: traveling by bike is easy in Bordeaux. The city provides bikes names VCUB. There are comfortable and easy to handle. Throughout the city, you will encounter many bike parks where you may rent and leave your bikes. You will need a credit card to access a bike.
- Second option: INDIGO, a mobile app, is slightly cheaper than the VCUB. Download the app, create an account and the app will locate the nearest bikes according to your location.
- Tram and bus: easy to hop in and out, it covers most parts of the city. If you purchase a ticket, then you can use it for a whole hour but you do have to scan it every time you take transportation.
- Batcub: the boat that takes you from one side of the river to the other. I strongly recommend it as you will discover the city in, yet another angle, and the best thing is that it will cost you a tram ticket!
Saint-Emilion, UNESCO World Heritage
Simply, a must see in the region.
Suggestion of itinerary:
Take the train from Bordeaux to the village. It takes about 45 minutes. Then, go up to the picturesque village.
Make sure you visit the underground monuments and the monolith church. You may purchase your tickets in advance on the tourism office website.
Thereafter, how about going to the “Clos des Cordeliers” where you can enjoy a glass of bubbly known as “Crémant de Bordeaux” and made exactly how they would in Champagne. They have underground cellars that you can visit as well.
If you fancy a picnic, you may purchase a basket and have a picnic in their park.
There are lots of restaurants and wine bars in the village. There is also a wine school. Depending on how you wish to spend your time, you will find activities related to wine ?
For dessert, try the almond macaroons: they are a typical local produce since 1620 and they are yummy!
After your visit how about exploring the vineyards? The choice is yours: by bike or on foot. The tourism office proposes many itineraries and activities that you can download from their website. If you do pick a bike tour, make sure you reserve it ahead of time.
There are many wineries worth visiting in Saint-Emilion. Pomerol is another wine appellation where wines are known worldwide.
2 châteaux near the village that you could visit.
- Château Beauséjour Bécot: first growth (premier grand cru classé) family led winery with underground cellars.
- Château Coutet: 400 years old family led organic winery
*booking visits in advance is strongly recommended.
The Arcachon bay
The amazing Arcachon bay: another must see when visiting the region. You may easily spend, at the very least, one day there. Please note that during the season, the area is very very busy.
Suggestion of itinerary:
Early morning arrival in Arcachon by bus or train from Bordeaux.
Visit of the city, walk by the seaside, visit a borough called the “Winter town” (la ville d’hiver) where you will see villas with beautiful architecture.
From there plenty of options are available for you:
- Take the boat up to the Cap Ferret where you may have a seafood lunch. Again, explore, discover this untouched area, the natural heritage, go to the beach or up to the light house.
- Or, participate in a boat tour of the bay and admire the bird island (Île aux oiseaux), huts on stilts (cabanes tchanquées) and the oyster parks (parcs à huîtres).
- Or, you may wish to rent a bike. There are bike paths from Arcachon to the Cap Ferret which pass by small fishermen’s villages that are definitely very local and untouched.
Do not leave the bay without visiting the Dune du Pilat, the highest in Europe (which you can reach by bus from Arcachon). Prepare yourself to climb about 150 stairs to reach the top. Boy is it worth it. The view is outstanding especially at sunrise or sunset. Yes, how about planning to watch the sunset there with a bottle of Crémant de Bordeaux (a bubbly) and a picnic of local produce?
La Teste de Buch, a village nearby, is worth a stopover. Go to the harbour. Walk by local oyster shops. If you like them, settle down in one of the huts (cabane) for a tasting of oysters and a nice dry white from the Entre-Deux-Mers region. A lovely pairing. Feeling adventurous? Try out the whelks (bulots), winkles (bigorneaux).
- Train schedule
- La Dune du Pilat
- Bus schedule
- Bike itineraries around the bay
- Arcachon tourism office
- Activities around Saint-Emilion
*Some sites are just in French and not in English…
The Médoc, land of grands crus classés
The land of grands crus classés, magnificent striking architectural châteaux… But also, family run wineries!
It is not as easy to discover the Médoc without a car. What is nice when discovering the Médoc is to go from villages to villages, from appellations to appellations. I do not recommend doing it by bike as the main road for instance, from the villages of Margaux to Saint-Julien is a busy one.
From a slowtourism perspective, I would suggest selecting a village and exploring its surroundings. You may reach the village by train or bus.
Suggestion of itinerary in and near the village of Margaux:
- Hike : Margaux wineries, (Boucle des Châteaux de Margaux) : 4.9 kms.
Throughout the hike, you will discover classified top growths wineries (grands crus classés) such as Château Lascombes, Château Palmer… Fairytale looking castles.
You will pass by the tiny harbor of Issan where you can take a picnic. (you may be able to purchase in advance a picnic basket at Château Desmirail in the village of Margaux).
If you fancy a wine and tasting: Château Marquis de Terme proposes a bike visit of their vineyards.
Suggestion of itinerary in and near the village of Ludon Médoc:
- Hike named “boucle des graves”: 5.25 kms
This path will take you to a small lake and the following wineries: Château Paloumey, Château Cantemerle, Château La Lagune.
You will also pass by a barrel maker. If you are in the Médoc on a morning weekday, then you can schedule (in advance) a visit of the shop. You will see a barrel being made. It is very interesting. They also have a winery and a restaurant if you fancy lunch. You can only do the visit on a morning weekday when they make the barrels.
The French itineraries of these hikes (not in English):
On the above website, you will also find hiking itineraries that focus more on the nature and the biodiversity or horseriding.
These are just sample ideas to give you an idea of what a trip may be like in Bordeaux. Of course, there are many more things you can do: for instance, you may want to rent a private boat and enjoy a seafood platter in front of the Dune. Or, you may want to go fishing with the local fishermen in the Arcachon bay. Participate in a cooking class, a winemaking workshop, a tasting…
- If you are planning a trip to Bordeaux, I recommend planning ahead: wineries, restaurants, transportation. The region and the city do welcome many tourists and I would prefer reserving in advance then being disappointed.
- In France, many restaurants are not open all day. They have opening hours for lunch and for dinner: usually from 12 pm till 1.30/2 pm and from 7 pm to 9.30, 10pm. Check the timings out beforehand. If you are after all day serving food, then “brasseries” will respond your needs.
- It is worth checking out local events as well, as they could propose activities (hiking, exhibition…) that interest you. Bordeaux and the region always have events big or local going on.
This year, there will be the renowned Bordeaux Wine Festival that takes place every two years in the city. Wine professionals welcome you for 5 days for tastings and activities on the banks (2 kms) by the river. 80 appellations from the South West of France which gives you the opportunity to taste many different wines. It is very popular. There are evening shows, fireworks, beautiful sail ships… The whole city celebrates wines.
For further information:
What I love to do
Here is a list of some of the activities I love to do in the region:
- Go up the bell tower next to the Basilica Saint-Michel, the view is unforgettable
- Taking the river boat to cross the river and admire the XVIIIe century buildings by the bank
- Go, dine and listen to music at “Chez Alriq” near Darwin, there is an outdoor restaurant located by the river. It is very casual and easy-going. Perfect for friends, families, couples
- Take my bike on the Roger Lapébie bike path and go to the country side, enjoy the historical heritage of small villages I cross.
- Go the vineyards of Fronsac and take a hike
- Go and visit Blaye and its citadel. Take the road between Blaye and Bourg which follow the esturary. The view is striking. There are houses on one side of the road and their respective garden on the other side by the water.
- Go way up north to Jau Dignac et Loirac, visit the lighthouse and take a stroll admiring the typical fishermen’s house and their square fish net.
- Go and take a swim at “le Porge” beach which is untouched and family friendly
- Stand paddle in the lake of Hourtin, about 18 kms long
- Enjoy a picnic in one of the small harbour of the Médoc such as “le port d’Issan”
- Visit the natural park “le Teich”, birdwatch
- Canoeing on the Leyre delta nicknamed the little Amazonia.
About the Author
When I was 18 years old, I moved to London to work on my English. I thought I’d stay 2 years… I ended up living there over 10. I studied travel and tourism management and specialized in ecotourism.
After I obtained my BA, I came back to France, I was eager to live in the Gironde region because this is where my roots are.
In Bordeaux, I quickly found a job in the wine tourism sector. What a beautiful niche to work in! I am such an epicurean at heart. I fell in love with a job where you get to share and discover your region. I created and organised trips for amateurs or wine professionals.
I was lucky to participate in the Wine and Spirit Education trust course. Today, I am studying for level 3.
There is a lot to cover! Every single vineyards in the world and many tastings!
I now focus on slowtourism or slow travel: discovering places without rushing, seizing the environment, nature, the local life, wines…
I want to share ideas about walks and inspire you to practice slowtourism.
I want to create connections between people and a community of epicureans who love local life, wines, nature and taking it slow on travels…