A few weeks ago we went to hang out for three (almost) full days in Bordeaux, the beautiful city in the South West of France, near the Atlantic coast. After a rough start (our train departed at 7.30, which meant we had to leave home at 6.30… but there’s nothing a lot of coffee can’t resolve!) we arrived in very sunny Bordeaux.
We dumped our bags at our Airbnb and headed to the city centre, to find a place to have lunch. As we got up ridiculously early, we were very hungry, but luckily resisted the temptation to settle for the first place we found on our path. Instead, we walked a bit further and stumbled upon Le Bouchon Bordelais, a small but quite famous restaurant in a hidden side street, not too far from the main shopping street Rue Sainte-Catherine. As luck would have it, it was Blaye au Comptoir and many restaurants offered wine tastings from local chateaux. The glass of Bordeaux by Chateau Maison Neuve I had went really well with my entrecôte (I could not resist the classic!). We were positively surprised by the price of our lunch, just 28 euro (yes, you’ve read that right) for two main courses, a glass of wine and two coffees.
Walking around in Bordeaux, I couldn’t help noticing that new food trends have certainly landed in this part of France. If you’re not into traditional French food, there’s plenty of options to choose from. Gourmet burgers and hot dogs, Nordic cuisine, bagels, ramen, pho and juice bars. You name it, Bordeaux’s got it.
Unfortunately, the Mr had the flu and needed some rest in the afternoon, so I ended up wandering the streets by myself. I ate way more cannelé’s at one of the many outlets of Baillardran than I should have, and for once didn’t bother anyone with my ‘Oh wait a minute, I have to take a picture of this.’ A cannelé is a small cake with a custard/eggy inside and a caramelized exterior, that is almost burned so it’s deliciously crunchy, if you visit Bordeaux you just have to try one!
If you’re looking for a nice coffee place, a small wine bar or a cute concept store, I suggest you go to Rue Saint James, near le Gros Cloche. Nearby squares Place Parlement, Place st Pierre and Place Camille Julian are filled with bars and restaurants, perfect for those ready to soak up some sun while enjoying a drink.
Something I didn’t expect, was to find so many bicycles in Bordeaux. Cycling is very common, there are quite a few bike paths and the city even has it’s own public bike plan, similar to the one in Paris. Most streets are fairly narrow, whith almost non-existent side walks, which poses some problems during rush hour. As traffic can be very bad (someone who recently moved from Paris to Bordeaux told us it is even worse than Parisian traffic), with long traffic jams in those narrow streets, cyclists have to resort to the side walk. And since those are also very narrow, I often found myself squeezed between two cars to let a cyclist pass by. But hey, I wasn’t complaining, I had pretty buildings to admire.
The buildings in Bordeaux are made of limestone, and particularly vulnerable to pollution and local weather conditions turn the limestone black. As you can imagine, all these old and black buildings gave the city a very grim appearance. After a renovation plan that lasted almost twenty years, started by a new major who also installed a tramway in the city, which completely changed the formerly blocked city centre, a great part of the city was listed as Unesco world heritage. Part of Bordeaux was designed by the same architect who designed Versailles, which explains why I sometimes felt like Marie-Antoinette could pop around the corner any minute.
On Saturday mornings the market at St Michel makes for a surreal sight, as it is located all around and even under Saint Michel Cathedral, and it’s interesting to see all the hustling and bustling of this very crowded market at that location. The market is surrounded by little bars where you can have a quick coffee to regain energy for further shopping. I’ve heard it’s an excellent flea market on all other days.
Another tip for Saturday morning: the covered Marché Capuchins. It’s a bit more out of the city centre, but still easy to walk to and also accessible by tram. It’s a normal food market, but in addition to that you’ll find several little restaurants where you can have the freshest oysters or tapas. We arrived too late, and most stalls were already closed. Opposite to the market lies Bistrot des Capus, where they cook with products from the market only. I had wonderful seafood: bulots (sea snails) with aioli and whiskey flambeed shrimps (which I had to eat all by myself, the Mr, still sick, turned a bit green by the sight of all this food).
The streets around Place Parlement and Place St Pierre are the place to be for a good meal at night. At the seafood restaurant of Le Petit Commerce (they have three different restaurants in one street) we enjoyed a big seafood platter. Be sure to arrive early or to make a reservation, Le Petit Commerce is very popular. Another good restaurant in the same street is Voila Bistrot de Terroir.
On Sunday morning, we headed for yet another market (what can I say, we love discovering the food!): Marché des Chartrons
This is a more upscale market (don’t go here expecting to find bargains) with about 60 stalls with high quality food. There’s also a good offering of stalls where you can eat, whether you’re in for oysters or a crêpe. It’s located right on the docks of the Garonne, and the tram stops right in front of it. One advice: Don’t count on having a quick breakfast somewhere in the area. Literally everything (except for the market of course) is closed. There are some nice restaurants and stores nearby, but all closed on sundays.
Which brings me to a strange observation: We saw remarkably little bakeries in Bordeaux. Normally you stumble over les boulangeries everywhere in France, but either we were blind the whole weekend, or there were really no bakeries. Except for the cannelé kings of Baillardran, who seem to be everywhere. But hey, we’ll forgive fabulous Bordeaux this little drawback.