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Le Village du Vin, Bordeaux, France

In the attempt to have a more “off the beaten track” experience, I went to Bordeaux instead of Paris for a year during college. While there, we came to call the place “bored-o” for the lack of things to do and see, once we had exploited all we could of the area.

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Bordeaux, France clock tower and city walls

The positive side of the experience was that we left as often as possible to see other parts of Europe, which we may not have done had we had Paris at our fingertips. Bordeaux was small, areas of it were extremely run down, and though I loved the African and Spanish influence in the food, dress, and neighborhoods, there were also places I was uncomfortable going. Not so on my last trip, thirty years later (did I just say THIRTY? eeegad). This town is a city now, with transportation, a newly accessible waterfront area, the blackish building exteriors have been washed to reveal their natural stone color, restaurants and bars abound, shopping is abundant, and, best of all, the character is still intact. I loved all of the vegetation growing in the sidewalk cracks (there are even tours now precisely for this), the juxtaposition between the working fish market and the glitz of Ste. Catherine walking mall, the square around the cathedral (and the organ within) bustling with students, activities and cafés. This city has experienced a comeback; it is definitely on my must-visit list for France. On a side note, don’t miss trying a Bordeaux specialty, the canelé, a small pastry with a carmelized exterior and soft interior with a vanilla or rum flavor.

Activities- A few things to put on the itinerary: La Cité du Vin– Accessible by tram, this museum covers wine in its entirety (save for the tasting of it, for which you will need to make a lunch reservation in the resto up top, or go across the street to the Bacalan). It covers the history, influence, making of, uses for and love of this liquid, through the use of high-tech, interactive displays, videos and art. It is extraordinary. Buy tickets in advance online to skip the line.

Bacalan market / Echoppe des Halles (see also Le Familia below) are across the street from the Wine museum. Belly up to the fresh oyster bar, grab some foie or a strong coffee. It is small, but the food is top notch and a great grab for a picnic. (Stop by the newfangled “drawbridge” before you hop back on the tram to watch a ship pass below. It is sleek and modern, and a pride of Bordeaux, as the tallest vertical lift bridge in Europe. It’s a crowd stopper in spite of its almost invisible movement. Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas).

Jardin Publique- this garden is walkable in 30 minutes, and absolutely charming. In the far reaches is a beautiful set of arches, hidden behind which is a cultivated, botanical garden area. Straddling the lake are

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Public Gardens in Bordeaux, France

several beautiful, arching bridges, willows dragging in the water and swans swimming underneath. Students may be lounging on the grass (yes, you may actually be on the grass in this park), or playing a game of frisbee. Kids are often crawling over the playground and riding the twinkling, cheery carousel. The smell of

magnolia blossoms in the summer will delight you, as will a stop at the café for a drink in the shade. Service here can be spotty, so don’t be in a hurry, and you will be asked (untypically of the French) to pay up front, as they have too many eat-and-runners. But the drinks are a respite from the heat (or cold) and it is a view that will replenish you and your weary feet. Note that not too far from the park, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, are the Roman ruins of Palais Gallien which, though not terribly well preserved, are still an educational sight/ site. {126 Rue du Dr Albert Barraud} Marché des Capucins- named after the Capuchin monks, is the largest market in Bordeaux. If you want to see it pulsing with activity go in the early morning. This is not a tourist spot, but rather a true locals’ locale for buying the freshest produce, flowers, meat, dairy and fish. The floor will be wet, the place will have a strong odor, and the people are so real you will want to belly up to a coffee bar just to watch the show.

Bordeaux, France rooftops and view from a tower planned by viewfinder travel for art and history tours
View from the tower in Bordeaux

Take a trip up the St. Michel Tower for a little exercise to see the bells and the view. This tower is one of a few in Bordeaux that was built independently from the church to avoid collapsing the church from its weight. The mechanism of the bells is open and worth the trip, but don’t miss the haunted crypt, which made its way into a Victor hugo literary references for its mummies. After your workout, find a nice café in the surrounding market area, which bustles most days with flea markets, and weekends with a full local produce market.

St Michel food market- come to watch an incredible mix of cultures- African robes, middle eastern head scarves, and on the sadder side, refugee families begging for food. (Go up the tower and down to the crypt for a haunting experience and sweeping 360 views.)

WWII memorial- while this is a tad out of the way for the normal tourist beat, if you have an interest in seeing the cemetery where the mummies from the St. Michel crypt are buried. You will see a different part of Bordeaux, the working area, the business area, and a moving memorial to veterans and Holocaust victims. Cathédral Saint André is, as you might expect from the stature as a national monument, is a stunning example of Gothic architecture, flying buttresses and all, packed full of art and a bohemoth organ (I was lucky enough to happen in during a practice and it moved me to tears). Pope Clément V was made Archibishop of this Bordeaux in 1297- stories of his executions of Knights Templar give rise to their existence here.

Bordeaux cathedral, churches and museum travel tips by viewfinder travel
Cathedral and organ in Bordeaux city center

Waterfront reflecting pool- this used to be an area to avoid, especially since the cruise ships would “drop their loads” here. But it has been cleaned up, even to the point of grass being planted around the train tracks, and turned into an enjoyable area with bike and walking paths, flowers, benches, views of the opposite quai, and a shallow, pool with only a veneer of water one might “walk” on, which reflects the surrounding buildings (created by the landscape artist Michel Corajoud)

Bordeaux reflecting pool, travel recommendations and planning by viewfinder travel for trips to france
Bordeaux reflecting pool

Ste. Catherine walking area is a nice stroll, ending up at the Place de la Bourse and l’Opèra (also worth a pop-in if you have time). The shops are a tad too touristy for my taste, but if you are in a window-shopping mood, quite fun all the same. At the Bourse end of Ste. Catherine is the Galerie Bordelaise, a beautiful, covered gallery walk. It’s worth a pop-in to see the elaborate decorations. La Grosse Cloche (1795) , and Porte Cailhau (1495) are pieces of history you may walk under during your stroll around town. They are magnificent memorials to the medieval history of Bordeaux, one used as a jail, the other as a defensive batîment. Quinconces Fountain- one of the highlights of this town, situated in a large, open 5-pointed “square”, made to symbolize the Republic, the revolutionary effort and the role of the Girondins. It is the largest city square in all of Europe. Much of this bronze fountain was destroyed by the Nazis in WWII, but was restored in the 80’s to its current glory. Two of the main figures in the fountain are Michel de Montaigne, former mayor of Bordeaux, and Montesquieu, an intellectual and wine grower. Note that the tram hub is located here.

Fountain in Bordeaux for lovers of history and travel plans to France
Famous Bordeaux Fountain at Qiunconces

If you have extra days to see wine country, of course, do!

Eats: On your way back to town from the Cité du Vin (assuming you haven’t filled up at the Bacalan market), head to this literal hole in the wall, Salle a Manger des Chartrons (make a reservation). It is situated down a long, quiet, residential street, and no, you haven’t made a mistake, just make sure you have the address. The room of a few rustic wooden tables t feels a bit like a wine cave, with open prep bar and oven at the far end. It is special. A chalkboard menu of five or six daily specials is all you should expect. Among us, we ordered almost everything on it and every bite was delicious. The Chef spent time in Italy and combines her French/Italian senses with whatever is fresh and best that day, served in cast iron pans. It is just lovely. The owner is gracious, proud and humble. We will go back every time we visit. 18 Rue Saint-Joseph. Reservations:

Puy Paulin- We kept finding ourselves here. In a super location, just off the walking street of Ste.

Restaurants in bordeaux, travel tips to france for food and wine lovers
Outdoor seating in Bordeaux

Catherine, the tables outside on a small square will beckon. Inside the marble topped bar, yellow tiled floor, guilding ceiling decorations, and cozy tables only fit a few lucky customers. You will be presented with a little can of rillettes at the start of your visit. The menu offers a range of treats from beef Carpaccio to oysters. Our wait staff was young and new, so perhaps be patient with service, as they are eager to please. (On a side note, the same restaurant group also owns La Familia, out by the Musee du Vin).

Familia Brasserie is an open floor plan room with a modern but cozy warehouse feel. Glass on all sides, a beautiful bar in the middle and friendly waiters make this a wonderful post-museum visit stop.

Brasserie Bordelaise- Steak, steak and more steak, with some lovely Parma first. The back room is a quite the hidden gem; as you wander back from the main dining room, you will find yourself peering down a floor, over another dining room, an open kitchen and bustling atmosphere (the front room is a bit quieter).

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Bordeaux Brasserie

Café Français- in the shadow of Church, next to the Hotel de Ville. Traditional interior for colder days. Fantabulous people watching on the square. Frequented by students and tourists alike. Le Rohan- next to Brasserie Francais- can’t go wrong with OTT Rose. More casual than its neighbor. La Tupina- a highlight of this city. It oozes history and Bordeaux pride (in a nice way). Bistro chairs and cobblestone-street seating out front offer a warm day option, but the rustic, yellow-toned, almost centuries-past market-feeling interior is a lovely respite on a cold or very hot day. The fresh cuts of meats,

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La Tupina Interior

breads, and produce displayed as you enter are a treat for the eyes and nose, and give a hint of the joy your tongue is about to experience. The wood-burning fireplace replete with cast iron pot, flowers on the tables, tile floors, country-linen table cloths, family photos on the wall and a remarkable photograph of the “last supper” of famous French chefs all make you feel as if you just walked into a distant aunt’s country French cottage. Sounds of birds tweeting keep you company in the bathroom and the staff shatters the French reputation of hautiness in their niceties. Food is mostly Southwestern French. Menu is appropriately limited in size, and expertly done. Bistro du Musee- one of favorite meals of our last trip because the food was a notch above any other we tried (with the exception of La Tupina), and the casual atmosphere and easy location next to the cathedral, in a bustling area, gave us plenty to look at and talk about. Light stone walls, wooden tables, wine openers and vines as decoration, but a contemporary airy feel all the same. Regional dishes such as duck and foie, alongside some lighter fare. Don’t miss this spot. 37 Place Pey Berland, 33000 Bordeaux, France Hotel de Seze

Front of Hotel de Seze in Bordeaux, travel planning by viewfinder travel jody holman wine and food tours custom intineraries
Hotel de Seze in Bordeaux

The hotel is modern and well appointed (I fell in love with the duck-foot lamp at the desk). There is a sprinkle of tables out front, with happy hour prices for an aperatif before dinner. The dining room, with a floor to ceiling mural of the beautiful Bordeaux fountain as your “view”, offers meals throughout the day, a full bar for a nightcap and a lovely breakfast. There is a small gym, bathrooms are a good size (for France) and the contemporary décor is simple but luxurious. The staff is friendly enough, but the location is the joy, only steps from the Ste. Catherine walking street, the tram, the Maison du Vin, shops and restaurants, but enough off the beaten path that it is a quiet and peaceful place to stay. Hotel Burdigala- The location does this hotel in- car garage on one side, cement-building businesses surrounding, but a good spot for a business trip if sight seeing is not in your itinerary.

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