I wish I could tell you it’s all about the wine, but that would be lying not to mention pretentious. Bordeaux made it into my itinerary because I thought it would be a little warmer than Paris in winter. I wanted to go someplace where my figurative balls would not freeze. Google searches yield Aquitaine is the answer, Google photos swayed me into visiting Bordeaux. Who was I kidding really? Why the hell did I think it would be warm in Bordeaux in winter? But I digress, warm or not, traveling the city of wine, Bordeaux is worth it and I’ll tell you why.
Getting to Bordeaux
There are four options to get to Bordeaux from Paris, by car, plane, train, or bus. I can’t drive and plane and train fares were worth more than my life, so that leaves me with the last option, bus. I booked my ticket ahead of time via Flixbus for €28.90 (₱1,657). From the hotel, I took an Uber to Quai de Bercy where the Flixbus terminal is. I had to walk a couple of minutes to get inside the terminal, the cold winter morning biting me in the ass, all the while pulling the burden that is my big luggage.
I checked my e-ticket, I was supposed to wait for bus route 703 Biarritz. A tad too early for the departure, I had one full hour to kill; in the cold, that felt like years. I kept looking at the rows of buses, searching for my bus ride. Other passengers were also there waiting, busy with their phones. I saw a vending machine and had a mental debate about getting something or not. Back then, I was not yet confident with my French. I kept thinking, what if the machine is in French and I’m not able to figure out how to operate it. But it was too cold, I had to get something warm so I went ahead and gave it a try. It turns out, I wasted time worrying because it wasn’t difficult to use.
I sipped my coffee, found an empty spot on the bench and sat there. The bus has finally arrived. As I was waiting in the queue, I heard two men speaking in French, which to my surprise, I was able to understand. One told the other where the luggage goes. After hearing this information, I went to the side of the bus where one man loaded my bag into the compartment.
When I booked my ticket I had specifically reserved a seat by the window and even paid extra for it, but when I went up to the bus, the window seat was taken by another girl. I called out the attention of the driver but I didn’t know how to say that somebody was sitting on my seat in French, so he dismissed me. I sat grudgingly beside the woman. Somewhere along the way, she tried chatting me up, but I told her honestly that I could only speak a little French. She said she couldn’t talk in English, hence, we spent the rest of the ride in silence.
We reached Bordeaux a little before 4:00 in the afternoon. From the bus station, I booked an Uber to get to the hostel.
Staying at Central Hostel
There on the cobbled street, I strained to pull my luggage. The Uber cannot go any further, I had to walk a block to get to Central Hostel. I knew based on photos that the hostel is pretty but I was still very much impressed when I saw it in person. It is housed in an old building that it shares with a local SIM provider. I love how they maintained the architecture of the building’s façade when inside the design is modern.
The staff was welcoming, warm even. This time I didn’t get to use my rusty French because they spoke in English.
After checking in, the staff gestured to the door that leads to the stairs. I went in and saw the long flight of stairs waiting for me. I don’t even remember now how I managed to pull my luggage up to the second level. Later on, I found out there is actually a lift.
I paid €90.20 (₱5,162.28) for a 3-night stay. They put me in a room with 4 beds, overlooking the street. Each bed has a night light, outlets, and a shade for privacy.
The shared bathroom and toilets are out in the hallway.
The common area looks lovely that I like going there in my free time to have coffee. The place is usually busy at night as they serve dinner even to non-guests. There’s a free breakfast of bread and coffee/tea, but if you want the buffet option you have to pay extra.
I was having breakfast the next morning when a woman from the other table smiled at me. We started talking, her name is Maria from Spain. She shared that she was also in the midst of a solo trip. Aside from her, I also met two other guests from the hostel, a French guy and a Korean guy. On my last night in Bordeaux, the four of us went out to have dinner in an Italian restaurant.
Central Hostel is located at Place Saint-Projet. It is a walking distance to some of the best spots in Bordeaux like the popular shopping center, Promenade Sainte Catherine.
Years ago, I went out with some friends and met Jane. She was on the other side of the table, we didn’t really get to talk. Jane is now living in France and when she heard through my IG stories that I would be flying there, she offered to meet with me. She and her boyfriend (now husband, they just recently tied the knot, yay!) traveled to Bordeaux and helped me discover the beautiful things the city has to offer. Jane used to live in this city and knew exactly where to take us. I had Maria, the Spanish girl as my plus one.
Here are the spots that we visited in our 2-day DIY tour.
La Grosse Cloche
The Grosse Cloche or in English, the large bell dates back to the 15th century and it can be found at St. James street. I thought at first that I was looking at a church (yes, because of the bell), but I learned that it is an entrance to the city. The bell weighs at about 7.75 tons and in the olden times, was used to signal the start of harvest or to alert the citizens of an impending attack or a fire.
I heard that it has a dungeon where people who violated laws were incarcerated, but I think you will have to go on a paid tour to see them.
Place de la Bourse
I visited it in the morning and at night, both times it looks incredible. Designed by French architect, Jacques Gabriel, this architectural marvel was built for over 20 years. Today, the square has become the city’s symbol and is one if not the most photographed spot in Bordeaux. It looks especially spectacular when you take a picture in front of Miror d’eau (water mirror), a 3,450 square meters pool. Unfortunately for me, the pool had no water during my visit.
Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux
By accident, I stumbled upon this beautiful gothic church while searching for St. Michel. Also known as Bordeaux Cathedral, the church is said to be constructed for almost 400 years, between 12th to 16th century. Behind the cathedral stood its bell tower called, Tour Pey Berland. The architecture of this cathedral is mindblowing, such a beaut.
Place de la Comédie
In the city of Montpellier, you can find Place de la Comédie, a grand square named after the theatre that burned down in the 17th century.
Here you will find the Grand Théâtre, Intercontinental Bordeaux Le Grand Hôtel (said to be a favorite among Instagram influencers), the oldest shopping alley, and the brass sculpture of Jaume Plensa called, Sanna.
La Cité du Vin
Winter, they say, is not an ideal time to visit a vineyard. Thus, I did the next best thing and that is to go to a wine museum. La Cité du Vin (wine city) is an interactive museum located at Esplanade de Pontac, 134 Quai de Bacalan. It has numerous exhibitions, workshops and tours, a reading room, and a Belvedere.
Admission fee is €20.00 ( ₱1,135.56), which includes the following:
- admission to The Permanent exhibition,
- use of the Visit Companion, an interactive multimedia guide available in 8 languages (French, English, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Chinese, and Japanese), and
- one glass of wine from their vast selection in the Belvedere.
I don’t remember having this much fun in a museum; the interactive element would make you feel like a kid. The visit companion is a digital audio guide that looks like a mobile phone. You only need to tap the device into the specified audio spots then voila, it activates the content of the multimedia animations that show valuable information about winemaking.
There’s a lot to see and it might take me forever if I discuss all of them so let me just mention the areas that I liked the most and they are, Le buffet des 5 sens (the buffet of five senses), Le mur des tendances (the trend wall), The Gallery of Civilisations, and E-Vine. The tour ends at the Belvedere where you can have a glass of wine; I asked for a rosé.
The Basilica of St. Michael is another gothic church located at Place Canteloup. It was declared in 1998 as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Just outside the basilica along Place du Maucaillou, we found a flea market that sells vintage stuff. As I was not yet confident to bargain in French, and I’m not particularly fond of vintage, I just went around to see what’s out in the market. They have everything, from old home decors to art and clothing.
Marché des Capucins
Marché des Capucins is the largest farmer’s market in Bordeaux. If you want to have a glimpse of local living, this is the place to be. There you will find restaurants, caterers, florists, bakers, wine merchants, fish vendors, and cheese, lots and lots of cheese. Speaking of cheese, this is where I bought the smelly camembert cheese.
Place de la Victoire
Probably the most touristy thing that I did in Bordeaux is finding the brass tortoises at Place de la Victoire. They were made by Ivan Theimer and they symbolize Bordeaux’s wine industry.
La Porte de Bourgogne
La Porte de Bourgogne (the gate of burgundy) is a Roman-style stone arch built in the 1750s. Today, it serves as a symbolic gateway to the city of Bordeaux. It is located at the end of Victor Hugo Avenue. In 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte celebrated the arrival of the Emperor in Bordeaux in this gate.
Le Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas
Named after France’s former prime minister, Le Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas is a vertical lift bridge built over the Garonne river. It has a span of 110 m or 361 ft long and is considered as the tallest lift bridge in Europe.
Lastly, we went to what they call, the hipsters’ spot in Bordeaux, Darwin. It can be found at Quai des Queyries and is a favorite hangout place of young people. It sits on a 10,000-square meter land that used to be a site for military barracks. In 2009, a group called Evolution bought the land and renovated the once-abandoned place into a hub for education, art, and sports.
It has cafes and restaurants, co-working spaces, an organic grocery store, a skate park, and art/graffiti-covered walls.
Eating at Bordeaux
What I wasn’t able to do in Paris, I did in Bordeaux. The following shows the cafes and restaurants that we tried in the city.
I went out in the freezing cold without my scarf and my bonnet that Jack Frost nipped my ears. In a panic, I ran toward the first cafe that I saw and that’s how I discovered Authentic Coffee. It is tended by a lady, probably in her late 40s, who greeted me as soon as I entered her little cafe. I found a single table against the wall and sat there.
My ears were burning from the cold that I had to compose myself before I was able to get up to order something. I had a latte and grilled cheese panini. The lady spoke something in French, it took me a moment before I understood what she was trying to say; I had to wait for a few minutes because she still had to make the sandwich.
The place is simple with no fancy ornaments, the menu is not extensive, but it’s quiet and I liked it.
Japanese food in France? Why not? Jane took us to Umami Ramen, a popular Japanese resto in the area. How does it compare with Asian ramen? Let’s just say I’ve had better ramen in the Philippines.
Books and Coffee
Books and Coffee is one of the busiest cafes at Rue Saint-James. Out of all the cafes I visited in Bordeaux, this is where I had the best tasting one. The place is inspired by the New York culture of combining coffee and a good place to read. They have books on display that customers are free to read.
St. James is a chic cafe named after the street where it can be found. It is less busy than the other cafes that we went to. It has a modern and relaxed setting and it offers a selection of hot drinks, homemade pastries, and aperitifs.
Les Chez Ploucs
I’ve never raved about a salad before until I went to Les Chez Ploucs. The food in this countryside-themed restaurant is surprisingly flavorful. They serve traditional South-West dishes freshly made from ingredients sourced from the market.
We ordered from their set menus (€22.90), which include a starter, main course, and dessert. I had Salade La belle Landaise and Poisson du marché. The salad alone was so filling (I mean look at all that duck meat), I had a hard time finishing the main dish.
The place becomes busy in no time so it’s best to call for a reservation or to come over a little early for dinner. We were there around 6:00 p.m. the first time but we came in a bit late the next day that we didn’t get a table.
On my last night in Bordeaux, I and my new friends from Central Hostel went out to have dinner. We ended up at La Tagliatela, an Italian restaurant at Rue Guiraude. We shared a whole piece of Tonno, a crisp, thin dough pizza made with “fuzzer,” a variety of tomato that is widely used in Italian cuisine. One of us ordered risotto iberico and another had parmigiano speciale pasta. It was a sweet way to end my Bordeaux trip.
I don’t think I can verbalize just how beautiful Bordeaux is. The impressive architecture, the buildings, and infrastructures that stood the test of time, everywhere I looked, it was such a delight. Paris is lovely but it didn’t feel like home. Bordeaux, on the other hand, had me dreaming about living there.