Bound for Bordeaux
Last March 2019, I had a wonderful trip to Bordeaux. Not being able to travel just now with the state of things, I thought I would share my experience. Enjoy!
After wrapping up my 3 days in Paris I headed to Bordeaux. I had a loose itinerary but wanted to discover what there was to see before making too many plans. One of the advantages to traveling during off season is you don't have to worry about things being sold out. You do however need to check for operating dates, as I was not able to see Monet's beautiful garden this trip...but of course that just gives me a reason to plan another!
Traveling south on the train I enjoyed the countryside in comfort. I opted for the first class ticket at the recommendation of a frequent traveler and was pleased that I had. The seats were roomy and comfortable and I could keep my bags close at hand. The trip was just over 2 hours which gave me time to relax and use the complimentary WIFI on board to check out some of the places I wanted to visit in more detail.
One of the things I have learned about traveling spontaneously is you must use your time wisely. I no longer feel that I have to have every stop planned before I go. In having a loose itinerary I allow myself the freedom to explore the towns I visit at my own pace. I often meet people along the way who give me great recommendations of what to see and am most always delighted with the unexpected find. If there is something I do not want to miss, I make sure I put it in my google maps with a link to their site so I can easily access hours of operation and their location. I have on more than one occasion been surprised to find one of these points of interest just around the corner from the coffee shop someone recommended!
Bordeaux Day 1
As I departed from the train I took some time to look around the station. It was a much smaller station than the one I left in Paris. Much less intimidating and warm. I took a few moments to look around and get my bearings. When traveling solo I have found it best to take my time and pay attention to details. I don't want to leave anything behind or take the wrong direction simply because I was anxious to get somewhere. A girl needs to be wise as well as prepared.
As I exited the cab and paid my fare, I found myself in front of an inviting blue door with the most interesting knocker.....I soon discovered this was common decor amongst the streets of Bordeaux.
I found my way to my room up the stairs.....no elevators here, which is typical in Europe, which is why I always travel light and wear sensible shoes. The room was beautiful and perfect for my week long visit.
During my stay I discovered that the Bordeaux weather can change from sunny skies to dark clouds pouring rain in a matter of minutes. Walking through the streets of Bordeaux in search of the restaurant my host Fabrice had happily recommended...without warning the skies opened up and as I watched others walk in the rain without much concern...I quickly became drenched. I had not thought to grab my umbrella or my hat. I abandoned my destination and sought shelter in the first brightly lit bistro I came upon. The choice proved to be a good one. The warm welcoming atmosphere was just what I needed to shake off the rain and wind down from my day.
Walking back through the cobblestone streets glistening from the recent rain, I enjoyed the lights that lined the buildings and guided me back to my room. My host had assured me I could feel safe walking the streets of Bordeaux both day and night.....I found this to be true and felt very comfortable during my stay.
Bordeaux Day 2
I had a loose itinerary of places I wanted to explore, but thought it best to consult with my host at breakfast, to see if he had any advice and recommendations. So glad I asked as I discovered the Market closed early on the day I wanted to attend so I modified my plans. (One of the reasons I enjoy staying at a B&B , it allows you to start your day off with the Host and often the other guests who like to share their traveling tips.)
Off to the market I went. I took my handy iphone out and clicked on my google maps...I had starred the market earlier on the train ride so it was easy to pull up and get directions....walking, not driving...it makes a difference😂
After my phone redirected my wandering steps several times I finally had arrived. (I get distracted easily by random things like architecture, doors, shop windows, dogs.....)
I walked into rows of stalls filled with all of the deliciousness of France! I absolutely love bread and cheese with a good glass of red 🍷......there wasn't just one cheese vendor but several...oh how was a girl to choose?? This trip I opted for no kitchen in my room...so I had to be practical. As much as I wanted one of those creamy wedges...I had to refrain. Instead I devoured them all with my camera along with the cascades of freshness....yummy!
Dizzy from the plethora of choices I stumbled across the most delightful Tapas bar! The perfect solution for a party of one who wants to try a bit of all the goodness I was exploring. I hopped up on the stool and was handed a sheet to check off my choices....so fun! I had a bit of sweet, savory, and just plain creamy.....the perfect companion to my glass of 🍷 from Bordeaux of course. I was tempted to grab a bouquet of fresh blooms as I headed out...but it was time for a walk and some exploring.
One of the things I have discovered about myself...is my new found love of history and how things came to be. When possible I try to take in at least one history museum during my trip.
Next Stop Musée d' Aquitaine.....where I discovered just how proud of their past the people of Bordeaux truly are. It never ceases to amaze me how far back European History is documented......the museum is not large but still very interesting and laid out in a chronological fashion making it easy to follow.
Most of the signs have an english translation but if I needed it Google Translate was ready! I left feeling like I had just taken a walk through the making of Bordeaux.....very interesting.
The more I travel and explore European Culture, I often discover symbols and design elements that have been preserved through time. I rarely glance upon a fleur de lis without fondly thinking of France.
A quick stop at the les toilettes and I was off to continue my exploration of this elegant city.
After the museum I headed toward the center of Bordeaux to the Cathe`drale Saint Andre'
The Cathe`drale was unfortunately closed for renovations so I could not go inside....again something to keep in mind when you are planning your trip. The outside was still stunning. The way the light played on the Spires was magical.
I so enjoy seeing these beautiful pieces of history. This cathedral dates back to the 12th century! Of course it has been modified over the centuries but the detail of the spires, stonework, and windows is a testament to the care the French take in creating and maintaining their architectural history.
Now it was time to find a Cafe' for a delectable French pastry!
I remembered the well lit area full of shops just past the Cathe`drale from my walk to the Bistro the night before. I thought it would be a good place to start. As I turned down the Rue de la Porte Dijeaux I came upon a shop that had a "French Girl" coat in the window that was calling my name. Now usually I try not to buy anything too big on my trips as I typically travel light, but it didn't hurt to look right?!
Upon entering Comptoir Des Cotonniers I was greeted with a "bonjour" by a young woman named Clara. I scanned the racks with my eyes (it is thought rude to handle the merchandise on your own) while Clara approached and asked in perfect english if she could assist. I asked about the coat in the window....and within moments she had me gently dressed in a coat with a complimenting scarf while giving me directions to her favorite Cafe' around the corner.
The Pistachio blueberry cake was yummy! My server was from the states and smiled as I attempted my French. I was delighted when she shared some tips on how to order more informally. I have found that most everyone in Europe speaks english but it is always fun to learn while I am there. I starred this Cafe` in my Google maps for the next visit as I prefer to visit places more than once if time permits. I know that probably seems odd, because most people just want to see as much as they can but...I find that when I am traveling sometimes it is nice to give myself some familiarity along the way.
The weather was perfect for walking so I continued my exploration of this side of town. When I checked my Google starred places, I noticed there were some Antiques
& Art Galleries close by so I headed out. Meandering in and out of the shops, I stopped now and again as I always do to take some interesting photos to help me remember my visit.
When I get busy taking photos and walking through the streets of places I visit, I often forget to take time to rest. I have on more than one occasion woken the next day with stiff joints as I have simply walked too far. It was time to head back to my room for a rest and to freshen up.
After my rest I headed out to find the Le Wine Bar recommended by one of the shopkeepers I had met earlier that day. The sky was clear but I grabbed my umbrella just in case. The walk was easy and I found some lovely shops to peruse along the way. Once I arrived I enjoyed some delicious wines of Tuscany....I must admit my favorite.......just don't tell anyone in Bordeaux 😂 I had a very nice time visiting with the Englishman 🇬🇧 serving at the Italian 🇮🇹 wine bar in France 🇫🇷 😊
I once again chose to walk back to my accommodations and enjoy the ambiance of the city streets. It was a slight 15 minute walk and allowed me time to take in the soft glow of the city lights as I walked down a new street or two. Google Maps redirecting me as made my way back.
Bordeaux Day 3
Today was the day I was taking the tour to St. Emilion! When I travel it is always a dilemma wether I should rent a car to get around or not. On this trip I made the decision not to based on the ease of public transport. When traveling further out of the city limits and you do not have a vehicle, a Tour is often the best way to go. You have the benefit of a multilingual guide who is well trained for the task. The guides have a wealth of information to share and I always learn something new. The hardest part is choosing which tour. If you need help check out my "Planning Tools" section for some resources. When you travel solo you have to check the minimum number of guests allowed. If they do not have an option for you to buy a single ticket, it is worth calling or emailing the company to see if they can add you to a group. I chose to book my tour through Ophorus as they had options to buy just a single ticket in the region I wanted to visit.
As I poked my head out of the window from my room I noted the sky was cloudy and drizzling so I made sure to layer up and grab umbrella. The meeting place was at the Tourist Info Center. Once the group was gathered each guide took 6-8 in their Mercedes mini tour bus. Traveling through the countryside I could not help but think I was actually traveling through a region that had been making wine since 60BC.
The tour guide explained which wineries we would be visiting today and our first stop was Chateau Tailhas, Libourne, Bordeaux vineyard.
Our host began with the history of the Chateau which dated back to as early as the 13th century. It was interesting to learn about the Terroir and how each region could only grow certain varietals...helping to preserve the integrity of the grapes.
Being from Southern California where most of our vineyards are not even a century old I found the aged look of the well clipped vines very intriguing. The pride and respect for the land shown by the owner was heart warming. Visiting a smaller winery such as this gives you the opportunity to hear first hand of the trials and tribulations that come with the uncertainty of the seasons.
Off to learn about how the wine is made and stored. There is something about a barrel room filled with wooden barrels that satisfies all of my senses. The smell, the colors, and the textures all lined up on display in such an elegant fashion. This small barrel room did not disappoint.
Finally we get to taste what is created by the vines and the barrels and the wine maker. The tasting room was cozy and we had a chance to buy bottles of course if we chose. Being the first winery of the day I thought it best to buy one bottle to enjoy during my stay rather than a case to send home. I know a purchase is not required, but I always feel like it is an insult to the host if I don't walk away with at least one bottle.
Next stop the villages of St. Emilion! One of the reasons I chose this tour was because it included a stop in the village where we would have time to explore. As we approached the village the sun broke through the clouds bathing the picturesque little village in golden rays.
As we walked down the narrow winding streets towards our meeting point, I could feel the 13 centuries of history whispering through the limestone of the buildings. The stone arches and details never cease to amaze me.
We started our visit inside Le Cellier De St. Emilion. The shop owner was happy to share his love for the wines of St. Emilion and took us to one of his favorite boutique wineries in the area.
Our small group followed him up the cobbled street to what looked like a residence. Upon entering through the big wooden door we were all surprised to find a lovely courtyard. Our host shared the Chateau Gaudet family history with flare while taking us through the various steps of how great wine comes to be.
The concrete storage vessels were designed for small batches and you could see that the wine produced here was a labor of love. They believe "Because the wine is more a question of pleasure"❤️
Our host took us through the underground wine cellar at a brisk pace as not to change the well monitored temperature. As we walked through the dimly lit cellar he pointed out the legacy wines stored to preserve the history of the family. I quickly became aware I had at least 20 years on most of my fellow tourists....as they laughed when I was the last one to be shown where my year was stored.
Now back to the shop to sample some St. Emilion wines! This was something I had not experienced before. Rather than just one winery to sample we had several. The opportunity to create a case of wine to be shipped home from several vineyards was definitely a bonus!
Our host placed the bottles we were tasting in front of us and as the millennial group I was amongst reached for their phones....our host encouraged them to experience the tastes for themselves before using their favorite wine App to help them compare.
Our group was then let loose to explore the streets and grab some lunch before we headed out to our last vineyard and then back to Bordeaux.
Back in Bordeaux, I thought about the day as I enjoyed a light meal at the trendy wine bar Le Bar a` Vin, recommended by the tour guide.
The locations and the wines were all very different and had a specific aroma & flavor profile to be sure. The passion for the culture, respect for the land, and the love of the simple pleasure of enjoying a glass of wine was expressed by all. I looked forward to sharing the bottles I had sent home with my family and friends upon my return.
On my walk back to my room, I found a delightful little chocolate shop...the perfect way to end a most perfect day!
Bordeaux Day 4
As an Interior Designer I am intrigued by how different cultures influence our Interior Design style. Over the years many of the styles we have today have been influenced by the architects and designers from centuries ago. While I travel I often seek out places like Castles and Museums dedicated to Design. Studying the style from a book is one thing, seeing it up close and feeling its energy is a completely different experience.
With the continued love affair Americans have with French Decor, my travels often inspire me to create rooms for myself and my clients that feel like they have traveled through time...with all of the modern conveniences of course 😊
In Paris I had visited one of the smaller design museums and I was looking forward to exploring the Museum of Design in Bordeaux to see how the decorating styles compared. I set my Google Maps to find the museum and began my 10 minute walk across the city.
As I approached the Musee des Arts Decoratifs et du Design the courtyard welcomed me and once inside I had a wonderful time exploring the rooms. Each decorated as though time had stood still and they were waiting for one of the noble families to return.
The rich blue and gold hues were warm and inviting. The furnishings were elegant yet not overwhelming. The walls were defined with the moulding they do so well and adorned with artistic touches here and there. The window coverings were light & airy allowing the sunlight to bathe the rooms.
The Bordeaux Museum showed a sense of welcome and warmth, while the Paris Museum was grand and elegant...both beautifully done.
Bordeaux Day 5
Today I was headed to the Wine Museum of Bordeaux to learn about how it all began. I contemplated the train ride for this visit as the walk was slightly over 30 minutes. Having indulged the night before in a rich and delicious meal of roast duck with a wine glaze and buttered roast vegetables...I decided the walk would be a good idea 😊
The museum was small but interesting. It was founded as recent as 2007 and was housed in the district of Chartons, traditionally dedicated to the trade of wine since the middle ages. The building itself was originally designed for an 18th century wine merchant who used the bottom floors to cellar the wine and the upper floors as his residence. This beautiful staircase beckons you upon entering. I could easily imagine a wine merchant dressed in a fine French waist coat and his leather boots standing there.
The museum was set up to show how the port of Bordeaux thrived over the years. Signs were in French and English making it easy to take it all in. There was a small room showing a video presentation for those who would rather watch than read.
Being an "Outlander" fan, I immediately thought of the season Jamie & Claire spent in France taking care of Jamies' cousin Jareds wine trading business. It all seemed so elegant & romantic in the story😂
Strolling amongst the barrels and large ledger books, I am certain there was a lot more work involved then romance....although I have to admire how the French always seem to add a touch of elegance to everything they do. ❤️
The tour ended with a wine tasting and presentation on the Bordeaux wine regions, very interesting. If you enjoy history and want to learn about the wine business of Bordeaux..it is a must visit. The most interesting take away I had was learning about the pride the city had in its local wines. Simply put, if you lived in Bordeaux you were expected to drink wine from Bordeaux.
This being my last day in the lovely city of Bordeaux I took myself down to the city center after dinner and enjoyed walking along the port. The grand buildings along the port were splendidly aglow and I thought of how blessed I was to be able to take it all in.
Tomorrow I get back on the train to Paris because I still have to visit the Louvre!!