Gemma loves Bordeaux, so much she has returned twice in 18 months. Great wine, access to amazing seafood and pretty much constant sunshine. What’s not to love? The first time she went for a friend’s hen do, and on the second with her boyfriend (Gills Guy) Chris. Here she details her top recommendations for the city for whatever you want to get from your trip.
What to do
When I went for the hen do after a 6am flight, we were straight out onto the river for canoeing. We booked this through Bordeaux Canoe and our guide Luc was so helpful and put up with our very poor French. It was fascinating travelling up the river towards the centre of Bordeaux whilst learning about the area. One of the sights was a collection of fishing huts, which Luc told us were owned by the city and you had to apply to rent. They are in such a beautiful spot you can see why they are in high demand! The canoe trip is a really unique way of seeing the city, and the river isn’t packed with people doing the same. Can’t recommend it enough!
On both occasions to Bordeaux I went to do a tour and tasting at Chateau Pape Clement. Easily accessible from the city (about half an hour from the centre via tram and then a taxi for the final leg) it means you can fit in the visit around your other activities. The basic tour is a total bargain at 20 euros each, with time spent exploring the grounds and cellars followed by a tasting. We also bought a bottle (or two) of the Joel Robuchon white wine at a bargain price of 9 euros, considering it was one of the nicest whites I have ever tasted in my life! Bernard Magrez owns the chateau and is worth reading up about, being a bit of a french celebrity.
For something totally different Darwin Centre is worth a visit, being an eco co-working space. The site is huge and buzzing with activity – they were setting up for a festival on our last visit. The site hosts France’s biggest organic restaurant (Magasin General) as well as an organic food store if you want to pick up some goodies to take home.
What to eat
For our main night out of the hen weekend we headed to Siman, largely taken in by it’s views over the city. The food was such high quality and well worth spending a little more than other places for the view and top notch cooking. I had the sole with beurre blanc and it was perfectly cooked, just falling off the bone. The sauce was to die for and has convinced me I really need to work on my sauce skills at home. The rest of the girls were equally as impressed with their sea bass and prawn dishes, and the chicken caesar salad was the biggest we had ever seen, including three cheeses (well we were in France). After we headed to the iBoat, stopping off to see the Water Mirror at night before, and I should probably stop the story there (it was a hen do after all), but I will say there was a lot of dancing to Kanye.
Strolling around Marché des Capucins is such a treat and is bustling with a mix of locals and tourists. Filled to the brim with fresh produce and little oyster and mussel bars it’s the kind of place you could quite happily spend hours in. Unfortunately as a group of seven it was near on impossible to get a table, however it was one of the first places on my list for my return. We got a seat at Poullet and ordered two types of moules (one classic mariniere and the other with bacon lardons and cream). This came with a mound of frites and with a drink each and tipping it still came short of forty pounds. Money well spent!
Situated in the heart of the city, on one of the main streets, La Brasserie Bordelaise offers lots of french charm. It’s a huge space and whilst the initial room is bustling and busy the rooms further back have more of a relaxed vibe. Here we had oysters, cured salmon and steak – washed down with some fantastic local wine of course. The service left a lot to be desired, and we had to ask a few times to order which was frustrating however I do think we were unlucky with our server as other people seemed to have a better experience around us! The salmon starter was huge, consisting of two huge salmon fillets, and came with a cream cheese chive cream and pickled red onion. It was truly delicious, and to be honest could have served as a main! The steak was rare, just as I had ordered, and not too rare that you can sometimes experience in France. Overall it was a great dinner, despite the service, and a nice way to spend an evening in the city. Dinner came to just over 120 euros so was on the pricey side, but a nice treat.
An alternative dinner option is La P’tit Brasserie, which is slightly further out from the centre but still easily walkable. We went here on our first night and had a truly fantastic meal, both choosing options from the menu of the day. Between us we got the octopus, and 63 egg with black pudding, as well as veal and duck. Paired with lots of wine (and even shots from our waiter – my head did not like you the next day!) it was an absolute steal at 70 euros. A great spot to spend some time on a Saturday evening – though you will need to book ahead.
If you are looking for an indulgent brunch that doesn’t break the bank La Parenthese is a good option. Serving up huge galettes (we couldn’t finish ours) and decent coffee, smoothies and pastries its a nice play to fuel up before venturing out to explore the city.
Venturing a little further
After a busy couple of days exploring the city centre we decided to head out into the countryside to regroup. We chose the village of Hostens largely because of the amazing Air BnB we sourced, but it was filled with classic French charm. Offering the basics, a butcher, baker, village shop and a couple of small restaurants it has everything you need for a couple quiet days. Just a 15 minute walk away is Hostens Lake, which has an artificial beach on the lakes shores. It’s a beautiful place to take a picnic and spend in the sun, and cooling off with a lake swim now and then. There is a small cafe there serving crepes and toasties for a bargain price, and then a watersports centre where you can try paddleboarding, kayaking or a less adventurous option of pedal boating!
Arcachon is France’s oyster capital and quite honestly is a Gills Gal dream. The freshest seafood imaginable on a beautiful coastline – it deserves it’s whole separate post.
Time to start planning trip three I think!