Bordeaux in the Fall is absolutely magical for lack of a better word. Growing up in Boston, Autumn was always my favorite time of the year. Living in Spain has meant that l hardly get to experience that really special weather. Get ready for a long, and picture-heavy post.
Visting Bordeaux and seeing all the fall colors really brought back warm memories for me. One thing is certain, we will definitely return as we both loved it. Here is what you need, a guide to Bordeaux France.
- Bordeaux In The Fall:
Bordeaux In The Fall:
Where is Bordeaux?
Bordeaux is a port city located along the river Garonne in the southwest of France. It is the capital of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. Even though the population in the city is just over a quarter of a million, it feels like it is so much bigger. Big as it is, it’s still the sixth-largest city in France much to my surprise. It comes after Paris, Lyon, Marseille, (another French city that we adored), Toulouse and Lille!
We both knew we would love Bordeaux and were torn as to how many days to spend there. 10 days would have been our ideal, but in the end, we settled for a week with two days in Toulouse. After having been to Paris several times, and hearing stories of how Bordeaux was a smaller version of that city, it would have been impossible to not fall in love with it.
What is Bordeaux known for?
Wine, wine, and more wine. Bordeaux is the world capital of wine without a doubt. With over 100,000 vineyards and 6,000 plus wineries, it is a very popular international destination for tourists.
Bordeaux is also famous for its gastronomy. The most known dish from Bordeaux is the entrecõte de vin (entrecote la bordelaise) which is a rib steak that is stewed in gravy made from Bordeaux wine (of course!), butter, shallots, herbs, and bone marrow.
How to get to Bordeaux:
Planes, trains, and automobiles. Living in Spain meant an hour plane ride for us with a direct flight from Valencia. Most routes within Europe are operated by low-cost carriers such as Easyjet and Ryanair. This meant we were able to snag round-trip tickets for both of us for just under 60 euros ($68). With luggage, and extra 80 euros ($90) for a grand total of 140€ ($168).
Within Europe, there are options to take a train with companies like Ouigo and Renfe which go to Paris, and from there another train direct to Bordeaux which takes about two hours. Flixbus is one of the big companies one can travel with from Valencia to Bordeaux with a transfer in Barcelona. Book ahead and prices can be as low as $50 each way. Blablabus was another one that we know of.
Driving is another option for those who enjoy that. From Valencia to Bordeaux would take you roughly eight hours, so it can be done. From outside Europe, it would have to be through the big airline companies, more than likely with a layover in Paris.
Requirements to visit France in the age of Covid:
Travel has changed from the days of yore, last year to be exact :-). In order to enter France, these are the current requirements.
Travelers from the U.S can enter France without a PCR test if they are fully vaccinated. The only accepted vaccines are the ones made by Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson (Jansen), Moderna, and AstraZeneca. The second dose must have been administered at least two weeks prior to travel.
Non-vaccinated travelers need to submit a negative PCR test result taken within three days of departure. Since the situation is continually changing, especially with the new variant Omicron, I would advise anyone flying into France to check what the requirements are.
We had to also fill out a sworn declaration that we had not been in contact with anyone with covid or shown symptoms in the prior two weeks (nobody ever asked for it though).
Your paper covid vaccine certificate or QR code was required everywhere we visited though. They weren’t playing. Restaurants, attractions, pubs, you name it… if you wanted to sit or get inside, you had to show it. We carried ours in paper form as it was easier for them to scan without touching. I didn’t have to have every tom, dick, and harry touching my phone.
Once inside, pretty much every restaurant had proper menus, hallelujah! Nothing l hate more than having to scan the QR codes on the table and seeing the tiny print on the frigging phones (like we do in Valencia).
Why visit Bordeaux in the Fall?
The Pros: Fewer people
The very obvious reason is that there are way fewer people. In a typical year, Bordeaux welcomes more than 7 million visitors (2019). That’s a lot of people jostling for the same space. Visiting Bordeaux in the fall which is the shoulder season, gave us a better chance to interact with the locals more.
The Cost: Another big factor.
Visiting Bordeaux in the summer means the prices are much higher due to the demand. While the prices in the fall were lower, I kid you not, it was still expensive, not Paris expensive, but…yikes, coming from low priced Valencia, we had a few minor heart attacks, haha!
The Autumn season:
My favorite reason for a fall visit to Bordeaux is the autumn color palette. The trees shed their leaves and acquire stunning yellow, gold, and brown colors. Sunny mostly (save for one day), and cold, it set the perfect tone for eating comfort food and mulled wine. It was also a nice change getting bundled up and it felt more Christmassy.
The cons of visiting Bordeaux in the fall:
Most of the wineries shut down tours for the season at the end of October because that’s when they begin harvesting their grapes. We had hoped to do a Bordeaux wine tour, but we didn’t get to visit any as the logistics were too cumbersome.
A visit to nearby St Emillion was also scuttled because the train station was a bit far from the city, and the tuk-tuks that shuttle visitors had also shut down. A hilly walk was not in the cards for me. Having toured many wineries in the past, including in the Douro Valley of Portugal, it was not a big deal for us.
Fall means it gets darker earlier, so it’s essential that you plan out your day well, and do indoor things in the evenings.
How to get around in Bordeaux:
This is one of the few times l recommend a city pass. The Bordeaux CityPass was an excellent money saver. With the pass, you can take all the forms of public transportation, trams, buses, and the river shuttle.
We also had free entry to eight museums including the Cité du Vin, Museum of wine, Museum of Fine Arts, a free walking tour, entrance to the Cailhau Gate, and much more. We didn’t even get to take advantage of everything. It paid for itself within a day too :-).
Where to stay in Bordeaux:
We stayed in the vibrant neighborhood of St. Michel for half our time, very close to the metro stop and we enjoyed it a lot. Despite looking a bit dodgy at first (people just hang out in the street), it was perfectly safe and the B&B was amazing. Not for people with limited mobility though as stated on their listing. She provided everything you could possibly need.
Lots of cafes and restaurants, it also was just a few minutes walk to perhaps the most famous market in Bordeaux, the Capucins market (the largest one in Bordeaux), and the Fleche Basilica was practically next door. I would highly recommend the area. St Michel is also less than a 15-minute scenic walk along the river to reach the center of Bordeaux.
The other half was spent right smack dab in the center of town. It was an area we enjoyed as well. Prices were a little higher of course since it was more upscale, but it was worth it. While l would love to recommend the hotel we stayed in, I can not. It needs a remodel badly.
The location was however on point, we overlooked the Opera House and had a view of the amazing Intercontinental luxury hotel which was like sticking a hot poker in my eye :-). If you can afford that, stay there! If you have a keen eye, in the video accompanying this post, you can actually spot our hotel when you see the Intercontinental, that’s how close we were.
What to see in Bordeaux:
I felt like we barely got to scratch the city, and it is begging for a return visit for sure. Here are some must-see places in Bordeaux:
Cité du Vin
More than just a museum, it is a wine-themed entertainment center. A visit we enjoyed so much. Apart from the wine tasting offered on the top floor, there are fun things such as oils and perfumes made from wine, the history of Bordeaux wine through the ages, and much more.
Educational, entertaining, and interactive, we spent quite a few hours here. We could go at our own pace and the personal audio guide was awesome. The visit is topped off by a fantastic view of the river and a complimentary taste of wine (you can purchase more if desired).
The Museum of Fine Arts:
Divided into two sides, one with modern art (not a fan of that genre) and the other with more contemporary paintings. I loved the collection of mostly French and Dutch painters. Most of the sculptures were absolutely incredible.
Place de la Bourse:
In a part of the city that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, this square is perhaps the most recognized icon of Bordeaux. The mirror effect (a reflection of the building) was missing because the fountains had been turned off for the year. Still a beautiful sight, especially at night.
What can l say? Big, bold, and beautiful. It reminded me a lot of the Seville Cathedral with its Goth and Romanesque architecture. It’s free to enter.
Place des Quinconces:
One of the largest city squares in Europe. It had been originally built to prevent rebellion against the city with guns turned towards the center. It is now currently a transportation hub with tram and bus lines.
There is also a great daily market in the area with everything from antique bikes to home furnishings and street food. The huge monument in the middle has so many sculptures including the Triumph of the Concorde, the Sculpture of Suffering Figures, and the spirit of Liberty.
A historic city gate that was once the main gate into the city, and part of the defensive walls Awesome views from the top we were told, but l was fine with the view from below :-). It definitely reminds you of Disneyland (see the last image).
Musée du Vin
Musée du Vin et du Négoce de Bordeaux was another great visit. Located in a deceptively normal building, it was a delight to learn about wine, wine production, and how business was conducted in the past (man, those people had the best handwriting in those days) by the merchants.
It was a self-guided tour and we had an English book given to us. It ended with two wine tastings by a very knowledgeable young lady. Awesome! You most definitely want to visit this.
Located just outside the city center, it’s the last of the Roman Ruins from when the city was still called Burdigala. It’s an amphitheater that in its glory days held up to 15,000 spectators. Now, it has almost entirely been enclosed by houses after being saved from total demolition. A lot of locals we asked for directions didn’t even know about its existence :-).
Porte de Bourgogne:
A medieval stone arch that divides two neighborhoods. It was built in 1757 and was the official entrance to the city from Paris. Emperor Napoleon was welcomed to the city with a massive ceremony here in 1808. You can see it in the previous post.
Marché du Capucins:
A hip market with fresh food, vegetables, and great eateries. Much smaller than the one we have here, but a really nice place to watch the locals go about their business and grab a bite to eat. The fresh oysters were being sold for eating right at the stands.
Bassins de Lumieres:
WOW! Just see it. Located in an old submarine base, the old bombed and water-filled place has been transformed into one of the most amazing showcases of art immersion ever. We saw the Impressionists (my all-time favorite art movement with Monet my god as I revealed in a 2014 interview (do not laugh at my afro!). Spectacular doesn’t begin to describe it.
This was an exhibition l had been wanting to see since l enjoyed the Klimt and Van Gogh exhibitions in the past when they were here in Valencia. This one is even more spectacular as the screens were ginormous, and came at you from all sides. It was hands down, the best experience in Bordeaux. WOW!
Another defensive gate. The Grosse cloche was the belfry of the old city hall. It was used as a prison. I suppose if one must be jailed, might as well be in this gorgeous building with an amazing view of the city below.
Where to eat in Bordeaux:
We had really great food in Bordeaux. Here are a few that stand out to us:
Chez Therese : Located in St Michel in a very comforting setting. Amazing food and staff.
La Brasserie Bordelaise: When two of your friends give you the same name unbeknown to each other (and they visited seven years apart), you know you must visit. Very glad we did. Faster service than normal, but the food and atmosphere are wonderful. Oysters are very popular there from what l could see.
Tchin Tchin Wine Bar: The best wine bar of four that we visited for some tasting. Run by a young man and his wife, we really enjoyed his take on hummus and the charcuterie board was fantastic.
L’Appart 18 was another delightful discovery and the food was superb. Also located in St. Michel and run by really nice young men, we were very impressed with the food, and wine suggestions. In all these places, there were English speakers which made communication easier, but we found ourselves remembering long-forgotten French words which were appreciated. (it’s been some 40 years since l took French in school).
One thing you must try is the Cannelés de Bordeaux (canéles), the region’s most famous pastry. Highly addictive, these little delicious taste bombs have a soft custardy center and a crisp exterior that is crisp, caramelized, almost crunchy. The fact that they contain rum certainly helps. There are different sizes too, with the tiniest ones that you can pop in your mouth like candy. So diabetics, be very careful :-).
Is Bordeaux worth visiting?
Most definitely. It’s an amazing place. We had so much more to see. We were pretty much only on one side of the river. The city is so much more than wine. Awesome food, friendly people, and the amazing varieties of wine made for a fantastic holiday. One l would highly recommend. Could we live there? You betcha. We, however, can not afford it. We shall return for a visit hopefully. We’ve already started mentioning Springtime :-).
Have you visited Bordeaux? Did you like it as much as we did?