Hit the wine trail and master your cookery skills
Make your first stop in Bordeaux the Cité du Vin, a spectacular building on the left bank of the Garonne river that explores the history and culture of wine. It has already welcomed more than a million visitors since it opened in the summer of 2016. Enjoy a glass of wine in the eighth-floor panoramic bar, Le Belvédère, before embarking on Bordeaux’s Urban Wine Trail, which takes visitors on a self-guided tour of Bordeaux’s best bars, some of which have up to 1,000 different wines.
Le Vertige serves cheese and charcuterie boards with its long list of wines. At Le Millésime, you can even order one of the premiers grands crus classés by the glass – a château cheval blanc 2004 (€60) goes down well with their posh mini burgers, or just order a glass of regular Bordeaux to enjoy until two in the morning. La Ligne Rouge specialises in little-known wines from foreign domaines including Serbia, Croatia and an English sparkly. It is on the left bank beside one of the oldest bars in Bordeaux, the Grand Bar Castan, a great place to watch the world go by – cars, trams, boats, cyclists and rollerbladers all pass in front of the bar, the interior of which is lined with art nouveau rocaille – an indoor cave with giant palm tree decoration.
And don’t miss the Bordeaux Wine Council’s Bar à Vin, in the city’s flatiron building, la Maison Gobineau. Quality wines cost a fraction of what they do elsewhere, and it’s a unique place to drink a glass of Bordeaux supérieur (€2) or a pomerol (€8) beneath an Aubusson tapestry and stained glass windows.
Alternatively, you might like to take a wine tour of one of the surrounding châteaux. Wine trails can be organised by boat, bicycle, on foot, hot-air balloon, donkey or horse-drawn carriage. Besides a vineyard tour by bicycle or electric scooter, the Château Marquis de Terme in the Médoc hosts a three-hour tasting of seven grands crus classés wines in the 19th-century workshop. The selection of choice vintages includes pauillac, saint-julien, saint-estèphe, margaux and haut-médoc with Barsac and sauternes dessert wines to complete a full house of the left bank of the Garonne’s most exceptional wines. The sommelier explains the history and essential characteristics of what makes each wine special. Equally refined, dine at the Château Lafaurie Peyraguey’s Restaurant Lalique, which was awarded the Sauternes region’s first and only Michelin star in 2019. At Château de La Dauphine, take a heritage tour in a bright red 2CV car with hilltop tastings accompanied by lamprey rillettes and truffle butter. Stay on in Saint-Émilion for a cooking class in the kitchens of the Château Ambe Tour Pourret. The lesson involves preparing a meal with seasonal, local products and then tasting it with the vineyard’s wine (€120-€160 per person). You won’t ever want to leave.
Back in Bordeaux, serious wine lovers should consider a stay at the excellent Le Boutique hotel. The rooms are named after Bordeaux’s vineyards, there’s the in-house wine bar, large cellar and the sommelier Riccardo Mariconti gives tastings twice a day. “We choose five wines to taste, starting with something light and fruity, moving on to médoc, and discuss the acidity, tannins and talk about why guests like a certain appellation.”
Broaden your drinking palate
It’s hard to believe, but there are other things to drink in Bordeaux besides wine. As well as having one of the city’s most romantic restaurant gardens, Frida shakes up fabulous cocktails from its glinting bar in the historic centre. For beer lovers, the Brasserie de la Lune’s Darwin pale ale is served on the sand-covered terrace of the Chantiers de la Garonne.
For something stronger, pay a visit to Moon Harbour, Bordeaux’s whisky distillery, which was set up by two local friends in the redeveloping Bacalan docks and will produce its first single malt whisky next year. The highlight of the visit is the chai (storage area), which was originally constructed by the Germans during the second world war as a giant concrete fuel depot (the size of a zeppelin) for their submarine base next door. Although wartime events saw that no fuel ever made it into the vast concrete blockhouse, it’s a piece of Bordeaux’s urban history, an astonishing sight and worth a tipple of whisky to experience.
To complete the drinking half of your bucket list, Bordeaux is only 90 minutes’ drive from Cognac. All the great Cognac houses including Hennessey, Camus, Rémy Martin, and Martell offer tours and tastings, but Cognac itself is a charming town whose devotion to the fermented ugni blanc grape has lasted unabated since the early 1700s.
Taste regional specialities at local food markets
The Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, including Bordeaux, is a must for foodies. The most picturesque market is at Royan, where 150 traders sell delights such as purple asparagus from Blaye, green asparagus from Les Landes, with oysters and cuttlefish from the Bay of Arcachon. At Brive-La-Gaillarde and Sarlat’s in the Dordogne, market stalls are overflowing with vegetables, dried duck, nougat and honey. Join the locals in the queue at the cheese counter or watch as the restaurateurs squeeze the fruit and search for the best truffles.
You could also visit one of Bordeaux’s two new food halls. Opposite the Cité du Vin is the Halles de Bacalan, with 24 food merchants offering the region’s best cuisine du marché. Chef Frédéric Coiffé of L’Échoppe des Halles serves up to 200 dishes a day: delicious combinations of steak, duck, octopus or pork served on orange platters to share. For Coiffé, it’s “the future of food; simple, local products served in a fun, convivial atmosphere.” At the other end of Bordeaux is La Boca food hall, which opened last year and houses 15 food bars with giant shared tables in the middle, a chance to eat Mexican, Thai, Italian, Basque, local seafood and then try a dune blanche from Chez Pascal, a bite-sized choux pastry, originally from Cap Ferret.
Dine out in style
Bordeaux is famed for its brasseries and bistros, many of which have been there since the mid-19th century. Try the traditional La Belle Epoque, or Le Quatrième Mur – recommended by EasyJet’s crew performance manager, Renaud Herin. Save up for a meal at Le Chapon Fin, a posh restaurant frequented by Sarah Bernhardt and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
For a more modern menu, head to one of Bordeaux’s most sought-after tables at Racines, where Glasgow-born chef Daniel Gallacher serves creative, delectable food inspired by his Scottish roots and training under Alain Ducasse.
End the evening with a diamant noir, a sugar-coated, ganache dark chocolate by Cadiot-Badie, which has been making confectionary since 1826.
Don’t leave Bordeaux without …
Tasting the local speciality, a canelé, a tiny vanilla and rum-flavoured cake that looks like a miniature fluted jelly mould. The inside is spongy and the outside is a delicate caramelised crust. Locals eat them for breakfast, elevenses, lunch and dinnertime, and they can even be paired with Bordeaux wine.
Start planning your adventure in Bordeaux. From guidance on vineyard tours, to suggestions for arts and culture, find a host of inspiration at uk.france.fr/en/bordeaux
Discover the unexpected side of Bordeaux with easyJet flights from London, Bristol and Liverpool. Find out more at easyjet.com