Enchanting Bordeaux: The Paris of Southwestern France

E-14+Modern+Bordeaux.jpg

The lush Bordeaux region sits regally on the edge of the Atlantic in southwestern France. The city of Bordeaux (same name) has a rich history and an even richer present as the gateway to one of the most fabled wine regions of France.

Pontet Canet Winery, Medoc Wine Region

Pontet Canet Winery, Medoc Wine Region

This area, known as the Aquitaine. was a medieval political focal point as one of the largest regions of France helmed not by a king, but a powerful woman: Eleanor of Aquitaine. Bordeaux city served as her power seat when she married young Henry II. Soon the two reined over a French/English kingdom famed as much for courtly love, as cruelty and bloodshed (see The Lion in Winter movie, a real-life royal struggle that paved the way for the likes of Game of Thrones).

Later, in the 20th century, Bordeaux became the go-to capital of France when Paris was eclipsed in two world wars. Now it’s the fifth largest tourist destination in France. It’s not only the gateway for the fabulous Bordeaux area wine regions of the Médoc peninsula and Saint-Émilion, but also Arcachon, the sandy home of oyster and shellfish production, and the French Pyrenees, home to the Basque people.

E-7 Wine Touring.jpg

Visitors come usually for the fine wines and local shopping. The famous Bordeaux wine-growing region covers about 284,000 acres in multiple regions: Médoc (southern Haut-Médoc and northern Bas-Médoc), Graves (Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes), Libournais (Saint-Émilion and Pomerol), Bourg, Blaye, and Entre-Deux-Mers. All combined areas produce about 700 million bottles of wine a year of red wine (89%) and white wine (11%). Bordeaux is the largest wine-growing region in France followed by the Rhône Valley, which is about two-thirds the size.  

Grand Cru estate in the Medoc

Grand Cru estate in the Medoc


But there’s even more to love in downtown Bordeaux and surrounding countryside. You can satiate your pallet with Atlantic-bred oysters, pungent cheeses, savory foie gras, local beef and poultry, and delectable desserts like cannelés, the famous mini cinnamon cakes. When you tire of noshing, wine tasting, and shopping, boating, surfing, kayaking, water skiing, and windsurfing abound. And there’s hiking, canyoning, cycling, golf, and horseback riding through the spectacular countryside. At the end of the day, you can languish in the many spas that feature sea-based thalassotherapy, hydrotherapy, and vino therapy (while you sip) to keep you invigorated yet relaxed.

How to get there? Visitors can fly into Bordeaux directly with it’s nifty airport. Or take the train in from Paris or elsewhere. From there, we recommend you take a rental car and spend days meandering through the vineyard covered areas, pop over to Saint-Emilion or even wend your way to the wonderful Dordogne or trendy Provence. For the higher-end wineries, hire a wine guide and make reservations in advance. For the family-run smaller wineries, pop in and enjoy! Santé!

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie: A Medieval Gem in the French Dordogne

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a tiny village, population 220, in the Lot Department in southern France. This tiny hamlet is perched 400’ above the River Lot on a broad promontory overlooking a picturesque valley. Some years ago it was voted the #1 Most Beautiful Village in France. Consequently it sees a lot of tourists—so arrive early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds!  

During the Middle Ages, the town became a center for woodworking and related crafts. Until the late 19th century, craftsmen could still be seen at their lathes and tables in the tiny shop fronts set in small archways sprinkled throughout the town. Today, you can see some of these craftsman’s tiny alcoves abutting stone cottages; many of them have morphed into souvenir shops or enlarged to form inviting restaurants or ice cream shops. Cottages lining the streets often have corbelled façades, exposed beams, or bays with mullioned windows popular in the Renaissance. The pedestrian-only streets are cobbled as you might expect in this medieval jewell that seems untouched by the passage of the centuries. The picture above shows a furry pup relaxing in a shady spot unafraid of being run over by a tourist’s BMW—one of the joys of travel to rural France in these historic villages.

D-14+Saint+Cirq.jpg

Still, there are plenty of eateries and boutiques nestled in the crevices of these ancient walls to satisfy most tourist needs. We spied a pretty rose covered terrace just above us as we wandered and decided to pop in for lunch. La Table Du Produceur is set high up in the nearly vertical village. It has seating for just 16 people and is rightly famous for its duck cuisine, specifically foie gras, plus other classic Dordogne favorites like cassoulet, as well as local wines from Cahors or Bergerac. As we always say, lunch is usually the best meal of the day in France—and this restaurant served up a perfect repast.

Afterward, you can pop into some of the charming ateliers or shops for some classic French shopping. Pick up some cans or jars of foie gras, country paté, baguettes, cookies, or fruit preserves, as well as wine and liquors, scented soaps and bath products, French clothing, Bric-à-brac, and other medieval souvenirs like candlesticks, bronze keys, and French baskets, just to name a few.  

Market day is Wednesday beginning at 4pm. We usually recommend trying to coordinate visits with French village market days. And this one draws both locals haggling over the fresh produce, fish, and game, as well as tourists from all over the globe enjoying the spectacle!

If you visit Rocamadour, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is just an hour’s drive away; it’s a good antidote to the crowds in the famous place of pilgrimage at Rocamadour. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is on the D40 two hours drive from Toulouse and two and half hours drive from Bergerac in the Dordogne. It will not disappoint—and you may make some new French friends while you’re there!  

D-15 Kiki.jpg