Enchanting Bordeaux: The Paris of Southwestern France


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.

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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!

Champagne: How to Add More Bubbles to Your Life

© Christy Destremau

© Christy Destremau

Did you know the heart of bubbly France is less than two hours from Paris by train or car? Arrive at the airport in the morning and you could be sipping a glass of Taittinger champagne for lunch along with your lobster salad or brie en croute.

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Reims is the busy center of the champagne region. Here, the top champagne houses have “show rooms” where visitors can learn the history of the champagnerie, tour the caves, and sample a bit of bubbly. (And of course buy a few bottles or cases.) These are some of our favorites.

The surrounding area around Reims is champagne vines and vineyards as far as the eye can see. The local rural hub is Epernay where some of the big houses like Moet & Chandon have tasting houses and tours. But many smaller producers carve out a place as well.

Our favorite champagne adventure, however, is exploring the picturesque champagne route for ourselves. Signs are easy to follow and you can wander this gorgeous, fragrant region at your leisure—with a few champagne tastings along the way. (Try to book in advance.)

There are also several affordable champagne area guides who speak multiple languages. They have a variety of offerings around the area and you can pick and choose depending on your budget. You can tour the caves, walk through the vineyards, see the bottling and riddling processes, see some high end estates or mom-and-pop vineyards, and everything in between. Naturally, you will taste a variety of bubblies as well as champagne-inspired cuisine like champagne sauce or champagne ice cream.

Finally, you may have the opportunity to learn the sabrage, the technique for opening a champagne bottle with a saber like our friend Vic here.

Don’t miss this intoxicating region if only for a day, a week, or more. Santé!

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