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!

California Wine Tasting

It’s a proven fact—at least according to our taste buds—that wine tasted at the vineyard source seems richer than the same wine consumed at home or in a restaurant. This is probably a situational prejudice that has to do with vineyard eye candy, wine bouquet aromas, and conviviality of the experience. If we admit it, we love to taste most ANY wine at the source because it makes such a delicious memory. 

This isn’t to say that wine sold by the bottle or case at your favorite wine outlet is of lesser quality. But tasting wine at its birthplace, often poured by the makers themselves, enhances the experience of the coming slurp. A knowledgeable server with a story or two adds to the wine’s allure—and you may fall in love instantly the minute you take a sip.   

 California has some very fine wine tasting venues. (We may be writing a few of these posts since you could probably taste wine all over the state and take years to do it.) When tasting in Northern California’s Napa or Sonoma, Central Coast’s Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo, or down south in Temecula Valley, it’s easy to drive along the main routes and veer into a winery to sample the publicwares. 

 We’ve found that a little research and a few dollars toward aprivatefood and wine pairing or barrel tasting can net you a much more fulfilling experience, however, depending on your time and budget.

For example, the private tour and tasting at Far Niente in Napa is by appointment only. The tasting includes a range of their best wines paired with food, an extensive tour of the winery environs, and a wander through the vintage car collection of founder Gil Nickel. The tour lasts 90 minutes and costs around $50. 

 Justin Winery in Paso Robles is another chance to move above the usual. While drive up tastings are available, Justin offers a range of personalized tastings at the Château that are well worth the small group experience.  

When we wine taste, we typically schedule nor more than two tastings a day with lunch in between. This keeps us safe on the road and makes sure the tastings don’t blur together. (Remember to spit; you don’t have to gulp down every drop!)

In future postings, we’ll share some of our quirkiest experiences tasting wine all over the world, including France, Switzerland, Germany, England, Spain, and more. But tasting at your local winery can be just as fun. 

Sip and Enjoy!