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Visiting Bordeaux and Its Surroundings


Bordeaux is a pearl of Southwest France. It is a beautiful historic port city located by the River Garonne, which descends into the rough Atlantic sea. The area around Bordeaux is famous for its vineyards, chateaus, beaches, natural sights, and historical towns and heritage sites, which include medieval castles, cathedrals, abbeys, and manor houses. I first visited the city in the early 2000s when its major buildings made from the local white stone were still covered in black soot, a consequence of decades of impact from the city's industries and traffic. Bordeaux has since gone through a radical transformation, spearheaded by its then-mayor, Alain Juppé. During his tenure, the city's buildings were scraped clean, many roads were turned into pedestrian roads, and the formerly scrubby riverside was converted into an impressive playground for locals and visitors alike. No wonder so many people take a Jettly flight over to see the sights these days. In 2007, 40% of the city was designated as a Unesco world heritage site.

What to Do in Bordeaux

Two of my favorite things to do in Bordeaux are walking around and eating. These two activities also complement each other nicely, as the more you walk, the hungrier you are! The city is very walkable due to its rather compact size. Still, there is also a very convenient tram which allows one to easily hop from one side to the other. Some of the main sights include Place de la Bourse, a magnificent 18th Century complex of buildings near the river. It is reflected in a contemporary addition, the water feature Miroir d'Eau. It is a huge, very shallow pool of water with fountains that occasionally spring up in different formations. The riverbank next to it offers a lovely place to walk around, to have a drink, and to enjoy people watching and looking at the calm Garonne flowing by. The gothic Saint André Cathedral is a Unesco heritage site, and Porte Cailhau is an impressive, fortified gate dating back to medieval times. All around the city, there are charming restaurants offering local delicacies such as oysters, foie gras (duck liver), confit de canard (preserved duck breast), and porcini mushrooms. Or you can stop in one of the numerous beautiful squares just for a glass of delicious local wines.

Sights Around Bordeaux

Bordeaux is a beautiful city, but one can visit it pretty thoroughly in a few days. And cities tend to be similar to each other, so once one has sat in cafés and restaurants, walked around, visited a few museums, done a bit of shopping, and enjoyed drinks on a lovely pedestrian street or a square, there isn't really much else to see or do. In contrast, the area around Bordeaux abounds in magnificent places to visit that are unique to France. So, once you've had enough of the city, I would recommend that you rent a car from the airport (conveniently a tram & a bus away) or from the train station and head to the surrounding areas.

Less than an hour's drive to the south in the Landes region is the bay of Arcachon, known for its oysters, Art Nouveau villas, pine forests, beach, and Europe's largest sand dune, the Dune of Pilat. For outdoor activities, there are many options in the region. There are plenty of surf spots all across the Atlantic coast. Still, Lacanau in the north of Bordeaux is one of the most reliable, with plenty of surf shops and schools where one can rent a board or take lessons. There is also a lake nearby where one can kayak or windsurf on a windy day. Further to the east in Perigord and Lot-et-Garonne, there are plenty of rivers where one can kayak as well as try fishing.

The area around Bordeaux is, of course, known for its vineyards, which produce some of the world's best wines. North of Bordeaux lies Medoc, which boasts some of the world's most famous chateaus such as Château Margaux. To the northeast is the medieval town of Saint-Emilion, which is the heart of the renowned wine region named after the town. Further south is the region Entre-Deux-Mer, also known for its delicious wines and dozens of medieval towns with churches, abbeys, and castles.

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