Biking Around the Beauty of Bordeaux
Watching the World Cup Winners #allezlesbleus
We already knew finding a seat to watch the 2018 World Cup would be hard. We had experienced increasing difficulty in Nice for the semis and Marseilles for the quarters, and Portugal and Spain for the groups. We noticed a lot of restaurants and bars temporarily put up flatscreen TVs, where all the patio chairs face the main attraction. This was what we were aiming for, but we knew it would be an uphill battle because we couldn’t find a place to take a reservation, there was no giant public screening, and we only had 2 hours before kickoff for the biggest game in the year.
Once we checked into our room, we quickly biked into the center of town and started wandering the streets, peering into one bar after another. Each bar seemed more packed than the next and each time our hopeful gazes at the waitstaff were denied with a head shake that unmistakably said – sorry we’re full. So we kept walking. We almost thought we had it when we found a small shop with a huge projector and a number of empty barstools. Alas, after Y bought a beer the owner conveniently informed us those seats were reserved (at least most of Europe have open container laws).
How do you describe the feeling of searching streets to find a spot to sit, and then getting exasperated, almost giving up until you see someone vacate a table at cafe which doesn’t have a television, BUT is right next to two other shops with outdoor televisions? You’d think it would be relief, but what’s the word for extra grateful? Because as you’re sitting down enjoying your drink and cherishing the luck, an hour later, it begins to drizzle a little, and then right when the game begins, it rains a little harder. You think, lucky me… I’m sitting close enough to the cafe where it can unfurl its awning and cover me. And then, right there, the heavens open up and it POURS and everyone starts running to you and any available cover. The horns blow and although there is no sound, there is enough excitement in the air. The noise of fat raindrops hitting their targets, nervous energy, horns, chants, distant thunder, and red white and blue. The water gushes on, steadily coming out of a spigot in the sky.
You are no longer sitting at your table, but standing, as everyone is shoulder to shoulder under the awning. You watch father and son upend now-vacated plastic chairs over their heads to continue watching the game. You watch those who thought they could tough it out, slowly leave. Then France scores. It’s a loud hearty cheer for good minutes, and Croatia equalizes not too long after.
The rest of the game is history, France plays tremendously, despite the silly goal that slips through.
The shops are empty, the French set off fireworks, flumes in their nation’s colors. Men (why is it only men?) crawl over the Three Graces, waving flags, clapping hands, yelling into the night. Today, the French are champions. Today, we live vicariously through them and wonder if we’ll ever experience a world cup win like this again.
Bordeaux is normally associated with expensive wine and one never thinks of Bordeaux when they think to visit France. They think of Paris and Versailles, Normandy and Brittany for the history buffs, South of France for the rich and famous, Provence for the bucolic countryside. But damn, Bordeaux is so underrated. Rent a bike, wander around the city, enjoy the wine (there are reasonably priced ones!).
Some fun facts about the city itself..
- Bordeaux was an English city for 300 years.
- Stone’s Gate: first gift to king of France after 100 years war
- St. Peter’s Square: where we watched World Cup, used to be the first harbor here, but it was buried
- Canelle: a sweet, chewy treat that tastes faintly of cough drop It’s not worth going out of your way for it, but it’s also a cheap try.
Le Miroir d’eau (★★★)
Visit the mirror any time of day, wake up early from jet lag and enjoy. Go late at night for a post-dinner walk. The promenade is wide, perfect for bike rides along the river.
La Cite du Vin (★★☆)
Very impressive and technology heavy. Don’t be afraid to pass a section you’re not interested in, there is SO MUCH MORE. Highly recommend if you like wine. Must do if you are a wine fanatic.
Ignore the lame name, but we sadly did not make it to the Intercontinental’s rooftop bar due to the weather, but will make it a must on the next trip. Should have some great views.
One of the other things we loved about Bordeaux was not just its beauty and easy-going nature, but its a great base for some wonderful day trips.
Dune de Pilat
You could read about it, you could Google and look up photos, but man this place is so freaking cool. There’s just something breathtaking about what should be a very ordinary beach, be desert dunes constantly growing, eating into the forest on the other side. You turn your head and on one side is the endless shimmering sea and on the other, a dark green carpet.
- Plan to spend a few hours here. Come early morning or towards sunset when it’s cooled down and less crowded. We drove from Bordeaux, following signs to the parking lot (cheaply priced). Some bring picnics, but it looked like you might get a lot of sand in your sandwich if the wind kicks up.
- You will be wading around in sand, so bring as little stuff as possible and wear flip flops!
- You walk about five minutes from the parking lot to the base of the dune. The stairs on the side of the dune take another five to ten minutes. After that, you’re on top of the world.
We unfortunately didn’t get a chance to explore Arachon because most places were closed. However, we still enjoyed their famous oysters at
Le Pitt (★★★)
We shared a Plat du Pitt which was bomb and plenty for two: creamy arachon oysters, sea snails, and perfectly boiled Malaysian shrimps with beautiful aioli, slightly warm baguette bits, pork pate, and French butter. It’s in front of a gaudy casino, but the ambiance is just right.
Lastly, but definitely not least, Saint-Émilion is an hour drive away and the perfect start for a day of visiting wineries. There’s free parking at a lot (see map below), but if you get here too late, street parking is free from 12-2pm and fairly reasonable. It’s a beautiful little village that you can wander through, there’s a few viewpoints which are marked below. Besides wine, the treat to supposedly get are macaroons, which are delicious, though overpriced, almond cookies. We unfortunately didn’t have enough time to check out the wineries in the area, but suggest stopping at the Tourism Office first. They have a book of all the local wineries and can assist with narrowing down a few for you to visit. They also have wifi!
Clos des Monets (★★)
Because we didn’t visit a winery, we made sure to stop by a wine cave, which was surprisingly big! It used to be an old quarry, but now houses wines. A tasting of three reds was only €5 and can be applied to any purchase. The woman who assisted us was a lovely American who gave us a primer on the St. Émilion blend, which is a 80% Merlot. We learned about aging wines and were glad we took some time. We grabbed a bottle of their white dessert wine, but would recommend buying their reds to save and age!
- Some vistas are also marked on the map below: