Classic France - go native for a week or two
The Bordeaux Countryside is classic France, and more.
The home of ancient, characterful villages and market towns such as St Emilion, exceptional food and, of course, wine - including the grands crus which make the region famous.
There’s also rolling countryside, historic sites and startling Baroque châteaux. Plus recently transformed Bordeaux for modern European city-culture.
All of this and magnificent Atlantic beaches, tranquil lakes, even the caves and gorges of the Dordogne are just an easy day-trip away.
1. Private tour of a small 'artisanal' wine producer - many are expert at conveying the art and passion that goes into making a bottle of good Bordeaux wine, after all it's their life!
2. A day in Bordeaux, strolling the Quartier St Pierre - along ancient narrow pedestrianed streets you happen unexpectedly on beautiful squares, stunning churches, bijou shops - a delight
3. Browsing the arcades and stalls on market day, followed by lunch in one the busy cafes on the square - French life at its most animated and fun
4. Cycle ride from Créon along the dis-used railway to explore one of the nearby villages
5. Take the Larmarque-to-Blaye ferry, lunch and stroll around this historic town, then home again through the Libournais - an easy journey of delightful contrasts
Numerous tracks which enable you to safely see the countryside. One of the best is a disused railway line running between Sauveterre-de-Guyenne and Bordeaux. At a distance of 55 kms each way, this is not for the beginner although the route is mostly flat. You can pick the trail up about half-way at Créon, where the Créon Station Velos at the station can help with bike hire and equipment. An on-line map of the route is available from the Gironde Tourist Board cycling web page. There are hire shops in the major towns.
There are opportunities for horse-riding throughout the region, including in the Médoc vineyards, through forest at Belin-Beliet south of Bordeaux, and in the Entre-deux-Mers countryside at Sadirac (near Créon) and Monségur (near Duras). A map of trails around Belin-Beliet is available form the Gironde Tourist Board's walking and horse-riding web page: .
The Gironde tourist office publishes 19 walkers’ routes including the areas around St Emilion, Créon,Sauveterre-de-Guyenne, Langon and Cadillac. Many of these routes are also suitable for bikes.
The annual Medoc Marathon takes place each year on the second Saturday in September.
Available on local rivers - this is a fantastically different way of seeing the landscape, with over 40 miles of circuits nearby, on the River Leyre at Belin-Beliet, the Ciron at Villandraut and the Dordogne close to St Emilion and its tributary, the L’Isle.
There are 11 courses in the Pays des Vins, most in a cluster in a 30-40 minute drive of Bordeaux. take a look at our golfing holidays in south west France.
Waterskiing, windsurfing, boat rides, etc, are available at lakes in and close to the Pays des Vins at Hostens(southern Gironde), Blasimon (near Creon) and Lac de Clarens nr Casteljaloux.
Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa is in the middle of the Château Smith Haut Lafitte vineyards, just south of Bordeaux. The spa offers unique beauty treatments derived from grand cru grapes of the Graves appelation renowned for their anti-ageing and micro-circulation improving properties - in short, visitors apparently come out feeling good! Combine it with a vineyard visit (by appointment) too.
Learn how to cook like a Michelin-starred Aquitaine chef! Several establishments offer courses in the region, including: Les Sources de Caudalie about 25 kms south west of Bordeaux, and Chapon Fin cookery school in Bordeaux itself.
As well as offering a wealth of places of interest of its own, the Pays des Vins is also located such that highlights of the Aquitaine coast and even the Dordogne are within a 60-90 minute drive.
A 'must-do' of any trip to this region, for the quality and colour of the produce, and the lively atmosphere. To the east of the region are the markets of Bergerac, Ste-Foy-la-Grande. Eymet, Miramont, Duras & Monsegur. To the west there’s Cadillac, Créon, La Réole, Libourne, Langon, plus Bazas, Salles and St Symphorien to the south.
Châteaux & vineyard visits
Where to start?! If tasting & learning is your aim, to help over 650 wine-making properties are members of the Vignobles & Chaisin Bordeaux, a scheme under which producers offer guided tours and assisted tastings. Many of our owners in the region know local wine-makers (one or two are winemakers themselves) who will give you a highly personalised tour of their vineyards and cellars – it adds another dimension to a wine’s taste when you’ve visited the terroir and met the viticulteur who bottled it!
If you simply want to gaze at the more sumptuous châteaux, a good option is the route des vins in the Médoc, the D2 road just south of Lesparre-Médoc to Macau, which takes you past the most famous and prestigious properties: Château Cos d’Estournel, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Latour and Château Margaux.
Many of the major châteaux only offer tours and tastings by appointment, simply because they are very popular! (Follow the links above for contatc details.) However there are a few which are open to casual visitors, for example: Château Siran, Labarde (Médoc); Château de Rouillac (Pessac-Léognan); Château de Malle (Sauternes, highly recommended - afternoons only without appointment); Château Le Luc Regula (Entre-Deux-Mers); Château de Roques (St Emilion).
Literary-minded visitors might enjoy visiting writers’ châteaux, including those of Montaigne (Chateau de la Brede, approx. 20 kms south of Bordeaux) and Francois Mauriac's country house at Saint Maixant (another 20 kms south-west from La Brede)
Historic villages and towns
In the Pays des Vins you are spoilt for choice. St Emilion is the one most people head for, but go early in the day, or out of season, to avoid the crowds. Equally historic, but smaller, are Sauve-Majeure and La Réole, definitely worth a visit. Many other of the region’s towns boast character and history – Libourne, Créon, Duras,Sainte Foy-la-Grande are all very enjoyable places to lunch and then stroll afterwards.
City culture in Bordeaux
It used to be a bit grim and a touch snooty. These days, however, Bordeaux is a transformed city: smartened-up buildings, extensively pedestrianised and a 21st century tram system, the combination of historic and new makes Bordeaux the epitome of a modern European city. This didn't happen overnight; the revitalisation of Bordeaux has taken 15 years.
The city centre around the Grand Théatre and Cours de l’Intendance is a marvel – it’s not difficult to appreciate the wealth and vision of the city’s planners of its hey-days, over two centuries ago. Try the free entry Musee d'Aquitaine to gem up on Bordeaux history.
Extensive shopping on the Rue Ste Catherine, a vast choice of cafés and restaurants, the stunning Cathédrale St-André, make Bordeaux an excellent day or two out. The Bordeaux tourist office by the Grand Théatre offers walking guides.
The riverfront is now the coolest part of the city. At the Facade des Quais a 'must visit' is the Place de la Bourse, a shimmering mirror of water which cools off hot feet on a summer's day and looks breathtaking when illuminated at night. The whole area is buzzing with cafes, galleries and restaurants. Wine buffs should head straight for Maison du Vin, HQ of the Bordeaux Wine Council - they do wine-tasting courses too. Yum.
If you are staying for a bite, try l'Autre Petit Bois (12 Place du Parelemt) or Fernand (7 Quai de la Douane).
Days by the lake
There are inland lakes at Hostens (southern Gironde), Lac de Clarens nr Casteljaloux (south-west part of the Pays des Vins, on the Lot-et-Garonne border) and at Blasimon (Entre-Deux-Mers) All have sandy beaches, and bathing is usually supervised in July & August. With a picnic it’s a very pleasant and relaxing day.
Days at the seaside
The endless expanses of golden sand and rolling waves characteristic of the Atlantic coast's beaches - Le Grand Crohot, about 10 km due west of Lège-Cap Ferret is particularly recommended, you can always find a quiet spot to yourself. Alternatively, there's the very family-friendly resorts of Lacanau-Océan and Arcachon. Or try the oyster-farming villages and pine-and-sand-dune landscape of La Presqu'Ile de Cap Ferret, a very different world from the Pays des Vins.
Explore the Dordogne
To the north and east is the rich gastronomic and cultural heritage of the Dordogne - its truffles, many caves (eg at Sarlat, Lascaux, Font-de-Gaume) and fortified towns are within an hour and a half's drive.
Alternative Aquitaine's brief introduction to the wines of Bordeaux, focusing on the five best-known wine-producing regions:
The home of world-class wine. Made up of five famous appellations (north to south) on the left bank of the Gironde north-west of Bordeaux: Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Listrac-Médoc and, of course,Margaux. Famed for deep, exceptionally characterful, Cabernet-Sauvignon based reds.
Graves & Pessac-Léognan
South-east of Bordeaux on the left-bank of the Garonne (as the Gironde becomes as you ascend the river south-eastwards). Produces outstanding, blackcurranty Cabernet-Sauvignon-based reds and flinty Sauvignon Blancs, the ideal accompaniment to Cap Ferret oysters.
Landlocked by the Graves region is the Sauternes appellation, known for exceptionally high quality sweet white wines based on the Sémillon grape variety. The best known example is probably Château Yquem, the producer of the world’s greatest sweet wine. Perfect with its Gascon partner, foie gras - food and wine heaven.
Entre-Deux-Mers is the area between the rivers Dordogne and Garonne, extending from Bordeaux towards the Dordogne/Lot border near Duras. Home to a great variety of wines – deep, fruity reds (Cabernet-Sauvignon/Merlot blends), though probably better for known for its sweet and dry whites. Many multi-skilled producers make all three!
St Emilion & Pomerol
St Emilion and Pomerol rival the aristocrats of the Haut-Médoc as the source of Bordeaux's best known wines. Characterised by intense, merlot-based reds, including Pétrus, possibly the most famous wine in the world? The area extends in the north-west into the less well-known Côtes de Blaye and Côtes de Bourg (on the right bank of the Gironde, not shown on the map), with the same emphasis on merlot-based reds.
If you enjoy good food and wine, Pays des Vins is the right place for you!
Local markets are famed for their huge range of produce: mushrooms, poultry (especially capons), Jerusalem artichokes, rare potatoes, radishes, elderberries… an endless list of local specialities – and we’ve not even started on the Périgord truffles, Agen prunes, etc, from neighbouring departments.
Here’s a selection of local dishes to whet your appetite:
Oysters (huîtres) from the Bay of Arcachon, served with little sausages (crépinettes), fresh bread and salted butter. Or Blaye asparagus (asperges) from the right bank of the Gironde, served plain or with a vinaigrette dressing. Or why not foie gras, like the rest of the south-west a staple of the Psys des Vins diet, with a glass offine Sauternes?
We can suggest white shrimps (crevettes) from the Gironde estuary, seasoned with aniseed; or Bordeaux-style lamprey (lamproie à la Bordelaise), a classic of Pay des Vins cooking, served in a red wine and leek sauce. Or asimple sea-bass (bar or loup), landed in Arcachon, grilled and served with a shallot sauce? How about Médoc king prawns (langoustines) – almost half of France’s production comes from here.
Many simple, hearty choices based on exceptional quality of produce: oven-roasted Pauillac lamb (agneau de Pauillac), a meat as tender as they come; or the equally tender boeuf de Bazas, served with parsley and garlic. Bordeaux-style rib steak (entrecôte à la Bordelaise) cooked on vine shoots and served with a red-wine and shallot sauce. Wood pigeon (palombe), a prized hunting produce in the Gironde (you might spot the shooting platforms – palombiers – on woodland walks), cooked with salami.
Still hungry? We’ve not finished yet! Our favourite desserts are: cannelés, delicious small bordelaise cakes, crunchy and dark on the outside, soft and pale in the centre with a hint of rum. Impossible to eat just one at a sitting! Or St Emilion macarons, fondant cakes made of almonds, sugar and egg-white. And not forgettingsabayon au Sauternes, a cream mousse made of egg yolk, sugar and flavoured with Sauternes wine.
Where to Eat
An innovative scheme is also run in Aquitaine in association with 74 restauranteurs and 23 café owners, calledAssiette et Café de Pays. Establishments with this label, many of them in the Pays des Vins, are committed toenabling visitors to sample local specialities and explain their origins, all in a convivial atmosphere. A wonderful way of making French life more accessible! A pdf with details and participating establishments is available from Tourism Aquitaine (click to download).
OFFICES DE TOURISME:
Bordeaux - Gironde - Medoc - Creon - Duras - Entre-Deux-Mers - Libourne - Pauillac - Sauternes, Graves, Langon - St Emilion - Aquitaine
ACTIVITIES & VISITS:
Spa treatments Bordeaux - Creon Cycle Station - Horse riding centre Volcelest, Belin-Beliet - Walking, cycling, horse-riding trails in the Pays des Vins - Golf courses in the Bordeaux region - Arcachon Aqualand Park
Domaine de Blasimon, nr Creon - Hostens, nr Langon
Cos d'Estournel - Lafite-Rothschild - Latour - Margaux - Mouton-Rothschild - Petrus - Yquem
FOOD AND DRINK:
Introduction to the Wines of Bordeaux - List of wine producing properties offering tastings/tours - Cookery classes in Bordeaux - Cafes and restaurants offering local specialities