I’m Senior News Editor Melissa Yeager and I just got back from Bordeaux, France, where I journeyed after checking out airline French bee’s inaugural nonstop flight between Los Angeles International and Paris’ Orly airports.
The carrier offers a combination air and rail package so after spending the night in Paris, I boarded the afternoon high-speed train to Bordeaux which connects the two cities in just 2:45 hours.
A sheer splendor for foodies and lovers of fine wine, the pedestrian-friendly 6th largest city in France has more than 1,810 hectares of its urban area protected as a Unesco world heritage site. It also has a history as full-bodied as its internationally known wines, including at one time being part of England and supplying wine to the King's court.
A wine lover myself, I found Bordeaux to be a great jumping-off point to visit the surrounding vineyards and towns in the region. At the time of travel, masks were still required on public transit but that was the only notable COVID-19 restriction (and those are no longer required as of May 15). The city buzzed with that springtime energy, with cafés filled with customers on their patios relishing the sunlight and warmer temperatures.
Where’d you stay?
I stayed at the InterContinental Bordeaux - Le Grand which is located just across from the iconic Opéra National de Bordeaux Grand Théâtre and adjacent to the Rue Sainte-Catherine pedestrian shopping street.
Dating back more than 200 years, the enchanting property has hosted luxury travelers for centuries, boasting a Guerlain spa as well as two restaurants, one which is Gordon Ramsay's Michelin two-star rated Le Pressoir d’Argent.
If you’re staying at the hotel, make sure you make time to take a swim in the stunning indoor pool that will make you feel like a royal, or head to the rooftop hot tub overlooking the city.
What notable foods did you try?
Of course, as a wine enthusiast, I readily accepted my mission to sample the full-bodied red blend that made the region famous. (If you’re not into wine or are bringing children, ask for one of the sparkling grape juice selections derived from the same vines but without the alcohol.)
Then, of course, what is a trip to France without pastries for dessert? The region is known for its canelés, a small rum and vanilla flavored treat. Cylindrical in shape, canelés are caramelized on the outside, but once you bite through the thick crust, a soft, custard-based interior greets your taste buds.
Best tip for someone who wants to plan the same trip?
Get outside of town and explore some of the nearby vineyards and towns. Nearby Saint-Émilion punches far above its weight. A medieval town with just shy of 2,000 year-round residents, it attracts international fame thanks to the fine wines that have been produced from its surrounding vineyards for centuries.
Wine and macaron shops line its cobblestone streets. If you tire of walking, you can rent bikes from the tourism office. Many visitors walk past it but make sure to check out the monolithic church tucked underneath the bell tower. You'll need to book a tour through the tourism office as you're not allowed to explore the fragile structure without a guide.
What museum did you enjoy? La Cité du Vin
La Cité du Vin is a full-day experience, with a permanent exhibit documenting the history of wine. The exhibition is immersive and extensive. My favorite part was the section that taught you to smell the different aromas of the wine by sniffing different scents.
There’s a wine shop, café and restaurant on-site if you want to dine there. But the highlight of the tour is the tasting you receive at the end which is done at The Belvédère on the 8th floor. Grab your desired vintage and then head outside to enjoy sweeping views of the city.
What was the most useful tip you received before you departed?
From a TikTok video, I learned about these reusable “Wine Angels” packing sleeves from Amazon to bring home wine in your suitcase. These sleeves surround the wine with bubble wrap, but also zip, fold over and velcro shut so if the bottle happens to break, it ideally won’t spill on the contents of your suitcase.
Three bottles of wine from Saint-Émilion made it safely in my checked baggage to my home in Phoenix, Arizona. My only regret is not bringing a bigger suitcase and more sleeves. (You can also use these for other glass bottles like olive oil.)
Melissa traveled to Bordeaux with the support of French bee (frenchbee.com), Atout France (www.france.fr), Nouvelle Aquitaine Regional Tourism Board (www.nouvelle-aquitaine-tourisme.com/en) and the Bordeaux Tourist Office (www.bordeaux-tourisme.com). Lonely Planet does not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.