One of the nice things that comes from writing about Bordeaux is that people e-mail me all the time telling me about their visits to Bordeaux. The same questions come up all the time from readers, so I thought I would pose them to an expert.
Caroline Matthews is the Director at Bordeaux Uncorked, one of the most respected Bordeaux tourism companies. She has a lot of great advice for tourists, if you are planning a trip to Bordeaux I definitely recommend using Bordeaux Uncorked to help with the trip planning.
1. What made you decide to focus on tourism in Bordeaux? What is it that you love about the city and the surrounding region?
Known as the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ of France, Bordeaux has a lot of the advantages of a major city – culture, gastronomy and shopping – without many of the disadvantages. Coupled with an interesting history and beautiful architecture, the city is a great place to spend some time, with most visitors wishing they could stay for longer. These are just a few of the things which attracted me to living here.
2. What does a package with Bordeaux Uncorked generally include and how customizable is it?
To really gain a good understanding of Bordeaux and its wines, we recommend 3 or 4-day trips which allow enough time to explore some of the major wine regions; the Médoc, the Right Bank, Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes – while also providing opportunities to get to know the city itself. However, depending on the level of knowledge and interest in wine, tours can vary from 1 day to a week and all are fully bespoke.
While we aim to incorporate a client’s wishes when organising a tour, we also ensure that we include visits to châteaux which are memorable as well as educational.
3. What are some common mistakes/surprises for first time travelers to Bordeaux?
Some visitors are surprised about the level of wine tourism on offer at Bordelaise châteaux. France is not like California or Australia, and many properties are only at the nascent stages of ‘œnotourisme’. Also, due to the route to market system for the wines, visitors are often amazed that it is not possible to buy cases of wine from the châteaux themselves.
A common mistake by some wine visitors is not allowing enough time to plan for their tour in advance or even, expecting that that can just show up at a château without an appointment! Visits at almost all properties are by appointment only, with some more well known châteaux often being booked up months in advance. To avoid disappointment, its best to work with a local guide who can tailor a tour to your requirements and help open doors to properties that might otherwise be difficult to access.
4. What are some of your favorite non-wine things to do in Bordeaux?
Good food and wine go hand-in-hand, and Bordeaux has a number of great food markets which are worth a visit on a weekend morning. On Friday or Saturday, I head to Le Marché des Capucins, a covered market which spills out to the surrounding pavement. On Sunday, Le Marché des Quais in Chartrons, along the quayside is worth a visit.
5. If you can, list your three favorite restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions in Bordeaux?
For restaurants, it’s hard to beat ‘Le Scoop’ menu at Le Scopitone, 5 Rue Vieille Tour for value. Gravelier at 114 Cours Verdun remains a firm favourite for its excellent fresh and innovative daily menu. L’Organgerie du Jardin Public is a great spot for a coffee or a lunch before a walk around the park.
Some of my favourite hotels include La Maison Bord’eaux 113 Rue Docteur Albert Barraud and Les Sources de Caudalie in Martillac, however we often recommend that clients stay at a château such as La Lagune or Du Tertre.
In Bordeaux itself, some great ways to learn more about the city and its wines include a 2-hour Walking Tour or 2-hour Overview and Tasting of Bordeaux wines, both of which can be booked through the tourist office. Otherwise, just rent a bike and discover the city by yourself, especially as there are no hills!
6. For first time visitors to Bordeaux what Chateaux do you think are "must" visits?
This is a difficult question, especially as there are more than 8,000 châteaux in the region! In Pauillac, Château Pichon Longueville Baron is considered to be one of the most beautiful properties while Château Gruaud Larose in St Julien has a tower from which you can survey the surrounding vineyards and estuary. Further south in the Médoc, a visit to Château Lascombes in Margaux starts with a walk in the vines finishes with a tasting in the château itself. All 3 properties welcome wine tourists.