You don’t need to rent a car or travel far from Bordeaux to have a fun and enriching day trip. Some of this region’s treasures can be found in Pessac, one of Bordeaux’s biggest suburbs. Just jump on a tram or your bike and enjoy a full day of history, nature, wine, and street art in a beautiful historic town. The trip I planned is best done by bike but you can also do it by foot, car, or public transport.
Here are all the places I’m going to discuss in this article:
Start your day in the center of Pessac, next to the Pessac Centre tram station. It is one of the liveliest city centers in Bordeaux metropole, with plenty of restaurants, coffee places, and excellent food shops. Here are some of my favorite places in the center of Pessac:
Eat and Coffee – If you want to start your day with coffee or a light lunch, head to the chic coffee shop Eat and Coffee at 14 Place de la Liberté.
Franck Labasse Patisserie – just in front of the coffee shop don’t miss the great chocolatier and patissiere Franck Labasse at 11 Place de la Liberté.
Ragazzi da Peppone – If you’re hungry, just know that you’re standing next to one of the best Italian restaurants in the region. Ragazzi da Peppone is located at 8 Place de la Liberté.
Fromagerie Dauchez – on the main street (30 Avenue Pasteur) you can also find a fantastic cheese shop.
Every Tuesday and Saturday there’s a very nice market in the center of Pessac. Try to plan your trip on one of these days as the center tends to be livelier on market days.
Le marché Bourrec – the biggest outdoor market of Pessac takes place every Sunday on Avenue Pierre Wiehn. This is one of the biggest markets in Bordeaux metropole with more than 170 stalls selling the best products the region has to offer.
Street art in the center of Pessac
Pessac is one of the main street art centers in Bordeaux metropole and even has an annual festival, called Vibrations Urbaines, dedicated to street art. You can find dozens of murals all over town with some located close to the center of Pessac.
My favorite one is located near the train station in Pessac, at 25 Place de la 5ème République. The huge mural of an elderly man called Entre Deux Mondes was created by the French duo Sismikazot in 2017. On the map I’ve made for this article, you can find several other murals in the center of Pessac, marked with a yellow painter’s palette sign.
If you’re a street art geek, you can find many more murals all over Pessac on this site.
Amazing villas in Quartier Casino
Another one of Pessac’s hidden gems is the beautiful villas in quartier Casino, on rue Goya and Rue Alexandre Jaubert. Between 1897 and 1904, a local architect named Hector Loubatie built 17 villas that were inspired by the villas of Ville d’Hiver (the winter town) in Arcachon. Today the neighborhood looks like mini Arcachon and the houses carry the nickname “arcachonnaises”. During the Belle Epoque, these villas were the resort houses of wealthy Bordeaux residents.
Get on your bike and discover Pessac
From the elegant center of Pessac, you can start your cycling tour to discover some of the main attractions of this town, from wine to nature and fascinating architecture. I remind you that this tour is doable by car or public transport and even on foot if you’re in good shape. However, I strongly recommend exploring Pessac by bike.
Cité Frugès – Le Corbusier
This colorful residential neighborhood can be easily overlooked, but it’s actually one of the most important monuments of Pessac. The Cité Frugès is the first housing project of the famous Swiss-French architect, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier.
The project was initiated by Henry Frugès, a wealthy industrialist in order to house working-class families in the 20s. In this project, Corbusier experimented with many new architectural ideas, incorporating strict geometric shapes, panoramic terraces, and vibrant colors in his design.
Cité Frugès was listed as a UNESCO heritage site in 2016.
One of the houses in the district is a museum where you can learn more about the project and visit the house interior with all of the original features. See all the details about the visits on this site. The address is 4 Rue le Corbusier, 33600 Pessac.
Taste wine at Château Pape Clément
Château Pape Clément is a Grand Cru Classé wine labeled under the Pessac Leognan appellation. Pessac Leognan, a wine region that was traditionally labeled under the Graves appellation, became a separate appellation only in 1987. This extraordinary château is one of the best wineries around Bordeaux and definitely worth a visit when you’re in Pessac.
The vineyards of Château Pape Clément were planted at the request of the Archbishop of Bordeaux, the future Pope Clement V. The château itself was built much later and has beautiful Neo-Gothic embellishments. Today apart from producing wine it’s also one of the most beautiful luxury hotels in Bordeaux. The chateau offers daily visits in both French and English as well as winemaking workshops where you can assemble your own wine.
It’s time for some nature! The cyclers or hikers among you will love this part of the trip. From Château Pape Clément take avenue du Pont de l’Orient north until you get to rue Surcouf (it will be to your left), a green pleasant path that follows the Peugeu stream.
The Peugeu is quite a long river that centuries ago was running through the center of Bordeaux flowing into the Garonne river (around Cours Alsace Lorraine). Since then the part running through the city center was covered leaving it exposed to the open air only in the suburbs. On this trip, We’ll be following the stream in the southwest direction.
On the way (around the intersection with Avenue de Noes) you’ll pass by Moulin de Noes, an 18th-century watermill. This is a very picturesque spot for a picnic.
The Ecosite of Bourgailh
From the Moulin de Noes, we’ll be heading to our last destination, the Bourgaill forest. To do that you’ll have to cross the highway through Passerelle Rocade (find the path from rue Ciceron). On the other side continue on Rue des Frênes until it meets Avenue de Monbalo, then take the cycling path on your right until you reach the eco-park of Bourgailh.
The Ecosite of Bourgailh is not just a park, it’s a universe of plants put together in great landscape design. The area of the Forêt du Bourgailh includes a 2.6 km walking trail, the largest tropical greenhouse in the region, sports facilities, a skate park, an amphitheater, a zoo, and a beautiful animal-themed playground. This is one of the most kids-friendly places in the metropole and on weekends it’s filled with families cycling and hiking.
There are also plenty of nice ecological and educational events taking place there throughout the year, such as mushroom hunting, a pumpkin festival, planting workshops, and more.
Pessac is actually one of the easiest day trips on my site. It’s located about 10 minutes drive from Bordeaux center and is very accessible by public transport. You can take tram B from the center of Bordeaux bringing you to the Pessac Centre tram station. You can also get there by train from Gare Saint-Jean and by several buses from different parts of Bordeaux.
However, as I already mentioned the best way to do this day trip is by bike! If you don’t have your own bike you can use one of the city bikes of Bordeaux métropole – some of the stations are located in Pessac center so you can start and finish your day there. See all the bike stations in the center of Pessac in this link.
Aubeterre sur Dronne is a small village located in the Charente department in the southwest of France. Aubeterre is labeled as one of France’s most beautiful villages and has a lot to offer, historic monuments, pretty houses, art galleries, and lively restaurants and coffee places. The town is located on the meeting point of the Charente, Gironde, and Dordogne departments which makes it a perfect day trip from many cities in the region such as Bordeaux, Cognac, Angouleme, Perigueux, Bergerac, or Saint Emilion. In this article, I’ll tell you why Auberette is worth traveling to and what you are expected to see in and around this beautiful village.
Aubeterre sur Dronne was founded in the 13th century on one of the pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela. Most of the village is built from a white stone typical to many cities and villages in the Charente department. The town feels a bit like an amphitheater with plenty of hanging galleries decorated with a lot of flowers and greenery. Auberrete is situated on the Dronne river and spreads over a hilltop and valley. The two levels are connected by pretty narrow streets with beautiful houses and breathtaking viewpoints on the valley. The town has several interesting monuments, with the most important being the underground church, Eglise souterrain Saint-Jean.
While Aubeterre is quite a small village there are a lot of nice streets and places you should not miss on your day trip there. Start your tour of the village on Place Ludovic Trarieux, named after the influential French politician, Ludovic Trarieux, who was born there in 1840. Trarieux was the founder of the Ligue Francaise pour la défense des droits de l’homme (The Human Rights League of France). This is the liveliest spot in town with several coffee places, restaurants, and boutiques located around the square. For a light lunch, Crêperie de la Source is a cute little restaurant with an amazing view. From here continue to the Eglise souterrain Saint-Jean, the most famous monument in the town.
If there’s one thing that should not be missed in Aubeterre sur Dronne it’s the remarkable monolithic church. The Saint-Jean underground church was carved from one cliff during the 7th century and was considerably enlarged during the 12th century by a community of Benedictine monks. It has a unique form and measures 20 meters high from the interior. The church has a relic pit, a necropolis with 160 stone coffins, and 18 meters high galleries all carved from the same stone. You can visit the site daily throughout the year – see the details here.
From the church start descending to the lower part on the charming Rue Barbichon with its pretty view on the valley. For here turn right to Rue Barbecane where you’ll arrive at Place Merkes Merval, an old washing place. This is a beautiful spot where you can admire the many hanging balconies of Aubeterre. Continue up the street to the main square. If you’re interested in art, don’t miss Espace Ludovic Trarieux on your right as well as Antiquités du Tourniquet, a beautiful antique shop on your left.
From here you can start discovering the western part of the village with its steep and beautiful streets and several historic houses. Don’t miss the Saint Jaques church, a collegiate that was demolished in the 16th century during the wars of Religions. Its remarkable facade is the only original part left from the church that was later rebuilt in the 18th century. Its facade is a real piece of art with arches and sculpted capitals.
Go to the beach
If you’re visiting on a hot day, you can finish your day trip on the Aubeterre beach! To get to the beach, pass the bridge to cross the river and turn right. The facilities on the beach include toilets, showers, a kids’ play area, and a restaurant. The beach is located at the Camping base de loisirs d’aubeterre sur dronne that also offers many water activities like kayaking and SUPs. See more details here.
What to see around Aubeterre sur Dronne
Aubeterre sur Dronne is a great base to discover other parts of the Southwest of France. Here’s the list of the best places to visit around Aubeterre-sur-Dronne:
Angouleme – the capital of the Charente department is located about 50km north to Aubeterre and is totally worth the visit when in the region. Apart from its beautiful architecture, the city is known as the French capital of street art with tens of murals spread all over the city. Read my article about how to discover the street art scene in Angouleme before heading there.
Cognac – the most famous town in this region is Cognac, obviously thanks to the world-renowned spirit produced there. Cognac is located a bit farther north, about 70 km from Aubeterre but it’s a very interesting place to visit, especially if you want to see how Cognac is made. Read all the details in my article about Cognac.
Villebois-Lavalette – much closer to Aubeterre you can find Chateau de Villebois-Lavalette, a thousand-year-old castle that went through a massive restoration project and can now be visited. The chateau is located in a nice little town (Villebois-Lavalette) with a great covered market.
Riberac – Also very close to Auberette you can find the charming town of Riberac which is located in the Dordogne department. The town that shares the same river with Aubeterre is known for its excellent weekly market every Friday morning.
Where to stay in Aubeterre sur Dronne
If you’re planning to go to this region for a few days there are plenty of hotels and guest houses around the town. If you want to stay in the village itself the Grange Bleuet is a recommended place. See more hotels in Aubeterre sur Dronne here.
Where to park in Aubeterre sur Dronne
There are two big free parking spaces in Aubeterre sur Dronne. The central one is located just in front of the tourist office on Place du Champ de Foire. If there’s no space there, you can go higher to the northern parking lot next to Chemin du Cimetière.
The Bassin d’Arcachon or the Arcachon Bay has become one of the most popular destinations in France with more than half a million visitors heading there during July and August alone. While some people rent a house close to the beach, most tourists go there for day trips from Bordeaux, which is located about an hour’s drive from the bay.If you look at the map you’ll see that the Arcachon bay is quite a big place with plenty of villages and activities so how do you choose where to go? That’s what I’m here for! In this article I’m going to introduce you to some of the best destinations for a day trip or a weekend on Bassin D’Arcachon. The places with the most unique atmosphere, the best beaches, interesting activities for you and your kids and spots where you can enjoy the famous Arcachon oysters.
We can roughly divide the bay into two parts, the north and south of the Bassin. When I’m in the mood for a beautiful village or an unspoilt beach I tend to go to the northern part of Arcachon bay. There, you have the most charming villages on the Arcachon Bay like L’herbe, Le Canon, Andernos les Bains and others. However, if I’m in a more active mood, I’d usually go to the southern part of the bay where you can climb the incredible dune de Pilat, visit the oysters museum, spend a day in a huge birds reserve and kayak on the Eyre river.
You can also join my Facebook group “Travel in the southwest of France” where many enthusiasts of the region share their recommendations for places to visit and things to do in the southwest of France.
Now let’s start discovering some of the most beautiful and interesting places to visit on the Arcachon Bay!
Andernos les Bains – a perfect day trip to the Arcachon Bay
Andernos les Bains is not a prime tourist destination like some of its better-known neighbors on the Bassin d’Arcachon and that, in a way, makes it even more attractive. With an old prehistoric site, 19th-century villas and a long sandy beach overlooking the Bassin, it’s not hard to spend a pleasant day in this seaside resort. Like other towns on the Arcachon bay, Andernos les Bains is also known for oyster farming, and a wealth of restaurants serving delicious oysters and seafood garnish its shores. Most restaurants are located next to the port from which you can take a nice promenade on the longest pier in France. My favorite spot for oysters is Cabane 21 Station des Gus, which is also very kids friendly. But mind you, it’s a spot for real seafood lovers as you won’t find anything else on the menu (except wine of course). Andernos les Bains is also known for its fun events and festivals such as the Festival Cabanes en Fête (an oysters and wine celebration) in December and the Andernos Jazz Festival in July.
How to get from Bordeaux to Andernos les Bains: The best way to get there is by car but if you have no other choice you can also take Bus 601 (Trans Gironde) from Bordeaux center.
L’Herbe – the best-hidden gem on the Arcachon bay
L’herbe is a traditional oyster farming village located on the Cap Ferret Peninsula. Here you won’t find the characteristics of a typical French village, there’s no church nor a central square with a bakery and a restaurant. Nonetheless, you can easily say that it is one of the most beautiful villages in the southwest of France.
There’s something raw and authentic about L’herbe. You get to walk between the colorful cabins of oyster farmers and see them in action on their special workboat. If you like oysters, you’re going to love this place. Plenty of oyster restaurants are spread along the beach serving only the freshest oysters, pork paté and white wine. This is a perfect destination for a sunny half-day trip from Bordeaux, or a full day trip if you add a visit to the beach as well.
How to get from Bordeaux to L’herbe: Same as with Andernos les Bains, a car is the best way to get here as the bus is not a direct one and it takes almost two hours to get to L’herbe. But if you have no choice you can also take Bus 601 (Trans Gironde) from Bordeaux center.
Cap Ferret – dreamy beaches and the best oysters on the Arcachon bay
Cap Ferret is a little town located on the Western part of Bassin d’Arcachon and has been traditionally known as a summer getaway for the French upper class. Although it’s been recently gaining popularity among tourists visiting the south of France, it has yet to lose its relaxing beach village atmosphere, especially if compared to the more southern towns of Arcachon bay.
Cap Ferret is shaped like a narrow tongue with a long string of beautiful sandy beaches on the Atlantic ocean and a view of the eastern side of the Bassin. Apart from its dreamy beaches it’s also known for its ostréiculture industry, which produces some of the best oysters in France. Dozens of oyster cabins and restaurants with a view on the Bassin give Cap-Ferret a unique character that’s worth a visit and a taste.
Another fun thing to do in Cap Ferret is to bike along the beaches and through the pine forest that covers a large part of the Cap Ferret peninsula. There are plenty of bike rentals in Cap Ferret, one of them is Bike rental Cap Gyro (7 Boulevard de la Plage, 33970 Lège-Cap-Ferret).
How to get from Bordeaux to Cap Ferret: The same 601 bus can take you to Cap Ferret but it’ll take you at least two hours to get there, so a car is definitely a better option here. If you’re near Arcachon or le Moulleau, you can see the schedule here.
Arcachon – the city
It’s not my favorite destination on the bay mostly due to it being a town rather than a village. Having said that there are plenty of great things to do in and around the town of Arcachon and if you have the time it’s worth a visit.
The town of Arcachon is divided into four districts, named after the seasons of the year. Ville d’Été, covering the touristic center, main beach, restaurants and boutiques. Ville d’Hiver – the historic center adorned with glamorous 19th-century villas. Ville de Printemps in the west is closer to the most beautiful and less crowded beaches of Arcachon and Ville d’Automne is the beautiful port area packed with great fish restaurants. A visit to Arcachon can easily take the whole day but many tend to combine it with a visit to the Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe and one of the most popular destinations in France.
Another reason to go to Arcachon is the beautiful beaches located on the south part of the bay. Two that I particularly like are petit Nice and La Corniche where you can also grab a drink at the fancy La corniche hotel /restaurant. A fun way to discover that part of the bay is by bike. You can hire one in the center of Arcachon city and just follow the cycling route along the beach.
In my guide to Arcachon city, you can find all the details about things to do, places to eat, where to hire a bike and what beaches are the best ones to go to in Arcachon.
How to get from Bordeaux to Arcachon: Arcachon is the easiest one to get to by train directly from Bordeaux. A train leaves almost every hour from the main station in Bordeaux and the station of Pessac centre. Beware that if you come by car, free parking is not easy to find, so taking the train is advisable during the touristic season. You have more details about parking in my article about Arcachon.
The Magnificent dune du Pilat in Teste de Buch
If there’s one thing in this list I consider a “must” it’s definitely this one. The gigantic sand dune is one of the wonders of the area, with its 60 million metric cubes of sand it’s quite astonishing the first time you see it. Dune du Pilat is Europe’s tallest sand dune, rising to an impressive 110 m high. It’s also 500 meters wide and 2.7 km long so you’ll have plenty of room to wander. You can climb the dune by stairs that are installed from the end of May to early November. If you come during the low season or just feel energetic, you can just climb straight up the sandy slopes.
Once you reach the top, a stunning panoramic view will be revealed with the Cap Ferret peninsula on one side, a huge pine forest on the other and the magnificent Banc d’Arguin nature reserve just in front. After working so hard climbing the dune, you can slide to the other side (when the sand is not too hot of course) and go straight to the beach. If you’re not in a rush you can easily spend the day here, have a nice picnic and swim in the crystal clear water. It’s hard to describe the beauty of this site in words, you really must see it for yourself.
How to get from Bordeaux to dune du Pilat: If you’re coming by public transport, line 1 (Baia company) will take you from the Arcachon train station to Dune to Pilat. Otherwise, you can get there by car and park in the paid parking of the site.
Lanton – a beautiful promenade
If you’re looking for a beautiful quiet place for a long walk, Lanton is the perfect spot for you. You can start your walk from plage de Suzette, which is a little port with a few restaurants on it and just follow the trail that starts next to the boats. If you’ve ever been to the Bassin d’Arcachon you know that the view changes a lot depending on the tide. This trail goes along the bay and that’s why, depending on the time you arrive, it may feel like walking along the beach or in an apocalyptic desert. If you want to escape the crowds in the summer head to Lanton as the scenery and tranquility are just magical.
The birds’ reserve in Teich
The Teich Ornithological Reserve is a protected nature reserve located some 50km from Bordeaux, where you can watch thousands of wild birds from up-close. 110 hectares of wooded areas, saltmarsh, reed beds and meadows stretch out between the mainland and the Bassin d’Arcachon coastline, offering a perfect habitat for many birds. Some stay here permanently and some just pass by.
The Teich Bird Reserve is explored on foot along a 6 km long circular path (with a shorter route proposed to visitors with young kids). The path goes through a rich diversity of natural habitats, giving a great overall picture of the site and its surrounding areas. I would highly advise taking a binocular with you. Many of the birds stay quite far from the designated Viewpoints and are just too distant to observe. Doing the same route with a binocular made the visit much more interesting in my view.
The Reserve Ornithologique du Teich is open all year long except on December 25, and can even be reached by train (the Teich train station is located about 15 minutes walk from the reserve). For more info see the website of the reserve: https://www.reserve-ornithologique-duteich.com/en/
Gujan Mestras – the capital of oysters
Gujan-Mestras is a little town known as the capital of oyster farming on the Bassin d’Arcachon. It has seven oyster ports which you can visit and watch oyster farmers’ work. You can even join one of the farmers and take part in their work for a few hours. Find the list of farmers providing that experience on the tourist office website.
You can also visit the “Maison de Huitre”, an interactive museum where you discover everything about oyster farming. And finally, don’t forget to taste the freshest oysters in one of the cabanes along the coastline, many of which are located at the famous Port de Larros. Gujan-Mestras also has a beautiful beach called Plage de la Hume. Due to its interior position on the Arcachon bay, there are almost no waves and it feels more like a lake than a sea beach, which makes it very kids friendly.
The town hall of Gujan-Mestras is quite active and hosts plenty of nice events for kids and adults in the summer, you can find them all on their site: https://www.gujanmestras.com
How to get to Gujan Mestras? The same train that goes to Arcachon also stops in Gujan Mestras so you can easily get there by train if you don’t want to drive.
These are some of my favorite spots on the Arcachon bay, and I hope it will encourage you to get out and spend at least one day in this magical place.
The Bordeaux wine route is one of the most visited attractions in the south west of France. It’s actually not one but five different wine trails around Bordeaux and one of them is the beautiful Medoc region. “Route des chateaux” is the unofficial name of this magnificent wine trail, which combines nature, history and culture in one beautiful road. If you have more than a day to spend on a wine trip in Bordeaux, you should definitely consider Medoc. In two days, you can see a wealth of beautiful chateaux, taste some of the best wines in the world, go to the beach on the Atlantic Ocean and enjoy the local cuisine. The list of things to do in Medoc is quite long and you can easily turn it into a weeklong vacation if you like. However, as most people go to Medoc for a weekend, I decided to write a two-day itinerary. I tried to cover the most important things to do and places to visit in the Medoc Peninsula, so apart from wine related activities I also included recommendations of beautiful villages to visit, beaches, markets, hotels, restaurants and more. I truly hope this article will help you plan your wine trip in the area and will make you fall in love with the marvelous region of Medoc.
The Medoc wine region consists of eight appellations (AOC) covering 16,500 hectares, which include Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Margaux, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Saint-Estéphe, Moulis and Listrac. The Medoc wine is classified according to the Bordeaux wine official classification of 1855 with five levels of Grand cru classé, Premier cru classé being the highest of the five. There are five chateaux classified as Premier cru classé in the Bordeaux area, four of them being in the Medoc area: Château Margaux, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour and Château Mouton Rothschild. The fifth one is Château Haut-Brion from the Graves wine area. Visiting the Medoc Premier cru chateaux can be complicated as they are usually open only to professionals or by appointment. But you don’t really need these four to make it an unforgettable trip. There are 60 Grand cru classé wineries, craft and cooperative chateaux and many other incredible wine chateaux that you can visit on the Medoc route. Now it’s time to discover them, so let’s dive into the two-day itinerary in the Medoc wine route.
Day one – Châteaux along the Medoc wine road
Start your day from Bordeaux on the D2 road, which is essentially the famous wine road called “Route des châteaux”. It starts at Blanquefort and continues all the way to the top of the Medoc Peninsula. All along the D2 road, you will pass through tens of km of vineyards and châteaux and through towns like Margaux and Pauillac, names you may know from the labels of Bordeaux’s wine bottles. The Medoc wine route is beautiful and you will enjoy it even if you don’t plan to taste any wine at all. Take your time to admire (and take photos of) the breathtaking châteaux that you will randomly see by the road. Some of them are so magical that you start feeling as if you’re on a movie set.
For the full wine route experience you need to actually visit one or several wineries and taste their wines. However, as you will witness, there are so many of them on the D2 road that choosing one or two to visit is practically impossible without some guidance.
Visiting a château in Medoc – how to go on a wine tour?
Visiting a wine château in Medoc is a marvelous experience providing you with a glimpse into wine-making in one of the most prestigious wine areas in the world. Most guided visits in the wineries will start with a tour of the properties, many of which carry historic value. Often this includes the story of a wine making family over several generations. Some châteaux also hold little art museums with family collections. Others display impressive exhibitions of art in their gardens or even in the cellars themselves. In some cases, the property won’t be very impressive but the warm welcome of the family will make it an unforgettable visit.
The second part of the visit deals with the wine itself. You get to visit the vineyards and hear the characteristics of different types of grapes and blends. In most tours, you will continue to the cellars and see some old and new techniques of wine making. And there’s always the fun part, the tastings, where you get to taste two or three different wines of the château.
There are many wineries who welcome visitors to their wineries but it’s important to know that they usually require prior reservations for the tour. However, if you come spontaneously and ask to have a quick look on the property and taste some wine, many of them will happily welcome you inside (if they’re not in the middle of a tour). If you don’t want to be calling the wineries yourself you can buy tickets to many of the tours through the tourist office in Pauillac.
Don’t try to run and see tens of chateaux, there are just too many of them, just take your time to enjoy a few. I recommend visiting two or three châteaux just for the sake of comparison.
Coming from Bordeaux, make the first stop at the southern appellations, not far from the Margaux area. As it’s located only about 30 km from Bordeaux city, you can make it early and still have time to visit more chateaux that day. Some of the châteaux I really loved in this area are: Chateau du Taillan (book a visit here) which is owned by 5 sisters; Chateau d’Arsac, one of the most beautiful properties in Medoc with an extravagant display of art in its enormous gardens (book a visit here). Closer to Margaux itself you have the charming family-run Chateau Siran (book a visit here) and Chateau Kirwan (book a visit here).
The town of Margeaux
Margaux isn’t very impressive on its own, but there are several reasons for a quick stop there during your trip. First one being Mademoiselle de Margaux, a chocolate shop and factory with chocolates you can find only in the region. The factory was created in Margaux in 1969, and produces delicious chocolates that are inspired by wine. If you’re looking for an original present to bring back home from Medoc, this is one of the best options. Also, Margaux is home to one of the most famous châteaux in the world, Château Margaux. They don’t offer visits to individuals but you can still take a walk around some of their facilities and see the magnificent mansion through the gate. If it’s lunch time, there are a few restaurants in the center. Remember, in France all the restaurants close for a break at 14:00 so try not to miss the lunch slot!
Next on our route du vin is Paulliac, one of the main wine destinations in the Bordeaux area. It’s a very nice town with a charming riverfront where you’ll find plenty of restaurants. If you want to stop for a nice meal of mussels and wine, les Moules du Cabanon on the riverfront is the perfect place. Pauillac is also home to the famous Café Lavinal, one of the most renowned dining institutions in the area. If you wish to discover the traditional food of Medoc, this is the place for you.
After lunch, head to the Tourist Office and the Maison du Vin which is located on the riverfront. Contrary to many tourist offices, this one is a very informative resource to all you can do in the area. They have recently launched a new interactive activity for kids and adults where you get to practice your wine smelling skills. They can also advise you on the closest wineries to visit in the afternoon. There are plenty of impressive chateaux to see in the northern area of Medoc, both in Pauillac, Saint Julien and Saint-Estéphe. Some of the most impressive and interesting ones are Château Beychevelle, Château Cos d’Estournel, Château La Tour de By, Château la Tour Carnet,Château Lafon-Rochet andChâteau Pichon Longueville Baron. As mentioned above, many of the wineries require you to book the visits in advance so go to their sites to see more details.
Château Loudenne for a special experience!
Château Loudenne was one of my favorite experiences in the region. It’s a 17th-century mansion, known as château rose, the pink house, which you get to explore during the visit. The château is located almost at the end of the wine route and is the only château in Medoc that has a private port, with a beautiful view on the Garonne Estuary. Apart from the impressive property, they have a beautiful garden where you can take a walk after tasting their divine wine. They offer two free tours at 11 am and 2 pm during the touristic period and will welcome you without reservation when it’s less busy.
If you arrive for the morning visit (11am) you can spend the whole day at the château. They offer an amazing picnic basket (which you should order ahead) so if the weather is nice you can have a picnic on the river banks. There are boats that pass by the port several times a week, proposing a guided tour of the Gironde estuary. Book the boat tour at the same day as it will depend on the tide. Chateau Loudenne is open from Tuesday to Saturday, check out their contact details on their website.
Have dinner on the Port of Saint Vivien de Medoc
The northern part of the Medoc peninsula is a magical place most travelers don’t get to see. Starting from Château Loudenne the vineyard landscape starts to change into a completely different scenario of little ports on the Gironde Estuary. Several little port villages lay between the last châteaux and Le Verdon sur Mer, the northernmost point of Medoc. One that I found especially charming was Saint Vivien de Medoc, with a cute little portwith several restaurants and bars perched along the river. My favorite one was la Cabane du Port, a charming tapas bar with comfy chairs, great food and a great view of the docking boats. The Kayak Café is also great for a more substantial meal.
Visit Phare de Richard and the traditional fishing houses
Phare de Richard is an old lighthouse turned into a nice museum telling the story of the Estuary and the fishing industry around it. If you come during the opening hours you can climb to the top and see a beautiful view of the Estuary. However, the site is worth a visit even without entering the lighthouse just to see the Carrelets, the traditional fishing cabins. The site also has a very nice picnic area with a small playground for kids.
Second Day – from wine to the ocean – discovering Medoc Atlantic
Soulac Sur Mer – the Arcachon of Medoc
This charming little town is one of the highlights of the Medoc region, located at the very top of the Medoc Atlantique, about 90 km (55 miles) from Bordeaux. Soulac sur mer looks like a little Arcachon, with the city center resembling Ville d’été and the impressive 18th-century villas has a similar architectural style of Ville d’Hiver in Arcachon (For more details about Arcachon click here). Soulac has some of the most beautiful beaches on the Atlantic coast, attracting many French tourists to the area. There are plenty of cute little restaurants both in the center and on the promenade. Seafood is a very important part of the local cuisine and so many restaurants will serve oysters and large shrimps. While there, don’t forget to visit the amazing covered market of the region that sell all the delicacies of the area. Also, if you want to stop for a coffee, Livres Et Cornets is a cute chic cafe on the main pedestrian street.
Sunday Market at Montalivet les Bains
The Montalivet market is not to be missed if you happen to be there on Sunday morning. This is one of the biggest markets in the area, hosting more than 200 merchants all year long. Here you will find all the delicacies of the region, the Medoc wine, oysters from Cap Ferret and Île de Ré, cheese from the Basque country and more. But the real attraction of the market is the oysters stands where plenty of people gather to sip white wine accompanied by this local delicacy. By 11am it gets really crowded so try to make it as early as possible.
Due to its location on the Atlantic coast, Montalivet les Bains became a popular destination for surfers. The city center, which is located close to the main beach, looks like a typical surf resort town with plenty of surf and water equipment shops. All along the main street, restaurant owners will invite you to have a drink or lunch on their terraces. The highlight for me was the gallery café, located just in front of the market, which is both a very chic coffee place and a vintage shop. They serve delicious fresh food and it’s a perfect spot for a brunch. The address is 49 Avenue Brémontier, 33930 Vendays-Montalivet. If you’re travelling with kids, this town can be a nice break for lunch but I didn’t find the beach very kids friendly.
Visit Vertheuil – an old beautiful village
If you’re done with wine and the ocean (if that’s at all possible) there’s one last stop to make on the way back from your Bordeaux wine route. Vertheuil is probably one of the most charming little towns in the Medoc area. It’s located somewhere in the middle of the peninsula so it can be on your way whether you still have some wineries to visit or want to go back straight to Bordeaux. It’s a very small village surrounding the Abbey of Vertheuil that dates back to the 12th century (and reconstructed in the 18th century). At the back of the Abbey there’s a lovely garden with a terrace cafe and even a little playground for kids. The Abbaye of Vertheuil is open from Tuesday to Sunday in the afternoon on July and August.
If you’re hungry there’s a nice little Italian restaurant right in the center of the village called Casa Trogarra.
Where to stay in the Medoc area?
There are plenty of accommodation options in the Medoc area, you just have to decide on the setting and view. You can spend a night in the vineyards and enjoy the calm atmosphere, sleep in a gorgeous chateaux on the Route des chateaux or have a more lively vibe in the center of Soulac sur mer. Here are some good options:
Hotels in Medoc
Château de l’Isle
An exceptional bed and breakfast in a beautiful 18th-century house, located between Margaux and the two lakes of Medoc Lacanau and Hourtin. The breakfast is served outside in the beautiful garden, just next to the pool. They provide their guests with bikes so you can even enjoy a bicycle ride in the vineyards of Medoc. They have only four rooms in the chateau so try and book as early as possible. Book it here
Relais de Margaux
A 4 star hotel located in a beautiful 19th century chateau in the heart of the Margaux vineyards in Médoc. The hotel has beautiful and spacious rooms and offers a spa and an outdoor pool. There’s also a golf course but it’s currently closed for renovation. Book it here
Sleeping in a wine Chateau
You’re travelling on the wine road so why not make your hotel part of the journey and stay in one of the wine producing chateaux that also offer accommodations? Here are some options:
Hotel Rollan de By
A beautiful 3 stars hotel located in one of the most gorgeous areas in the Medoc, between the vineyards and the Gironde Estuary. The hotel is quite close to the little ports I’ve mentioned above meaning you have a lot of options for dinner. Rollan de By is an active winery so you can have a wine tour and tastings while staying at the chateau, how great is that? Book it here
Château du Tertre
This is a beautiful guesthouse, located in a 19th century mansion. The rooms are elegantly decorated and have a view on the vineyards of the estate. You also get a free tour in the château and the cellars, which are quite remarkable. This is the closest hotel to Bordeaux, so if you want to visit Bordeaux and the Medoc area without changing your accommodation, this is a great option. Book it here
Château La Tour Carnet
If you want to feel like you’re staying in a real castle, this is your best option. Château La Tour Carnet is a famous winery located in one of Médoc’s oldest estates, a former medieval fortress. The amazing room decorations and the setting in a 12th century castle is an experience like no other in the Medoc area. There are only two rooms in the chateau so it’s almost private. The stay here is not cheap but its truly exceptional! Book it here
Château Pierre de Montignac
This is a more simple and affordable place if you want to stay in a wine chateau. The rooms are comfortable and clean and you get a nice breakfast in the morning. And you even get a gift bottle as a gift 🙂 Book it here
Soulac sur mer – for a more lively stay
Au cœur de la station et de la plage
A charming apartment in the center of Soulac sur mer, just a few minutes walk from the main beach. Book it here
Villa Le Cid
A guest house in one of Soulac’ most beautiful villas. The rooms are quite simple but the house is incredible and the staff is amazing. It’s located a few minutes walk from the market of Soulac. Book it here
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Cognac is a beautiful town in the South West of France that is mostly known for its luxurious spirits. I’ve been living in France for years but somehow visiting Cognac has never crossed my mind until we moved to Bordeaux. I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of the spirit itself, and I drink it only on special occasions. So prior to my visit there I was wondering what’s there to do in Cognac beyond the cellar tours? Luckily there’s plenty of things to do in Cognac! This little town will surprise you with its impressive architecture, delicious restaurants and remarkably nice people. In this article I gathered the top 10 things to do, see and eat in Cognac.
If you’re in the region, don’t miss a visit to one of the most beautiful villages in France – Aubeterre sur Dronne, check out my article about it.
1. Discover the Old City of Cognac
Stroll the narrow paved streets of the city center to absorb the charm of Vieux Cognac (the old Cognac). The architecture will take you back in time to the early days of the salt trade that started the economic growth of the city. Many of the old houses date back to the 16th and 17h centuries, displaying the eclectic architectural style of the city. Most buildings have large windows, an indication of the wealth of the traders living in this area at that period of time. The “newer” part of the old city unveils the vibrant economic and cultural development of Cognac in the 19th century. That trail called the “Belle epoque” starts at Place Francois I and ends at the Jardin de l’hotel de ville. While the center is relatively small, there are plenty of charming streets and nice boutiques so give yourself some time to get lost.
2. Take a tour in a Cognac distillery
With almost 200 Cognac producers in the area, this is definitely the main attraction of Cognac. The cognac houses include big names like Hennessy (book a tour), Martell (book a tour), Rémy Martin (book a tour) and Courvoisier. These four produce most of the Cognac exported to the world. Other known brands include Otard, Camus, Meukov and Delamain (located in the neighboring town of Jarnac). Many distilleries offer tours in French and English. However, if you need an English-speaking tour, be sure to book in advance. Martell and Hennessy are very popular tours as well those by Otard where you get to visit the old Chateau de Cognac (place of birth of King François I). You should know, however, that many distilleries are closing for winter so consult their tour schedules before heading to Cognac.
We took the Hennessy tour and had a fabulous time. The company’s boat took us to the other side of the river to visit the cellars. Then we learned all about the processes of creating this luxurious spirit, from the terroir to the maturing and assembling processes. At the end of the tour, you get to taste two different Cognacs and a Cognac-based liqueur (which to be honest, I loved the most). The price of the tour is 20 euros per person, you can book it here.
If you’re looking for a more authentic / boutique experience check out the “in the Terroir of Cognac” tour. This half day trip includes a visit to several artisan distilleries and a cognac co-operative. You will get to taste some of the best craft cognacs in the region and get a more diverse and full experience of Cognac.
For many years the river banks of the Charente river were the prime business center of the city. King François initiated the salt trade in Cognac, making the river an important economic player. Later, all the big Cognac houses would establish their main buildings on the riverfront. Walking on the elegant promenade you’ll pass by the port of Cognac, the Hennessy house, the Chateau de Cognac (now the Otard Cognac house) and the impressive Tours Saint Jacques, one of the only remainings left from medieval times. The promenade itself is very pleasant and makes for a nice tour on both sides of the Charente river.
4. Eat great local food
Do you really think that a place with such a reputation for its luxury alcohol wouldn’t master the gastronomic side as well? There are plenty of great restaurants in Cognac, both in the old city and on the other side of the river (in quartier Saint Jacques). The one we particularly liked was L’atelier des quais, where the delicious food was accompanied by an incredible view of the old part of Cognac. Their big terrace in front of the riverbanks makes it a perfect place for sunny days. Other recommended restaurants are: La Courtine, La Poulpette, L’arty show
5. Taste Pineau des Charentes
Although Cognac is the main star here, there’s another spirit you must taste if you’re in the Charente department. Pineau des Charentes is a fortified wine, created from the mix of grape juice and Cognac eau-de-vie, which then goes through a maturing process. This is a very popular aperitif in Charente but not very known in other parts of France. It’s really good so don’t miss the chance to taste it!
6. Visit the local market
I absolutely adore French markets so I was very happy to discover that there’s a covered market in Cognac. This market is not on my top 10 French markets list but it’s a nice place to buy some local products. One of the stands sells great local alcohol and cheese and you can even order a cheese plate and take it to the picnic area in the middle of the market.
7. Learn about Cognac in the Musée des Arts du Cognac
If you’re interested in learning more about the production of the spirit head to the Musée des Arts du Cognac. This great museum located in a 16th-century mansion, next to the quai, holds an impressive amount of articles, documents and an audio-visual exhibition that will help you learn everything you need to know about Cognac. The price is 5 euros and it’s open daily between 14:00 to 18:00. The address is: Les Remparts, Place de la Salle Verte, 16100 Cognac
8. Drink a Cognac cocktail
As Cognac became an international success it took a life of its own. A fair amount of Cognac-based cocktails have been developed outside of France, in particular in the US. Some cocktails can be ordered in bars and restaurants in Cognac and they are really worth a try. Some of the most popular ones are Classico, Sidecar, French75 and Le Cognac Summit (the tourist information even gives you the recipe, click here to learn how to make it).
9. Visit the villages around Cognac
Although Cognac is the main town of the region, it’s not the only place where the spirit is produced and definitely not the only one worth visiting. If you want to visit more distilleries go to Jarnac, the second distilling town in the area. There you can find Cognac houses like Courvoisier, Louis Royer, Hine and Delamain. And it’s also the place of birth of the former French president François Mitterrand. You can visit a nice museum with all the presents he received during his presidency. Other pretty villages in the area are Bassac and Bourg Charente.
10. A city of festivals
Although it’s a small sized city, there are plenty of cultural events and festivals taking place in the Cognac area throughout the year. In the summer the city hosts one of the biggest music festival in the region, the Cognac Blues Passion. The festival, taking place in July, attracts some of the biggest names in the Blues world. Another big summer festival is Fête du Cognac. The Cognac festival celebrates the spirits of the region, the Cognac, Pineau des Charentes and wines of the region. Another cool festival is Distillerie en fête which takes place during the winter. From December to February plenty of activities are put in place by the Cognac distilleries to help you discover the behind the scenes of Cognac production. For more info check out the tourist info website.
Get into the atmosphere with more photos from Cognac
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*Note – Some of the links in this article include affiliate links for which I earn a small commission. It adds absolutely nothing to your cost and helps me continue writing about this amazing region. Don’t worry, I’m not getting rich here, I’ll never recommend anything I don’t believe in 🙂