I wasn’t able to visit my brother Dominic studying abroad in Nantes, France because of the pandemic, but lucky for you, you’re still get some travel guides on France! My family got to visit him for a week and wrote about their itinerary in France, and Dominic already wrote about his day visiting Pornic, France. This week he’s writing about amazing sights he got to see during his long weekend in Bordeaux and Saint-Émilion!
Sights to see during a weekend in Bordeaux and Saint-Émilion
A group of friends and I went to spend a long weekend in Bordeaux, and I took a wine tour that spent half a day in Saint-Émilion, which became my favorite town to spend time in! Now to get there, it wasn’t very straightforward. We took a 6:45 am bus from Nantes to La Rochelle, then switched to a train and arrived in Bordeaux around lunch time.
After dropping our luggage off at our hostel, we went back to a waffle restaurant called Waffle Factory Bordeaux. This was my first European waffle and it was so savory and delicious! After lunch, we strolled around the downtown shops for a little while before our room was available.
Two friends and I then walked throughout the downtown and across the river to see all that we could and stretch our legs. The hostel that we stayed in was super conveniently located right in the middle of everywhere we wanted to go. The downtown square was nicely paved with cobblestone and there were hundreds of shops and restaurants to explore. We followed our GPS in search of historical locations and longstanding cathedrals, which was very simple to do. We went to a very nice restaurant called Simeone Dell’Arte and ate delicious pizza and salad dinners. It was so good in fact that my group went there twice.
Our first stop was at the Sainte Marie of Bastide Church and exploring the inside. It is a neo-medieval church, consecrated in 1884 and holds an interesting story about the construction and how they built special arches to help support the building, while the ground was not fully stable. I felt completely safe in the church and didn’t know about this until after the fact.
The Big Bell of Bordeaux is another place to visit! A very nice spot for pictures, the bell was cast in 1775 and weighs no less than 7,750 kilos! Christened “Armande-Louise,” it rings 6 times a year for major celebrations such as Bastille Day, VE Day, and Remembrance Day and also the first Sunday of each month at noon. Sadly, it did not ring in my time there. I did, however, take some great pictures. In America, I hadn’t been to KFC in several years, but my European friends love it, so I had a meal in a French KFC and it was so much bigger than an American meal.
Porte de Bourgogne Bordeaux is the gate into the historical city. The Gate of Burgundy (translated from French), was designed and built by the Intendant Tourny, the city’s main architect, between 1750 and 1755. It marks the entrance to Bordeaux City from the old road to Paris.
Wine tasting and touring Saint-Émilion
While I am not a wine connoisseur, I did decide to go on a wine tour during our weekend in Bordeaux since it is very famous for its vineyards. In part of the tour, we went to the little village of Saint-Émilion. It was interesting to see how they made the wine and all the decisions that went into it, but after tasting it, I was still not a fan.
Saint-Émilion goes back to prehistoric times and legend tells about a monk from Brittany who fled from Vannes, his hometown, to seek refuge in one of the natural caves in a place called Ascum bas (former name of the village) in the 8th century.
In the entrance to the town, there is a Great Wall (Les Grandes Murailles), the remains of a once Dominican monastery that was built in the 12th-century. It was destroyed during the One Hundred Years War. The town is built around a monolithic church that is underground and was dug in the early 12th century of gigantic proportions. At the heart of the city, the monolithic church reminds the religious activity of the city in the Middle Ages and intrigues by its unusual design. The Bell Tower of the Church Monolith is outside the church and will give a magnificent view of the town and the surrounding vineyards below.
The City Hall (Mairie) and Petite Fontaine de la Place are enjoyable views to stop and take pictures. Once in the village, everything is so easy to walk and manage navigating. The old roads are stone and there are lovely sweet stores, as well as restaurants. You are able to walk the entire village in under a few hours and even with my hour I was able to see nearly everything. There is a castle that dates back to the 13th century called La Tour du Roy. I didn’t have enough time to climb up, but at the top you have a 360-degree view of the entire village and vineyards and is only 118 steps up.
The city is built on top of rock and so the church was carved into the rock and they carried broken rock out of the windows when making it. The views from the top were so incredible! It was breath taking and felt like a dream. Église Collégiale has a stone foundation and was laid in 1110 at the request of Archbishop Arnaud Géraud de Cabanac. The transept and the choir of the collegiate church were transformed between the 13th and 15th centuries, leaving the Gothic style to enter the church.
The cloister is a geographical and spiritual center for the monastery. It is a closed place of prayer, where the only real exit is that towards the sky, the central garden being a symbol of the Garden of Eden. On the South and East walls, the richly decorated tombs date from the 13th and 14th centuries. Notables as well as religious were buried there. The canons of Saint-Emilion, so powerful on the religious level, also had a role to play on the political level. They levied certain taxes on the population and offered the local elite a burial of choice, at the heart of their monastery.
Historic sites in Bordeaux
While I went to several stops, one place I wish I had gone to was the Bordeaux Cathedral. The Tour Pey-Berland (Pey Berland Tower), named for its patron Pey Berland, is the separate bell tower of the Bordeaux Cathedral, in Bordeaux at the Place Pey Berland. Construction started in 1440 and lasted for sixty years before opening to the public. From the top (230 steps), you can have a panoramic view of the city.
Église Saint Pierre is located near the river Garonne. The radical innovation of royal intendants in the 18th century was to open up the district to the river and its port. By razing the medieval wall, they cleared the area around Place de la Bourse, rue Royale, and the future Place du Parlement.
Saint Eloi Church of Bordeaux is the first one to be built in the style of gothic nature. During the revolution, the building is remodelled in an exceedingly store and therefore, escaped from the destruction. This particular façade dates from 1828 and is that the work of the designer Poitevin. Generally the design is termed “Gothic Troubadour.” For dinner my friends and I went to a hole in the wall hot dog place called WOOF St Rémi. It was a very simple plan and a quaint environment.
Saint-Louis Church of the Chartrons is a gothic revival church dedicated to Saint Louis, king of France (1214–1270). The stained-glass windows are particularly remarkable and famous. They come from the workshops of Henri Feur (1899) and Nicolas Lorin (1879, in the choir).
Built in 1495, Cailhau Gate Bordeaux has a castle-like exterior that was once the main gate to the city. It was built to commemorate Charles VIII’s victory at Fornovo (Italy). Nobody is sure what Cailhau means and there are several different theories.
There are so many amazing sights to see during a weekend in Bordeaux and Saint-Émilion! If you get the opportunity to spend a long weekend there, I definitely recommend it.