Bordeaux And Saint-Emilion, French Wine Country

If you are a wine lover, you can’t say “Bordeaux” and not think about some of the world’s finest wines like Margaux, Médoc, Pauillac, Sauternes and Saint-Emilion. The huge wine region has 62 different appellations and more than 7300 châteaux on both banks of the Garonne River in southwest France.

For now though, I’m not referring to the great wine or the largest wine region in France but to its capital, the City of Bordeaux, a UNESCO World Heritage City. With broad boulevards, beautiful 18th century  architecture and delightful squares lined with cafés and bars, the city will remind you of Paris but on a much smaller scale.

The City Of Bordeaux

Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne river and was a two day port of call during a  cruise aboard the Seven Seas Explorer. The ship, which only carries 750 passengers, was small enough to dock right at the quayside in the city center. With its historic buildings and gardens, it is probably one of the most beautiful waterfronts I’ve seen. All my husband and I had to do was step off the gangway and much of the city was within easy walking distance. Instead of browsing this vibrant and charming city on our own, we decided to take a guided tour of Bordeaux on one day and nearby Saint-Emilion and the surrounding wine country on the other day.

Bordeaux is a compact and very walkable city. Take a leisurely stroll along the riverfront quay where the wine trade started, through narrow streets and beautiful squares of historic Bordeaux and you will pass remnants of the old city such the Grosse Cloche or the Big Bell of Bordeaux. It used to be the gateway into the medieval city, an area now full of boutiques and cafés. In stark contrast to the old gate, the ultra modern Bordeaux law courts are a striking and unusual complex.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Nearby on the main square of Pey Berland is the Cathedral of Saint André. In the 15th century a separate bell tower was built next to the cathedral. You can climb to the top of the bell tower for a wonderful view of the city.

Opposite the cathedral is the Palais Rohan which was originally built for the bishop of Bordeaux, now it is the city hall.  Nearby is the Museum of Beaux Arts, one of the largest fine art galleries in France outside Paris.

Porte Dijeaux is a decorative gate into the heart of the old city that was built in 1748 on the spot where one of the Roman gates once stood. Not far away is the Place de la Comédie with the Grand Theater and the Grand Hotel. The theater, built in 1780, it is one of the older opera houses in Europe. The square itself is where the main streets of Bordeaux converge, including the busy shopping street Rue Sainte Catherine, the longest pedestrian shopping street in France.

La Place du Parlement, ringed with pretty buildings, cafés and a central fountain was once the seat of Bordeaux’s medieval government. The beautiful square was turned into an elegant market square in 1754 and today it is a lively place in the heart of the city with charming streets leading off in all directions.

The showcase of Bordeaux is Place de la Bourse. In front of it is the Miroir d’Eau, the Water Mirror, which is the world’s largest reflecting pool. Large slabs of blue granite are covered in water and reflect the 18th century Place de la Bourse. The shallow water is timed to slowly empty then becomes a fog before the reflection pool fills again. The Bourse and its reflection pool has now become the new symbol of this elegant city.



Only 30 minutes from the center of Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion is a charming medieval village located in the heart of the famous Bordeaux wine region. The hilltop village is surrounded  by vineyards growing right up to its village walls.

Looking Over The Rooftops Of Saint-Emilion

Since the 9th century, blocks of local stone were excavated for buildings in the village as well as for châteaux in the area and buildings in the surrounding region. The quarrying created underground humid, dark caves that were the perfect environment for wine storage. The village as well as the vineyards of Saint-Emilion are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With its 12th century ramparts, a maze of steep winding alleyways, charming storefronts, a 14th century cloister and views over terra cotta rooftops, this tiny village is so picturesque that it reminds you of an illustration from a child’s storybook. Wander through the streets and squares of the village and you will soon discover the Eglise Monolithe, the largest underground church in Europe which was carved out of solid limestone rock in the 11th century. Its separate bell tower rises high above everything else in the village.

There are four narrow and very steep cobblestone streets known as tertres  that connect the upper and lower parts of the village. While the tertres can be daunting, they are the way to get to many of the cafés, wine bars and other attractions in the village.

There are a number of shops in both the lower and upper part of the village that sell macaroons, a specialty from a 1600’s recipe from the nuns of the Les Ursulines order.

We had walked down one of the tertres earlier on our visit to see the underground church and ventured up an even steeper one while exploring. I can tell you that two of the tertres were enough for us. Even though there is an iron handrail down the middle of the cobblestone street for pedestrians to hold on to, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to walk up or down one of them on a rainy day. What we learned while walking the steep streets of Saint-Emilion is an appreciation of the life of local villagers. While it may be a harder life than many of us are used to, they are rewarded with many sweet pleasures.

Pretty Saint-Emilion


Our visit to Bordeaux quickly came to an end and it was time to continue on our cruise. The ship had to leave at a specific time when the water level was low enough for the Explorer to pass under the Pont Chaban Delmas bridge, the largest lift bridge built in Europe. The 384 foot middle section is raised whenever tall ships need to pass safely underneath.

This southwestern region of France has lots to keep a visitor happy and Bordeaux is a city that I would definitely return to for a longer stay. I would use it as a base and venture out into the wine region on day trips. Historical towns, châteaux and wine tastings, yes that sounds like a lovely holiday.



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140 thoughts on “Bordeaux And Saint-Emilion, French Wine Country

  1. Great post, Karen, thank you. I holidayed in the Bordeaux area a lot years ago though didn’t spent a lot of time in the city of Bordeaux and have heard it’s undergone lots of regeneration in recent years and it’s on my list of places I want to go! You’ve inspired me to think about it again.

    1. Hi Kay, I’m glad you enjoyed the post about Bordeaux, thank you. I think you would see a lot of changes if you went back. I know I would enjoy another trip there.

  2. Karen, we were just there in August! We were on a Viking cruise and it was wonderful. We loved the region, the chateaus and the wine. You did a fabulous job capturing the feel — great photos. 🙂

    1. Hi Judy, We have friends that did almost the same cruise right after us on Viking…it is a small world isn’t it. Thank you for your nice compliment, I’m glad you enjoyed the post on Bordeaux.

    1. Hi Larry, We were really surprised about the river as well, especially when we left and saw how close the ship comes to the top of the bridge when it is raised at its highest. I know you would enjoy Bordeaux, I would definitely go back.

    1. Thank you Amelia, for your nice compliment. How could anyone not love the historical towns, châteaux and wine tastings that are to be experienced in the Bordeaux region…certainly not me. 😀

    1. Hi Elizabeth, I do remember when you went to France and visited your friend Stephane Gabart in Saint Emilion. I’m glad that my post brought back fond memories of your time spent in Bordeaux. Thank you.

  3. I hope you were able to taste some of the local wine too Karen! 😉 That village looks so idyllic. Lovely photos. I think you must have had good weather there too. And I know what a beautiful city Bordeaux is. My trip there many years ago was a little different to yours though – I was backpacking around France and stayed in a women’s hostel overnight! 😉

    1. Hi Cathy, While not everyday was perfect, we probably had the best weather on this trip than in many previous years in Europe. You would be delighted with the changes that have occurred in Bordeaux since your backpacking days. Oh yes, the wine was very good. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your compliment about the photos of Bordeaux Mad Dog. I wish we had stayed a little longer to get the real taste of the area. Perhaps we will get the opportunity to return another time.

  4. You are absolutely right about the South West of France: we loved it so much, we ended up spending last Christmas and Easter holidays exploring that area, from Toulouse to the coast, along the Tarn and Garonne rivers and later the Dordogne too. We loved St-Emilion when we visited a few years ago, as well as Monbazillac near Bergerac in June. After reading your blog, I feel we must make a stop in Bordeaux itself, as we always seem to pass it by. Your photos are beautiful. Thanks for sharing. 👍❤

    1. Hi Fatima, I always enjoy your travel adventures through France. You definitely need to stop in the city of Bordeaux the next time you are in that area, the two of you would really enjoy it.

  5. Another gorgeous stop on your cruise. I love these travel posts that allow me to be an armchair tourist before heading off to work for the day. When work stress happens, I can close my eyes and be in sunny Bordeaux.

    1. I appreciate your very kind words Peter, I love you being an armchair tourist with me. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing Bordeaux, thank you.

  6. What a wonderful port of call! Bordeaux is definitely a place I would love to spend time at. We drove by on the way to Paris and I so wished we had time to stop. You pictures are amazing!

  7. LOVE Bordeaux! When we took this cruise, we were expecting to enjoy our time there, but were really wowed — we could live there. We like it that much. Definitely want to get back. BTW, I’ll be away from blogging for the next few weeks — we’ll be on our fall cruise, from Hawaii to Tahiti!

    1. Hi John, I know what you mean…I thought we would enjoy Bordeaux but we came away wanting to spend more time there. I hope you are having a wonderful time on your cruise. Actually, I’m sure you are having a great time. 🙂

  8. I’m a definitely burgundy person (or should I say pinot noir person because I am crazy for German pinot noir too!) but I would love to visit Bordeaux one day. It seems such a beautiful interesting city! Thank you for sharing your travels with us!

    1. Hi Sissi, We were very impressed with the city of Bordeaux and I’m sure you would be as well. As to German pinot noir, I agree with you. 🙂

  9. I love the photos Karen. I have never been to this region of France but it sure looks like somewhere I would be happy to visit

    1. I appreciate your nice compliment Tania, thank you. We have traveled a lot in France but this was our first time in the Bordeaux region and we loved it.

    1. Hi Gerlinde, You do travel to some wonderful places. I’m happy that this post brought back nice memories of your time spent in Bordeaux and Saint-Emilion.

  10. I am not trying to curry favour when I say these must be the best and most informative photos of the Bordeaux region I have seen – thanks !! I may get there by land next northern summer as more than a few wonderful English expats have made it their home and some have comfortable gites to rent for a day or a week or whatever . . .

    1. You are so very kind Eha, thank you for your lovely compliment about my Bordeaux post. I know that you would absolutely love the area…especially if you have friends living in the region.

  11. Wow! What a great collection of architectural beauty. We were only in Bordeaux one time years ago. I remember th most beautiful flowered park (in the summer). Thanks for taking us along on your travels!! You put together the most amazing trips Karen!! xox

    1. Hi Rhonda, I’m always happy to have you following along on our adventures. We really enjoyed this region of France and would love to go back. I’m glad my post brought back nice memories of your time spent in Bordeaux.

    1. Hi Angie, Bordeaux is really a lovely area of France that we hadn’t visited before and we thought it was wonderful. I do hope you get the opportunity to visit some day. Thank you for your nice compliment on the photos, it is much appreciated.

    1. Hi Debra, I do hope you make a stop in Bordeaux the next time you are in France, I think you would love it. We were supposed to visit San Sebastian on our cruise but the port of call was changed because of bad weather. My husband was looking forward to the wonderful food there.

  12. I have still not done my blog on Bordeaux, lack of time and then 2 weeks ago my hard drive crashed out completely!!!! I have done St Emilion in the past though. I am not a fan of red wines in the area, too much tannin for me!!! Love your photos, excellent. Have a good weekend Diane

    1. Hi Diane, It seems as you have not been having good luck lately. I will enjoy seeing your photos when you post about Bordeaux. I’m reading both of your blogs but for some reason I’m not able to comment. It looks like you are almost having two seasons at once with your fire to take the chill off and roses still blooming along with your blooming Christmas cactus.

  13. What a fabulous trip! Your photos want to make me pick up the phone and book this today! I know how beautiful Saint-Emilion is, but I have yet to go to Bordeaux. #onthebucketlist

    1. Thank you for your lovely compliment Cathy, I’m happy to know that you enjoyed the photos and post. Definitely keep Bordeaux on your bucket list, you will enjoy it.

  14. Thanks for the beautiful guided tour. My introduction to the wines of Saint-Emilion was many years ago when a friend brought a very fine bottle up the lifts at Alta for an impromptu spring picnic. Memorable.

    1. Hi Darryl, I’m happy that you enjoyed following along on our adventure in the Bordeaux region, thank you. Your spring picnic with wines from Saint-Emilion does sound memorable.

    1. Thank you Amy, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos from the Bordeaux region. I’m hoping that you do get the chance to visit someday, you will love the area.

    1. Hi Lisa, I think putting this region of France on your bucket list is a good thing. Weren’t the flowers lovely, I couldn’t walk by without a photo.

  15. Bucket list! Thanks for the fabulous tease of beautiful architecture, wines and it’s beauty. How did the ship round everyone up to get them to depart at a certain time? Do they call you or before you leave the boat tell you to be back at a certain time or they leave without you?

    1. Hi Bobbi, It appears that many of my readers are putting Bordeaux and Saint-Emilion on their bucket list and with good reason I think. 😀 Not only did the ship say exactly what time you had to be back, they gave everyone a phone number to call if you thought for some reason you might be late. This is one port that you would definitely be left behind because the ship had to make it under two bridges. We watched from the observation deck as we sailed under both of them and I understand why it was critical to leave while the water was at its lowest point.

  16. It’s such a joy to read your posts from your recent Seven Sea’s cruise adventure and this post was splendid. I loved the images, especially the reflecting pool. Oh, and that macaroon looks scrumptious.

    1. I so appreciate your kind words Ron about enjoying my posts about our Seven Sea’s cruise. Thank you so very much! It was our first cruise and couldn’t have been better. We had the most wonderful time and I hope that perhaps a few of my readers will get a chance to do the same one day.

  17. Before visiting Stephane from My French Heaven blog, I’d never been to that corner of France. Now I can’t stop going! It really is beautiful, and you showed it perfectly in your photos.

    1. Hi Mimi, You are the second of my readers that I know that have visited Stephane Gabart. I know your stays have to have been memorable. I appreciate your lovely compliment, thank you.

    1. Hi Penny, I’m always happy to share our travel adventures and I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post. Thank you and I hope that you get a chance to visit some day.

  18. Bordeaux looks like a beautiful city and Saint-Emilion looks so quaint and charming! I would love to go to both sometime! Your pictures are wonderful-thanks for sharing them!

    1. Thank you for your nice compliment Nancy, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. The two places are so opposite and yet very close together. We loved visiting both of them.

    1. So truly Laura, a camera can’t do justice to what you see in person. The nice thing though is that it captures what later become our memories.

  19. ah, Bordeaux… 2h-drive from Toulouse, 2 years ago, we took our American relatives to both Bordeaux and then to the famous Château-Margaux where we had a personal guide, as it was 2 days before X-mas!!! 🙂 our region is beyond wonderful, right?! 😉 the Durch have a saying:”we all have 2 homelands: ours and France!” and the Germans use an expression:”to live like a god in France!” 😀
    * * *
    btw, France has been the most visited country in the world 3 years in a row!!! ❤

  20. Admittedly, I’m not so much of a wine lover, but I’d still love to visit Bordeaux! What a charming city, rich with history, and still full of potential for the future at the same time.

  21. Having never been to France, I am astounded by your pictures. The architecture in both towns is amazing and quite interesting, and yet so different from each other. Personally, I find Saint-Emilion more to my liking but I love a good Bordeaux to drink. 🙂

    1. Hi MJ, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post, thank you. As you know we tend to like the small towns like Saint-Emilion for their charm but we would definitely return to Bordeaux for another visit as well. It is much like Paris but on a much smaller scale. They are both very appealing in their own ways. 🙂

    1. Hi Tandy, We saw several barges and riverboats a little further down the river from our ship. I do hope you get a chance to visit the city of Bordeaux as it is very pleasant.

  22. Southern France is absolutely on our short list for vacations. In fact, we’ve been looking at a river cruise in that region, and it might just have to happen next year! The photos here are stunning, and I know I would love both Bordeaux and Saint-Emilion. Speaking of this wine region, have you read the book “The Billionaire’s Vinegar?” It’s an interesting one! Thanks so much for sharing, Karen!

    1. Hi David, I know you would love this region of France. Speaking of river cruises, we saw several tied up just a little further away from us while we were docked in Bordeaux. I’ll have to look for the book, it sounds interesting…thanks.

  23. Your tour of London and cruise in Europe all sound fabulous, though I understand that you would have liked more time on your own during some of the tours, and more flexibility in choosing meals. I guess there are trade-offs for everything. We have never done a luxury cruise of the type you describe: only National Geographic cruises on much smaller ships. Bordeaux looks beautiful — great photos!

    best… mae at

    1. Hi Mae, Yes we have always traveled independently and when you join a group of people for a tour you do give up certain things. One of the things I would have liked to have had was more time to photograph what we found interesting. We have already given a deposit for a future cruise but will go one our own at some of the ports. I’m glad you enjoyed the posts and appreciate your compliment.

    1. Thank you Scarlett, I’m glad you enjoyed the little tour. I do hope you will be sharing your travels soon as I would love to see Cap Ferret.

    1. Hi Marcie, France has so many different wine regions and Bordeaux certainly is a wonderful one to visit. I do hope you get the chance to visit someday.

  24. I love Paris and wish we would’ve visited Bordeaux, your photos of it are gorgeous. I more of a bourbon person but I could definitely sip and enjoy a little glass of wine there. The cathedral is outstanding and the architecture of the whole area is wonderful, very stately looking. Thanks for the tour, Karen!

    1. Pam, The first thing I said when I saw Bordeaux was that it reminded me of a small Paris with all the beautiful architecture. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, thank you.

    1. Hi Claudia, This really was a wonderful trip. We had never been to any of the towns that we visited and we thoroughly enjoyed each of them.

  25. Oh…what a lovely place Karen, I have never been to Bordeaux…after seeing your pictures I will make sure to travel and see it…thank you so much for sharing these wonderful pictures.

    1. Hi Tricia, I know what you mean…when I look at photos from someone’s travels, I always yearn to visit myself. 😀 I’m glad you enjoyed mine, thank you.

  26. This is a part of France that I’ve not visited, it looks gorgeous, I love your photos. Saint-Emilion, in particular, spoke to me. It goes on my list 🙂

    1. Hi Amalia, We hadn’t been to this region of France either and really enjoyed visiting both Bordeaux and the charming town of Saint-Emilion.

    1. Thank you for your nice compliment Pat, I’m happy to know that you enjoyed the photos of Bordeaux. Anyone who enjoys red wine would certainly like the Bordeaux region of France.

  27. We’ve visited Bordeaux a few years ago and just loved it. It is such a beautiful part of the world. Next time we are there we’ll definitely have to visit Saint-Emilion too! Have a wonderful weekend ahead!

    1. Hi Teresa, I’m glad that my post brought back fond memories of your travels to this lovely region of France. It was our first time in this area and we really enjoyed it. Thank you for your nice compliment.

    1. Hi Fran, Bordeaux really does remind me of Paris but must easier to visit. I do hope you get a chance to visit someday…I think you would enjoy both Bordeaux and Saint-Emilion.

  28. How lovely post and wonderful photos. I tell a short story from the seventies:

    I worked for our airline company Finnair and one of my job was a flying officer. In those days we used Super Caravelles, which ranges between Las Palmas, Canary Island and Helsinki, Finland was not enough. This meant that we had refill somewhere and it happened in Bordeaux. Thank You for this post.

    Have a good day!

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