Bordeaux is a wonderful city with a rich cultural heritage (recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site) and is set on the banks of the Garonne River in the south west of France. The rich mix of architecture and classical buildings reflects the city’s wealth derived from the wine business and the famous Bordeaux vineyards that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Bordeaux has excellent transport links with an international airport and a TGV service to Paris in 3 hours. The centre of the city is relatively compact with broad pedestrian shopping streets, museums and the beautiful Grand Théâtre. The old town with its winding streets and little restaurant filled squares, open air markets together with large open spaces and formal parks all make Bordeaux a great city to explore. Needless to say it has great restaurants and wine.
Situated at the confluence of the Dordogne and Isle River, Libourne was established in the 13th century by Roger de Leyburn, a lieutenant of Edward 1st of England, as a new town (Bastide) to develop its economic location as a riverside port and crossing point. It developed as a port for exporting produce from the local countryside (mainly wine) and today is still a significant town for the Bordeaux ‘right bank’ wine activity of the St Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac wine areas. Centred on a typical Bastide square which hosts three weekly markets, Libourne is not as well visited as its famous neighbours but it is an attractive town with a full range of amenities and a cultural festival every summer.
Bastide and hilltop villages
The Gironde and Dordogne regions have several ‘Bastide’ towns and villages which were fortified ‘new’ towns built during the time of English occupation during the Hundred Year’s War. These towns/villages were constructed around a central market square (often with covered walkways) with a grid work of streets branching beyond. In the Gironde there are some excellent examples, many of which retain much of their original architecture and charm. Some fine examples of ‘Bastides’ to visit include Libourne, Sauveterre de Guyenne, Blasimon, Creon, Pellegrue, Monsegur and Duras. In addition the picturesque hilltop villages of Gensac and Pujols have great charm.
Castillon la Bataille
Famous as being the site for the final battle in the Hundred Year’s War in 1453, the town sits on the banks of the Dordogne River. The battle is re-enacted during the summer months in a spectacular setting and is organised by the local community with a cast of hundreds. Castillon is a neighbouring appellation to St Emilion and the wines of this area have improved significantly in recent years; it is worth visiting the vineyard countryside around Castillon, with villages such as St Philippe D’Aguille, Belves de Castillon and St Genes de Castillon for a wine tasting.
Dating back to the early 14th century, Creon is another Bastide town established during the Hundred Year’s War. It grew given its geographic position at a crossroads between Bordeaux and Libourne and the Entre Deux Mers towns of Sauveterre and Cadillac. Given its proximity to Bordeaux, it is a popular town for people working in the city, with an excellent market and range of shops, the countryside and villages around are steeped in history related to the religious pilgrims passing through the area en route to the St Jacques de Campostella festivals.
It is no surprise that the tiny city of St Emilion, nestled on a hillside among the vineyards, is one of the most visited places in France. With a history that dates back to prehistoric times and the site where the Romans are reputed to have planted vines in the second century, this small city was recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999. With winding cobbled streets, beautiful architecture and a rich history, the town boasts a wide selection of shops and restaurants most of which feature the world renowned wine and associated products. St Emilion has a number of surrounding villages often referred to as the ‘St Emilion satellites‘ and these include the charming towns of Montagne, Puisseguin and Lussac.
Running east from Bordeaux, the Dordogne River has many towns and villages dotted along its banks. The impressive Chateau de Vayres just to the west of Libourne is certainly worth a visit as are the riverside villages of Moulon, Branne, Cabara and Sainte Terre. Further along the river past Castillon, are Flaujagues and Pessac sur Dordogne before reaching Sainte Foy la Grande which borders the Gironde and Dordogne regions.
The Garonne River runs south east from Bordeaux in the direction of Toulouse and many of the towns closer to Bordeaux such as Bouliac, Latresne, Camblanes, Cambes, Quinsac and Langoiran are popular with buyers looking for easy access to the city. Further along the river are the towns of Cadillac, Langon, La Reole and Marmande. This area is also renowned for wine making with Pessac Leognan, Sauternes and Graves being the more illustrious names on the south side (left bank) of the Garonne but there are some very good red wines produced in the Premiere Cotes region along the northern side of the valley (Right bank).
Entre Deux Mers
You will come across this description many times and the literal translation in English is ‘between two seas’. In fact it describes the large wine growing region between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers to the east of Bordeaux and derives its name from the fact that both rivers are tidal as far as Castillon and La Reole. This is a very significant wine growing area and is scattered with charming towns and villages. The countryside is undulating with a mixture of vineyard, pasture and woodland. Other villages of note are Rauzan with its castle and “grottes celestines” underground caves which are both open to the public, La Sauve – Majeur with its Abbaye founded in 1079 which obtained UNESCO world heritage status as part of the Santiago de Compostella pilgrim route and Blasimon also with a Benedictian Abbaye .
Sainte Foy la Grande
Positioned at the eastern end of the Gironde department, Ste Foy la Grande is a riverside Bastide town with perhaps the best weekly market in the area. Once described as the gateway to the Perigord region it is a regional administrative centre with a full range of schools, shops and amenities.