Total Trip: An affordable Bordeaux weekend


In our A Total Trip series, writers document what they spent on a recent getaway. In this edition, our New York-based Senior Director of Publishing, Laura Motta, shows us how she threw together a quick, inexpensive weekend in Bordeaux, France – foie gras and white wine included.

When it came to planning a last-minute weekend in Bordeaux, I did what I often do: I didn’t really plan it at all. This trip was a fluke – a quick getaway I tacked onto a Dublin business trip. The goal was to maximize the benefit of a paid-for transatlantic flight, but also to relax and maybe even enjoy warmer weather than you’d typically find in Ireland’s (often rainy) capital. So I headed to France.

The good news: The lack of a detailed plan didn’t have a negative impact on the trip. The bad: I couldn’t do everything I wanted, especially when it came to food. Bordeaux has 14 Michelin-star restaurants – a daunting number for any hungry traveler with limited time and a short planning window. Reservations are a must, and planning well in advance is recommended. Instead of heeding that well-worn advice, however, I improvised for all of my meals and saved a lot of money. Below, I’ve included how it all went and what it cost. 

Mama Shelter is known for its extravagant common areas © Laura Motta / Lonely Planet

Pre- and post-trip spending: 

I flew into Bordeaux from Dublin on an Aer Lingus flight that cost a reasonable €150 round trip. The not-so-affordable part? My checked bag. Add €40 each way for that. (Ouch.) I took a taxi to and from my hotel, which cost €30 each way. 

I also spent €14.20 for an unlimited ride, 7-day ticket for Bordeaux’s tram system. Trams are modern and easy to use, but not super necessary if you’re staying in the old city and are comfortable walking. The city is compact, and major sites are mostly reachable on foot.

For lodging, I chose Mama Shelter, a small chain known for its whimsical, over-the-top common spaces and spartan, ultra-utilitarian rooms. This location has a rooftop bar that’s among Bordeaux’s most popular night spots and lobby decor that includes pool floats, a foosball table, a huge portrait of a rooster and neon signs. I paid €169 per night for a double room with a queen bed.    

Pre-trip spending: €642.20
Collage: Saint Andrew Cathedral and tinned fish at Vins Urbains in Bordeaux, France
Visit Saint Andrew Cathedral before digging into some tinned fish at Vins Urbains © Laura Motta / Lonely Planet

Day-to-day spending:

Friday: 

Coffee: After an early flight from Dublin, the first thing I needed, even more than breakfast, was caffeine. I dropped my bags at Mama Shelter and walked through Bordeaux’s UNESCO World Heritage-designated old town, called the Port of the Moon for the way it curves along the shore of the Garonne. I stopped at L’Alchimiste, a coffee shop done in blond wood, its walls decorated with chemex coffee makers and succulents. A latte cost about €5

Getting oriented: The symbolic and geographic heart of Bordeaux’s old city is its grand Gothic cathedral, which is dedicated to Saint Andrew. It’s not a bad place to start sightseeing, either. This church, along with two others in Bordeaux, has its own UNESCO World Heritage designation as part of the Way of St. James – the Camino de Santiago – in France. You will see the gold, seashell-shaped markers that denote the route all over Bordeaux’s old city. Many pilgrims continue to follow it today. Entry to the cathedral is free.   

Dinner: By the time I had finished my wandering, it was past lunch but before dinner – one of those fatal hours in France when it’s tough to find something to eat. I stopped into Horace. Finding only sweets and beverages on offer, I went with it and had a slice of strawberry-lavender cheesecake and a beer (€12) to hold me over. Still hungry a few hours later, I opted for a wine bar dinner, which didn’t require a reservation. Sitting at the sleek steel counter at Vins Urbain, I ordered some tinned fish, olive tapenade, and a glass of white merlot (an easy €26.50). Seeing that I finished my wine before my food, the bartender also topped me up for free. I finished the evening’s meandering in the beautiful, cafe-lined square in front of the Saint-Pierre church. 

Note that since my visit to Bordeaux, Vins Urbain has closed. You can expect similar pricing at other wine bars in town.   

Total: €43.50

Have some extra time? Here are some great day trips from Bordeaux.

Collage: glass of wine and Cité du Vin building in Bordeaux, France
Learn about all things wine at Cité du Vin © Laura Motta / Lonely Planet

Saturday:

Coffee: As always, I started the day in France with coffee. I took a cozy, pillow-covered seat along the wall at Café Piha and ordered a latte in my shaky French (€4)

Wine: You cannot leave Bordeaux without visiting the Cité du Vin. This vast museum and education center, housed in a modern glass structure that resembles a wine decanter, was my top sightseeing priority. Dozens of interactive exhibits cover everything from terroir, to the winemaking process, to the history of drinking wine. Digital screens, interactive elements and passionate storytelling make for a fun morning – or a full day, if you’re an aficionado. The €22 admission includes a glass of wine in the rooftop bar.  

Lunch: Directly across from the Cité du Vin is the excellent Les Halles de Bacalan, a busy contemporary food hall where you can sample all the pillars of Bordelaise cuisine – endless local wines by the glass, overflowing baskets of oysters, fried and grilled seafood, French cheeses from every region. I finally settled on a half-dozen oysters from Huitrier de Baca (€10), a glass of wine at La Cave des Halles (€4.50), and a slab of foie gras that was undoubtedly intended for two people (€6)

History: My after-lunch sightseeing included the wonderful Musee Aquitaine, which covers Bordeaux and the surrounding region, all the way back to its pre-Roman roots. Entry costs €6. From here, I headed to the Basilica of Saint Severus (Seurin, in French) for a (free) look around. This is another of Bordeaux’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and is an important pilgrimage church on the Way of St. James.   

Dinner: My second wine bar of the trip was Les Doux Secrets d’Hélène, where I encountered Hélène herself, as well as her two sweet puppies, who paid me a tableside visit during dinner. I had two glasses of white wine, a soothing vegetable consomme, a stuffed pasta appetizer and a small cheese plate for €33. 

Total: €85.50

Stay on top of logistics with this advice on how to get around Bordeaux.

Collage: Marche des Capucins and Cassonade pastries in Bordeaux, France
Peruse the vendors of Marche des Capucins before enjoying delicious cannelés from Cassonade © Laura Motta / Lonely Planet

Sunday:

Exploring and brunch: My last sightseeing day was an exercise in wandering – an easy thing to do in this compact city. I took in the grandiose Place de la Bourse, the ultimate testament to a city that grew rich on international trade, and the memorial honoring the Girondins, a faction in the French Revolution that was home-grown in Bordeaux. Other stops included the picturesque covered Galerie Bordelaise, before I made my way toward the Place Meynard and the surrounding neighborhood. Here, you’ll find yet another UNESCO-designated cathedral, plus the charming Marche des Capucins, which is much more sprawling and local than Les Halles de Bacalan. I grabbed a barstool at La Poissonnerie and ordered 6 oysters for €10, which included a half-glass of white wine and fresh bread. Hard to go wrong with that. 

Sweet snack: Before heading back to my hotel and catching a ride to the airport, I made sure to stop by Cassonade, a small pastry shop that specializes in cannelés, small pastries with a perfectly caramelized crust and a soft center. They are a Bordeaux icon. Choose between vanilla and rum flavors for a sweet treat on your way home. Or try both. (Two for €4.) 

Total: €14

Final tally: €785.20



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