The first and only other time Sue and I visited France was in 1995, with our teen-aged son and daughter. We stayed in Paris for a few days, then toured the villages of central France, spending a day or two in each location before finally returning to Paris for the flight home. For our trip this year, we decided to adopt a more relaxed pace and cut back on the travel: we would spend one week in south-central France and one week in Paris.
I learned two things from our 1995 trip: our first day in Europe, we were so tired that we could not do much else than recover from our near-zombie state; and our last day in Europe was spent mostly on the road, heading back to Paris — we stayed overnight near the airport so we could more easily catch the morning flight home. Looking back, it seemed to me that we could have more hours of fun this time around if we juggled the itinerary. This is where Bordeaux comes in.
On Bordeaux, travel guru Rick Steves imparts this bit of wisdom: “Bordeaux must mean boredom in some ancient language. If I were offered a free trip to that town, I’d stay home and clean the fridge.” Nonetheless, I thought it made sense for us to head to Bordeaux for the first couple of days of our trip.
First, this would front-load most of the tedious travel. We could take a train directly from Charles de Gaulle airport to Bordeaux — and maybe sleep a little on the train. We would arrive in Bordeaux right at hotel check-in time so we could rest before dinner. Our second day in Bordeaux could be low-key — see some shops, visit the art museum, adjust to the time difference. Finally, on our third day, we could pick up our rental car and head to St. Emilion and Sarlat to start our more purposeful sightseeing.
On the tail end, spending our second week in Paris — rather than the first — would allow us to fully enjoy our final day in France. We could simply hop on the RER train or get a shuttle from our hotel to the airport the morning of our return flight. All this reinforced my decision to head south to Bordeaux to begin our trip.
I looked at other waypoints besides Bordeaux that were closer to Sarlat, such as Périgueux and Brive-la-Gaillarde, but the train schedules were uncooperative. Traveling by train to Brive from the Paris airport involves two transfers, and we would not have arrived in Brive until 5:30 pm, more than 10 hours after our plane touched down. That’s too much.
So what did we do in Bordeaux? Not a lot. We skipped the museum, as we were still too tired to appreciate art. We did a little gift shopping, and I strolled around the old city with my camera for an hour or so while Sue was taking a nap.
We had pre-dinner drinks both nights at a bar near Place Gambetta called The Central Pub. It was very popular with young chain-smokers and drinkers. And we very much enjoyed our meals at Le Grand Café, just a few steps from the Hôtel la Tour Intendance, where we stayed. The hotel — ehh — the front desk was very friendly, but the room was cramped and there was no ventilation unless we opened our door. I thought it was way overpriced for $180 a night.
I liked the Old City (pedestrian area) where we stayed but the shops were pretty high-end. Our taxi driver noted this as he dropped us off at our hotel — he raised his eyebrows and playfully asked if we were going to be shopping at the Hermès store. [The driver was quite helpful, actually. He told us — in very good English — that it was a holiday weekend in France and so we should ask our hotel to pre-arrange the taxi for our check-out day. For that bit of advice, I gave him a good tip.]
Would I go out of my way to visit Bordeaux again? Even though we didn’t see much of it, probably not. We had some nice meals, but that isn’t unusual in France. Bordeaux served the purpose I intended, which was to let us get adjusted. If I were in this area again, I would want to be closer to the ocean — somewhere like Cap Ferret, about an hour west, where one can enjoy beaches and fresh seafood.
At this point, you must be thinking, this was a pretty long blog post about getting some rest and having a few good meals in a town we really didn’t explore. So it is. C’est la vie.