Over a decado ago, Anne Lataillade was a stay-at-home mum looking after two young children, both of whom had severe food allergies. She surfed the net, searching in vain for recipes she could feed them. This led to Anne starting her pioneering food blog in 2005. Today Anne is one of France’s top food bloggers, getting around 3 million views per month. Her site, Papilles et Pupilles (eyelids and taste buds is the rather clumsy sounding translation), was voted best culinary blog by Elle magazine in 2008, and she does a weekly radio show on France Bleu Gironde. Anne lives in a tall house in the centre of Bordeaux, so everything in the newly refurbished city is within walking distance.
Bordeaux has undergone a transformation recently, thanks to Mayor Alain Juppé, the liberal, pro-immigration member of Les Republicains. Formerly a sooty decrepit town, where eighteenth-century squares were used as parking lots and industrial buildings obscured the river, there is now a clear view of the banks of the Garonne with splendid public art sculptures. The river is so deep and wide, ocean liners moor next to the town and visitors can take boat trips both up and down stream.
Bordeaux is the largest Unesco World Heritage site. Its historic town centre has been cleaned, and the beautiful old gates can now be seen. A lethally silent tramway has been built. As you walk through the grand streets (only a little of the original medieval city remains) that so inspired Baron Haussman, who brought a similar aesthetic to Paris, the characteristic pale coral light of western France illuminates the blond stone, the huge city gates, the lengthy shopping streets. Coppery lamps hang high, while starlings flock to the trees that colonnade the airy public squares.
It is fascinating to visit. Here are my top picks of what to drink, eat and see. I was aided by Anne Lataillade, who kindly gave me her ‘carnet d’adresses’, her address book of recommendations.
Bordeaux is a wine city. Even if you don’t get around to visiting local chateaux, you must visit the following places.
Cité du Vin: I’ve been here twice and I could go again. Reserve at least half a day for this interactive museum of wine, which only opened in 2016. Even kids would love it. The architecture itself is worth a look; the idea is that it resembles a glass containing swirling wine.
Bordeaux boasts one of the best wine shops in the world, ‘L’intendant’. It is dominated by a spiral staircase through its central core. As you ascend the stairs, the concentric walls are packed with wine bottles. The higher you go, the more expensive and rarer the wines. A 1937 Chateau Yquem is worth almost 8,000 euros. On the very top floor are the large bottles – magnums, jeroboams and imperials.
The Urban wine trail in Bordeaux
Check out the Bar à Vin du CIVB, Le Wine Bar, the Cité du Vin, Wine more Time, where you can both buy and taste wine.
Saint-James’ mushroom guy. Ceps picked that morning.
Bordeaux’s food is meat-heavy with duck and game. As a pescetarian, I found it difficult to eat out; despite the proximity to the sea as they don’t eat very much fish. Here are a few options recommended by Anne.
This Michelin-starred restaurant is Anne’s favourite in Bordeaux, and I can see why. The chef Nicolas Magie knows his flavours, skilfully combining new ingredients (e.g. yuzu, now being grown in France) with traditional Bordelais cuisine. Saint-James also comprises a hotel and cookery school. The rooms with a view, where the outside and interior are organically intertwined, overlook a private vineyard that only produces 500 bottles a year. Located in romantically rustic village Bouliac, on the outskirts of the city, I learnt how to make proper French-style mashed potatoes (1:1 ratio of butter to potato) and canelés in the cooking school (recipes to come).
Chef Magie did try, without success, to convert me to liking beetroot, although I must say the food he cooked for me was truly fine. We did have a feisty conversation about vegetarianism. “The truth is we only get three vegetarians a month,” explained the manager. I can see that it doesn’t make commercial sense right now. It’s a chicken and egg situation (or tofu and soybean?) – people don’t demand good meat-free food because they don’t think it exists and it doesn’t exist because people do not ask for it.
If you eat meat, this is a must-visit. If you don’t, forget it. Literally everything is cooked in goose fat, over a wood fire. It is one of the most famous restaurants in Bordeaux.
A new restaurant, only a year old, facing the river; the chef Felix Clerc cooks adventurous and beautifully presented local cuisine with Asian influences.
Usually restaurants with a great view aren’t very good, but Anne assures me that this is worth a visit.
There are nice places to eat at Le Marché des Capuchins, including this tapas bar with Spanish/Basque cuisine. Pintxos are priced by stick colour.
Oyster bar with both indoor and outdoor seating. Packed on a Saturday lunchtime.
Unfortunately it was closed on our visit but Anne particularly recommended this fixed menu restaurant, where everything is made in-house.
Marché des Capucins
Anne took me round to her favourite producers and stalls. Watch out for piment d’espelette, the orange pepper grown in the Basque region. Keep it in the fridge so that it retains its colour and bite.
The thin green piment doux, which are used to make Piperade, a Basque dish popular in Bordeaux.
The cream made freshly at La Ronde des Fromages stall was heavenly – the best I’ve ever tasted.
Outside the market:
Moulds: go copper or go home. Copper is frighteningly expensive, but it produces the most ‘croustillant’ canelés. You can also buy rubber moulds in the shape, though it’s not the same. I bought one for 22 euros. Yes, just one, as that was all I could afford, at a local kitchenware shop. You might as well buy them on the internet because the exchange rate is so bad for us right now.
The light, the trees, the water, the shops, the hipsters with their man buns (called ‘catogans’ in French), the lycéens flirting and smoking after school – everything. Take a walking tour.