Busting the Budget in Bordeaux

By Nomadic Matt | Published September 9th, 2009

Bordeaux FranceI knew Bordeaux was going to be expensive. I was here last year to visit friends and got to experience Bordeaux’s high prices first hand. Coming back, I knew I’d have to budget a lot. Bordeaux is an upscale city—a city for shopping, drinking, and eating. It sits in the center of the world-famous wine region that bears its name, and thus tourists come here come to eat, drink, experience wine, and be merry. Just like Napa Valley in California or Hunter Valley in Australia, prices here reflect that spending reality.

As a budget traveler, I always try to see places on the cheap. I’m out to prove travel isn’t expensive, and the more I save, the longer I can travel. And while you can eat sandwiches and buy cheap wine in the supermarkets here, you’ll miss out on what makes Bordeaux so great. Bordeaux is simply not a budget place, and I spent more here in three days than I did in a week in Spain.

You need to bring those extra Euros because here in Bordeaux, the food and wine is second to none. The area has been producing wine for centuries and has perfected this art. While I was disappointed that Bordeaux itself doesn’t have much in the way of sights to see, the architecture is beautiful and it’s nice to just meander through the city’s little alleys and cobblestone streets.

vineyards in bordeax

What I really came here for was the wine. While there are many wine tour operators in the area, I found that the city tourist office offers a lot of great options. You can do half-day tours, full-day tours, multi-day tours, or take classes on wine. They do everything. The full-day tours range from €55 to 90 and include lunch. However, they were always full. I personally think the half-day tours are a better option. For €30, you spend the afternoon visiting two wineries. The tours run every day to a different wine area in the region. I did two of these tours and enjoyed being able to learn about how the subtle variations in location and soil produce very different wines. Taking a few half-day tours gives you the bigger picture rather than spending one day in one small area around Bordeaux.

In Bordeaux, wine is very regulated. Wineries can only produce a certain amount of wine per year and only of the type their area is best able to produce. If you want to produce more or try a different variety, you’re out of luck. Moreover, all the wine in Bordeaux is blended between cabernet and merlot grapes. Reds tend to be produced closer to the sea, while whites tend to be produced south of the city and in between the two rivers that flow near Bordeaux. I learned quite a bit about this wine-making process and the history of the area.

Bordeaux France chateauwineglasses

Besides wine, what really makes Bordeaux amazing is the food. Following the advice of winetravel from Twitter, I decided to eat at La Tupina. It’s a traditional French restaurant serving southwest-style French cuisine. The menu is quite small. They produce only a handful of traditional dishes, but the food is very, very good. You pay for it too as most of the dishes range from €18 to 40. The wine menu also contains an extensive list of local wines. I managed to get out of there without spending too much money, but the money I did spend was well worth it.

However, my favorite meal was at Le Petit Commerce. Located near the river, my friend took me there last year for some great seafood, and I had to go back this time around. It took me awhile to find it again, but I did, and the seafood I had there was amazing. My friend and I stayed there for about five hours eating and drinking. The squid, the shrimp, the snails (yes, I tried the sea snails), the bread. All of it was amazing. If you’re ever in Bordeaux, I highly recommend this place. It’s apparently quite famous too.

la tupina  restaurant in Bordeaux, France

But no matter where you go in Bordeaux, you’ll find good food and wine. The city is famous for it, and no matter the night, every establishment fills up with folks out to find a new gastronomical delight. I passed many places I wish I had time to try. Coming to Bordeaux is a great chance to eat and drink, and you won’t walk away disappointed. But you will walk away with a much lighter wallet.

For more information, visit my page on backpacking Europe or my guide to France.

comments 10 Comments

Great article; makes me want to play hookey from teaching, pack my bags, and go exploring….and I don’t even like wine.

Franny

Great photos – did you take that one of the wine glasses? So nice!

I’m not a wine lover but I can relate to your post. I wouldn’t mind doing a tour just so we can learn more about winery and the view looks amazing! Sometimes budget travel doesn’t mean avoiding doing what’s the place is all about even if it’s a bit pricey. :) Glad you had a great time there.

I love the arty-ness of the two bottom photos. You’ve filled me with regret. I got within 50 miles of Bordeaux but took the other fork in the road (walking in the Pyrenees). The wineries and food sound outstanding and well described.

The meals and bottles of wine can be expensive, but enjoying such tasty endeavors is such a part of regular life there. I learned to enjoy fresh oysters in nearby Arcachon Bay.

I definitely miss the patisseries (pastry shops) found everywhere in France.

I think the bottom photo combo works well because the two photos contrast well. The combo of the two vineyard shots…not as much because they are so similar.

I’m trying to get more artistic with my photos so thanks for the advice!

Monna

Hi Matt! We broke the piggy bank in Nice… and it was worth every Euro.

I agree with Dave about the two last photos. Work great together.

Sounds like busting the budget in Bordeaux was totally worth it. I would have done the same!

Liam

Hi Matt, great informative article.
I am headed to Bordeaux in about a week and the 30 euro halfday wine tour sounds good but I’ve been searching on the net and I can’t seem to find who does them or how I can book one. Most of the other wine tours are quite expensive.
If you could point me in the right direction, that’d be tops.
Cheers

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