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Bordeaux/St. Emilion

Unfortunately my wife and I had to cancel our 3 1/2 week trip to France this past May.
I have revised our next trip to France whenever travel to France will again be allowed.

I am planning a 4-week trip to France which includes a 7-day stay in Bordeaux/St. Emilion.
Are we better off staying in Bordeaux and go to St.Emilion as a day trip for 1 or 2 of those days?
Or are we better off splitting our stay between the 2 cities?

Thank you for your input!

Posted by
1975 posts

My 2021 travel plans may include a stay in Bordeaux. Right now the plan is to stay in Bordeaux and enjoy a day trip to St. Emilion. My reasons for this choice include train connections, and more hotel options.

I hope you get some replies from people who have actually been there!

Posted by
3986 posts

Are you going to have a car?

Bordeaux is a large city, but can be seen in a day. We used the good park and ride system when we visited last May. A day there was enough to see the essential spots and there are plenty of good cafes and restaurants. Add another day if you want to see Cite du Vin.

St Emilion was a half day trip and was a huge disappointment - a monotonous selection of shops and wine tasting places, many selling exactly the same thing. The cafes are double the price of nearby villages. Get there early to get parked. There were more Americans there than French or any other nationality!

We had 5 nights in this region with a car, which was plenty of time. We stayed in Rauzan which has a pretty Castle and it was a good base for the area and the staff in the tasting wine caves spoke good English.

If it was a straight choice between St Emilion and Bordeaux, Bordeaux would get my vote as it’s far more down to earth than the uppity St Emilion.

Posted by
16826 posts

Will you be driving or using public transportation? Why did you select that specific area for a week-long stay? Where will you be before you reach that area? Where will you be heading next?

I spent five nights in Bordeaux last summer (late May/early June) and took a day-trip to St.-Emilion by train. However, I had 43 days to spend in western France. I enjoyed Bordeaux; it's a handsome city and I liked the museums. It is not, I would say, one of France's very most engaging destinations for the typical tourist.

St.-Emilion is a very pretty, hilly, historic town. Very touristy at the lower level; less so up at the top of the town. I spent several hours just walking all the streets. I don't care for wine, so I spent no time tasting or shopping. I think a one-day trip would be sufficient for nearly all tourists. If you're looking for a less-busy place to base for a few days, I'm not sure St.-Emilion is the best choice.

With 7 days for that general area, I would spend most of it to the east, in the Dordogne and/or Lot. I had 11 days there and could definitely have spent longer. I didn't have a car, so it was a struggle for me to get to the tiny places that many people speak of; they don't have rail services and sometimes not even bus service. I had to stay in a series of sizable towns in order to have access to the buses I needed to hit a few of the smaller places--and even so I had to do significant rural walking. But my base towns were very attractive. I guess my two favorites were Perigueux and Cahors. I also liked (hilly) Figeac when I day-tripped there.

There are several people on the forum who love the Dordogne and have visited it by car. They can help you with your planning if you intend to rent a vehicle.

Posted by
116 posts

St Emilion can easily be done in less than half a day - it is mostly just wine selling shops and cafes, pretty disappointing actually.
I have not spent time in Bordeaux (apart from picking car up at airport) but I would recommend La Rochelle just up the coast. Spent 3 days their and it was lovely. Went to Ile de Re and also took boat out to Fort Boyard.

Posted by
6795 posts

We had two wonderful tours in St. Emilion sponsored by the Office of Tourism. The troglodyte dwellings, underground church, catacombs etc are worth the visit. We spent another day biking. The shops did look touristy but we didn't shop because we had no intention of lugging anything around with us.

Posted by
2811 posts

I won't say that our somewhat recent trip to St. Emillion was disappointing, because I had been there many years before and had an idea what to expect. My wife and I spent 2-3 hours there, which was plenty. There are some beautiful aspects to it, but overall it's pretty touristy. On the other hand, I've stayed in Bordeaux several times, although never more than 2 nights. You don't need, or want, a car while in Bordeaux, but it's helpful for day trips. While we drove to St. Emillion before going on to Bordeaux, I believe it's any easy trip by public transportation.

Posted by
16826 posts

There's train service from Bordeaux to St.-Emilion, but the St-Emilion rail station is a bit over a mile from the town, and after you reach the town it's all uphill. I'm pretty stubborn about walking whenever I can, but on this occasion I opted to ride the little shuttle, which I think cost 4 euros each way; I walked back. An advantage of the shuttle is that it takes you up to a spot near the tourist information office, which is just about at the top of the town. From that point, your wanderings will be almost totally downhill. I don't know whether there's a possibility of getting off the shuttle earlier, in the lower/busier part of the town.

I also don't know whether there's bus service from Bordeaux that goes right to St-Emilion; there may be.

Google map

One other thing: Some of the streets in St-Emilion are quite steep, and they are cobbled. On a rainy day they will be very slippery. Folks with mobility impairments who want to do substantial wandering around would be smart to consult the weather forecast.

Posted by
2022 posts

I have not been to St Emllion in several years and agree about the steep streets. I think there is at least one street with a handrail to help with the steepness. We enjoyed st Emilion and explored. some wine caves.

Posted by
199 posts

We are still hoping to travel to SW France and NE Spain in September, a trip I scheduled in January, right before Covid became an issue.

The plan had been to fly into Barcelona, rent a car, head immediately up toward the Dordogne, back to the Pays Basque, and then back to Zaragoza and Barcelona for the final week. Hoping, and cautiously optimistic, that we will be able to do that, but we will have to wait and see.

As part of that trip, we will be traveling from Sarlat (where we are staying 5 nights) to Bordeaux, where we will be spending two nights.

Our plan for that travel day is to spend most of the day in St. Emilion. But we are not planning to spend the night there.

Posted by
16826 posts

Yes, I remember the handrail. The cobblestones were wet the day of my visit, and it was a bit scary, though I didn't see anyone fall.

Posted by
6795 posts

Yes, steep, slippery-stone streets in a few places. That was disagreeable.

Posted by
3258 posts

This was 17 years ago, and we had a car. We rented a gite for a week in the countryside just outside the pleasant town of Saint-André-de-Cubzac, birthplace and burial site of explorer Jacques Cousteau. Both Bordeaux and St. Emilion were day trips, with us staying in between. Are you looking to stay in a big city? Then Bordeaux will fit the bill.

Wine shops? St. Emilion can’t be beat - We got our one bottle for a big future anniversary celebration there.

Variety? Have a bit of both. What experiences and sights do you value most? And is transportation a factor?

Posted by
2811 posts

There is literally nothing to see in Bordeaux.

Don't pay any attention to that. Some people like it, some don't. I do. And as I mentioned previously, St. Emillion is worth a stop, preferably a fairly short one.

Posted by
28 posts

We spent 3 weeks in Bordeaux 2 years ago and loved it. We stayed in an airbnb out of the tourist zone. There is great transit and it is easily walkable. We explored the large covered market and had great lunches there. on sunday there is an outdoor market on the river which is fabulous. Lovely churches and architecture, beautiful parks, Roman ruins. The wine museum is amazing. We spent 5 hours there. We did 2 wine tours thru the tourism centre, which were both excellent. We toured the opera house, went to the botanical gardens. We rented a car for 4 days, and went to Arcachon for the day to see the dune and have moules on the beach. We spent a day in St Emilion. Missed some of the main sights, but had a lovely tuk-tuk tour with Sebastien, and wine at Paddy O'tooles. Had breakfast on the quay and watched the bridge go up to allow a cruise ship in. Picked a road and went south, found some amazing old buildings and Cadillac, which has a wonderful old building that used to be a prison. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there!

Posted by
162 posts

We had an overnight cruise stop in Bordeaux in October, 2019. I thought it was a very nice town, although during the day it was pretty crowded. I think having two nights there would be plenty. No offense to Rick, but just because he doesn't like a city doesn't mean that it should be entirely written off.

Posted by
28 posts

We were there for 3 weeks and had the car for 4 days. We spent a lot of time in the city itself. I found it lovely and found a lot of things to do and see. If you drink wine it is a great base for the region.

Posted by
6795 posts

We spent over a week in Bordeaux in an apartment and found plenty to do, including several Office of Tourism tours both in Bordeaux and to a couple of grape regions. We speak French, but there were English speakers on the wine tours, too. I admit that we weren't there only for tourism but scouting relocation sites. Many areas, particularly with the tram now, are gentrifying. We stayed in an immigrant neighborhood. The covered market is excellent. Excellent regional museum. I did find Toulouse, a similar sized city, had more variety in many aspects.
After that we spent two nights just outside St. Emilion in a B and B where the host, a trained chef, served family style meals. Fun to mingle. The best things there to me are the exceptional troglodyte structures.
I don't follow where RS says to go, as his recommendations could be twenty-years old. He also recommends the 7th arrondissement in Paris. Anyone who doesn't like Bordeaux, will hate rue Cler in the 7th.

Posted by
2811 posts

No offense to Rick, but just because he doesn't like a city doesn't mean that it should be entirely written off.

I'm glad you said that. I was worried that I had committed an infraction by making 3 visits to Bordeaux, and liking it.

Posted by
6795 posts

Robert--you are an oenophile, so it's one of the best places to be.

Posted by
125 posts

I agree with most of the posters that Saint Emilion is quite touristy, it is hard to find a parking place there if you are driving, and it is very steep, and the restaurants are nothing to write home about. It is a quaint village, and might be worth a day trip if you have the time. I also stayed in Bordeaux for a week in a rental apartment, and really enjoyed it. The public transportation system is quite good, and it has some interesting museums and churches, and a very nice open market. However if you do not mind driving, you might want to break up the time in Bordeaux by going to the Dordogne. We also stayed there a week and found it fascinating. Peter

Posted by
2811 posts

Bets, that may be true, but funnily enough, while I've been to every significant French wine region, and visited hundreds of wineries, I've avoided visiting Bordeaux wineries (with 1 exception - a Croix de Saint Mont winery that we stayed at), even while making several visits to Bordeaux itself.

Posted by
11738 posts

My take on Bordeaux, it's a nice city. The center is worth a look around but the public transportation is severely lacking. They have two trams, with limited routes and hours. The buses stopped running at 9pm. I was there during the wine festival, buses were supposed to have expanded schedules but I didn't experience it - I did a lot of walking. If you aren't staying walking distance from the center, Place de la Bourse, you'd be sorry. Like all places, first check out sites you'd be interested in seeing then decide how many days that will take. Tripadvisor has a list of attractions that's quick and easy to use. I think you could do fine arriving in the morning, spending a day looking around, eat dinner, stay a night and head on the next morning. I stayed longer but spent two days at the wine festival (mid June) alone and a little time looking around the center. Biggest downer for me, I liked only about one in twenty wines I tasted in the region. In Burgundy, there might be one in twenty I wouldn't love. I'm not into the mineral taste that comes from Bordeaux (and Rioja region of Spain if you like that taste).

I really liked St. Emilion. To me it had more to offer than most towns it's size. I liked that to see the bell tower you check at the TI and they hand you a key. The underground "monolith" church was a surprise. It's not small in any way. I camped at the Yelloh camp ground near there. It's an interesting experience in itself. St. Emilion can be seen in one day but two might make it more relaxed. It's really popular. In high season it might be crowded enough to skip completely. In May, it wouldn't be crowded and might even feel deserted.

Posted by
16826 posts

St-Emilion wasn't remotely deserted on May 31, 2019, but that was a Friday besides being practically June. Most of the uphill areas were relatively quiet or unpeopled, but I've found that to be the case even in mid-summer in a lot of places.