Nomad Nick

Bordeaux: A Charming Introduction

An introduction to the Port de la Lune

Bordeaux is most famously known as a major wine producing region of France, and wine production is visible at nearly every turn in the region. But Bordeaux isn’t just made up of wineries — it’s a bustling metropolis straddling the banks of the Garonne with a rich history dating back to ancient Rome.

Though it has had several nicknames in its long history — “Little Rome,” and “Sleeping Beauty,” among them — “Port de la Lune,” or Port of the Moon in English, draws upon the historic central part of the city’s geographic relationship at the bank of the Garonne River, which bends the old port city in a crescent moon shape.

Today, restaurants and cafes fill the city streets from the city central out along the branches of Bordeaux’s light rail system, and wineries are within a short drive, dotting the immediate countryside with chateaus, ancient medieval towns, and modern wineries. And to the west are beachside towns, oyster farms, and the enormous Dune of Pilat where the Arachon Bay meets the Atlantic coast.

When planning this trip, I had a minimal understanding of Bordeaux as a city and as a region, and what I discovered along the way left me wanting to return to explore more of the region.

Understanding the city

The city of Bordeaux sits at the center of the wine country region, and only about 260 thousand people live in the city proper, the urban area houses about a million total, and the region is nearly 1.4 million.

There are many ways of dividing up the city of Bordeaux — there are 5 administrative cantons in the city, Bordeaux itself is considered an arrondissement (administrative district) — and such an old, sprawling city is bound to have many interpretations of its geographical features. The easiest way I found to understand how to navigate Bordeaux is by categorizing its neighborhoods:

  1. Saint-Pierre, Grand Hommes, Hôtel de Ville-Quinconces, & Capucins-Victoire: the main historical city center
  2. Saint Seurin, Public Garden, Fondudège: quieter neighborhoods located just outside the busy city center
  3. Chartons: a large neighborhood north of the city center, filled with shops and restaurants
  4. Saint-Bruno, Saint-Victor: Another quieter neighborhood just outside the city center
  5. Gare Saint-Jean: Bordeaux’s train station area
  6. Bassins à flot, Bacalan: Northern section of the city with rehabilitated maritime industrial sites and the Cité du Vin experience

Then there are neighborhoods outside central Bordeaux:

  1. La Bastide: the eastern bank of the Garonne River is far less developed than the historical center
  2. Caudéran: a wealthy neighborhood with large homes and many restaurants and shops
  3. Saint Augustin: 2 large neighborhoods to the west of the central city

The districts on the left bank of the Garonne River form a crescent moon

Where we stayed

When traveling, I tend to avoid the most central, touristy parts of a city. Sometimes this is unavailable, but in Bordeaux, there are many neighborhoods with Airbnb and VRBO apartments just steps from grocery stores, restaurants, and transit stops. For this trip, we found this Airbnb in Chartons, right in the middle of a hip, lively section of the city.