Mention Bordeaux, France, and right away thoughts race to verdant vineyards and bottles of Bordeaux wine. Its reputation is well deserved as Bordeaux is the largest wine-producing region in France, surrounded by acres of vineyards dotted with majestic chateaux.
A tasting tour to a vineyard while visiting Bordeaux is a popular excursion, and Richard Nahem’s article How To Spend A Perfect Weekend in Bordeaux France is filled with suggestions for what to do in the city. But have you ever considered going further afield? Bordeaux, known as the Pearl of Aquitaine, is, in fact, the capital of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France and situated perfectly to use as a base for day trips in the area.
I first visited Bordeaux before I started a housesitting assignment east of the city near Saint-Emilion. While there, my French neighbor insisted that I visit Sarlat-la-Caneda. I discovered that both these medieval towns are historic gems. On a tip from another French local, I headed west of Bordeaux to the Atlantic Coast. What a delight to explore France’s Silver Coast (the Cote d’Argent), which stretches 124 miles long. It is Europe’s longest stretch of sandy beach, and while no secret to the French, it is less known to foreigners.
Nouvelle-Aquitaine is France’s largest region and these five best day trips from Bordeaux will unveil places that feel authentically French. Don your beret and grab a baguette and a bottle of local wine. Allons-y! Let’s go!
Surrounded by thousands of acres of vineyards and known worldwide for its wine, Saint-Emilion sits atop a hill with spectacular views over the countryside. This medieval city is classified as a UNESCO Heritage Site and also one of the Plus Beaux Villages of France (Most Beautiful Villages of France). A mere 45 minutes east of Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion is well worth a day trip.
The perfect excursion to Saint-Emilion combines exploring the picturesque town and sampling the local specialty, the red wine! Be prepared to climb on your visit! Take your time and wander the steep cobblestone streets of Saint-Emilion that wind amidst well-preserved medieval architecture. Some of the steepest streets provide a railing to hold onto. The Collegiate Church, whose construction started in 1180, and its stunning cloister sit, impressively in the upper town. If you love climbing, ascend the 196 steps of the tower for panoramic views over the village and luscious vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see.
Don’t miss the unique, underground Monolithic Church, carved out of a single piece of rock. Built in the 12th century and still in use today, this church can only be entered with a guided tour booked at the Tourist Office.
Saint-Emilion specializes in red wines from the grape varieties of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. With over 800 producers in the region, there are plenty of wineries to visit. Tours often include a history of the winery, the generational family ties, the story of production, and a chance to savor the subtle flavors of the wine. It was on my wine tour that I discovered my olfactory sense and my palate could use a little refining! Check tour schedules in advance and note that some wineries are only open to professionals in the wine industry.
Here are a couple of Saint-Emilion wineries to consider visiting: Chateau de Ferrand is about three and a half miles from Saint-Emilion. The tour includes the history of the chateau, the vineyards, and the wine cellar. Chateau la Dominique combines modern and historic buildings with a rooftop terrace with fabulous views over (you guessed it) vineyards. Walk over the flooring of red glass pebbles reminiscent of stomping grapes during harvest season.
Pro Tip: If you are coming to Saint-Emilion in September, be sure to check out events and activities for grape harvest season.
Sarlat-la-Caneda, one of the most beautifully preserved medieval centers in France, is a two-and-a-half-hour drive or train ride from Bordeaux.
Stepping into Sarlat-la-Caneda is a bit like walking in a fairytale, one that takes place in14th-century France. Half-timbered houses lean this way and that, narrow cobbled alleyways lead between houses, and subtle yellow sandstone facades add to the ambiance.
Tucking the map in my pocket, I found that Sarlat-la-Caneda was a dream for the curious soul. Ancient mansions, bell towers, historic cathedrals, and hidden squares are all easily discovered. My favorite experiences happened at the lively Saturday market where the gastronomy that the area is known for was a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. Truffles, foie gras, enormous rounds of Rocamadour cheese, and walnuts are just a few of the treasures to be found.
Pro Tips: Sarlat-la-Caneda is a very popular tourist destination and gets quite crowded by midday. Leave early and plan to visit the amazing outdoor market on Wednesday morning or all day Saturday. Food vendors are there Saturday mornings only, while artisanal stalls stay open all day. This article, How To Spend the Perfect Day in Sarlat-la-Caneda, will help you plan your day trip.
3. The Dune Du Pilat
Imagine Europe’s highest sand dune: a mass of shifting white sand where you climb to the top and take in panoramic views including Arcachon Bay, the lighthouse at Cap-Ferret, and the Landes Forest. Breathe in the salty air and the strong scent of the pine forest. It truly is magical.
Feel the powdery sand between your toes, sit for a minute and imagine that this sand dune has been here for thousands of years. And, it moves every year! The winds push the dune eastward 3 to 16 feet each year.
Wondering how you will get to the top of the dune? Feel free to climb up the steepest slope of the Dune du Pilat (accessible from the parking lot side) or use the handy staircase with 168 steps, which is installed every year from the end of May until early November.
Feeling like a dip in the ocean? Slip down the oceanside slope of the Dune du Pilat and spend some time beachside. Just remember you will have to clamber back up to the top!
More than one and a half miles long from north to south and 328 feet high, the Dune du Pilat is an unforgettable day trip from Bordeaux. This natural heritage site is 40 miles from Bordeaux and easily accessible by car and train.
Pro Tip: The Dune du Pilat is free to access and open all year. The parking lot fee is based on the amount of time you spend at the Dune du Pilat. There are stores and shops selling coffee and ice cream near the parking lot. I was so happy to find washrooms were available.
4. Biscarrosse Beach
If you feel like escaping for a beach day, Bordeaux is a two-hour drive from France’s Silver Coast. Biscarrosse Beach stretches for two and a half miles with crashing surf and a wide, sandy beach making it the perfect day trip destination from Bordeaux.
With the impressive waves, this beach attracts surfers and plenty of people who walk the shores, sunbathe, and picnic.
Behind the dunes that back the beach is the town of Biscarrosse full of shops, cafes, restaurants, and a casino. Stroll the town and dive into some local oysters or mussels.
Rent a bicycle and explore the area along the paved cycling paths. You can cycle all the way to Arcachon Bay.
Pro Tip: It is only a 15-minute drive between the Dune du Pilat and Biscarrosse Beach. Combine the two destinations on the same day trip. Stop off at the Dune du Pilat and then spend the balance of the day exploring Biscarrosse.
Go early in the day as in the summer the roads leading to Biscarrosse Beach can be very busy, and it can be difficult to find a parking spot. Other highly recommended beaches along the Silver Coast are Lacanau and Mimizan.
5. Arcachon Bay And Cap-Ferret
Arcachon Bay is dotted with seaside towns all ripe for exploring and sampling Arcachon Bay’s famous oysters. There are plenty of activities to do on a day trip here, such as bird watching (bring binoculars), cycling along bike paths, and renting a kayak. In fact, you might need to plan several day trips or an overnight to fully appreciate Arcachon Bay.
Cap-Ferret (not to be confused with Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera) is a charming gem of a town situated on the peninsula also named Cap-Ferret. The narrow peninsula wraps around Arcachon Bay, its western side facing the Atlantic Ocean and its eastern coast watching over the bay and its oyster producers. Soak up the laid-back vibe of this picturesque seaside town with its oyster shacks and sandy beaches. Slow right down. Walk the beach. Climb the spiral staircase in the landmark Cap-Ferret lighthouse.
Cap-Ferret is about an hour’s drive due west of Bordeaux. Without a car, it can be accessed by the passenger ferry from Arcachon.
Pro Tip: While in Cap-Ferret, I recommend eating at Chez Hortense (make a reservation and be sure to ask for a table with a seaside vista) and Chez Boulan, an oyster shack well worth stopping off to savor the local specialty.