Best day trips from Bordeaux

Nicola recently finished writing the new edition of Lonely Planet’s Pocket Bordeaux guidebook, which is out in May 2024. Here she shares her expert opinion on day trips beyond the city.

The city of Bordeaux does city life and culture so well, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have any desire to leave. Yet its enviable location – on the banks of the coffee-brown Garonne River, a stone’s throw from the Gironde Estuary and Atlantic Coast – is enough to pique the curiosity of every urban explorer.

After you’ve crossed the city, sampling fine wine and exploring streets and squares threaded with elegant mansions, consider a nearby excursion. Day trips deliver exciting encounters with unique natural landscapes, beaches and go-slow sea adventures – not to mention face-to-face meetings with the talented makers behind some of France’s finest wine. 

In line with metropolitan Bordeaux’ first ecological commitment, the best trips can all be handled by low-carbon trains and bicycles. So what’s the hitch? Finding time to do it all.

Here are some of our favorite day trips from Bordeaux.

An aerial view of a terraced plaza in St-Émilion, Lobourne, France
The village of St-Émilion is a charming place to sip the surrounding region’s world-famous reds © Shutterstock

1. Savor powerful reds in St-Émilion

Travel time: 35 minutes by train

Older and more prestigious than any other Bordeaux wine, St-Émilion clarets (as the English have called Bordeaux red wine since the Middle Ages) fueled the merrymaking at Eleanor of Aquitaine’s wedding to future king of England Henry Plantagenet in 1152, and were the viticultural star of England’s King Edward I’s court in the 14th century. Discover one of the world’s most prestigious reds for yourself in the medieval village of St-Émilion, where AOC St-Émilion wines continue to be crafted with care, passion and priceless ancestral savoir-faire.

The village is diminutive in size and best navigated on foot; allow a day to take in the wine-info center Maison du Vin de St-Émilion and its enchanting, church-clad streets. Wine aficionados eager to sip over dinner or enjoy a guided tour with tastings of one of the village’s surrounding château wineries should overnight: you can’t go wrong doing both at the dreamy Château Troplong Mondot, with its modern eco-winery and Michelin-starred vineyard restaurant.

How to get to St-Émilion from Bordeaux: Count 35 minutes by regional TER train from Bordeaux’ Gare St-Jean to St-Émilion’s wee station, a highly scenic 1 mile (1.7km) walk past vineyards from the village proper.

Nautical sports on the calm waters of the Arcachon Bay, Gironde, France
Leave Arcachon’s beach crowds behind and paddle in the placid waters of the surrounding bay © E. Cowez / Shutterstock

2. Hit the beach and a deserted “bird island” in Arcachon

Travel time: 50 minutes by train

Follow in the 19th-century footsteps of Bordelaise aristocrats to this lovable seaside town on the Atlantic Coast. You won’t find a longer, wider, softer strip of velvety golden sand for miles, and Arcachon’s four romantic quarters, each whimsically named after a season, are an architectural delight. Come lunchtime, feast on fresh seafood and a view of the big blue at gastronomic Chez Pierre or its cheaper neighboring Café de la Plage (owned by the same team).

When the sun-mad beach crowd gets too frantic, move into the slow lane with a guided kayaking expedition to Île aux Oiseaux. A migratory bird stopover, this slip of a deserted island all but disappears at high tide. Paddling expeditions run by Arcachon Kayak depart from the pleasure port, a 15-minute walk east along the sand from the town’s main beach. 

How to get to Arcachon from Bordeaux: Regional trains take 50 minutes to trundle southwest from Gare St-Jean to Arcachon on the coast. From Arcachon’s train station, it’s a five-minute walk along Ave du Général de Gaulle to the seafront.

Tourists on Dune du Pilat on the Bassin d’Arcachon, Gironde, France
The views from the top of Dune du Pilat never disappoint © John Harper / Getty Images

3. Sand-hike up Dune du Pilat

Travel time: 90 minutes by train and bicycle or bus

Whether cold in winter or as hot as burning coals in the height of summer, Europe’s largest dune is best navigated barefoot. From Easter to October, a staircase – around 150 steps – is built on the dune’s eastern slope to help tourists stagger up to the top; at other times, expect an exhausting hike up shifting sand. However you ascend, the seafaring panorama at the top is unmatched.

Dune du Pilat is the indisputable celebrity (read: heavily touristed) sight on this stretch of the wave-whipped Atlantic coast. Access it by bicycle or public transport to reduce the carbon load, and join a guided nature walk run by the Espace Accueil at the dune entrance to learn about the fragility and diversity of this vulnerable sand mountain. 

How to get to Dune du Pilat from Bordeaux: Take the 50-minute train to Arcachon from Bordeaux, then hop on local bus line 3 from the stop in front of the station – or walk five minutes to the seafront and rent a bicycle to cycle 35 minutes to the dune, 6.2 miles (10km) south. The ride, mainly along a dedicated cycling path, might be as thrilling as the final destination.

Fish for sale at the market in Cap Ferret, Gironde, France
Sumptuous seafood awaits in remote Cap Ferret © E. Cowez / Shutterstock

4. Hobnob with oyster farmers on wild and windy Cap Ferret

Travel time: 90 minutes by train and boat

At the dock in Cap Ferret, urban Bordeaux feels a million miles away. Such is the raw, natural beauty of this little-touched cape, where sandy walking trails wind through dunes and pine forest, and oyster farmers grow silvery mollusks tasting of citrus, vanilla and even roasted hazelnut.

Stepping ashore at the tiny café-framed port, rent a bike at Western Flyer and cycle to 53m(174ft)-tall Phare du Cap Ferret for a bird’s-eye view of the cape and (at low tide) its offshore oyster beds. In the ramshackle fishing hamlet of Village Ostréicole du Cap Ferret, a jumble of footpaths made from discarded oyster shells and shacks on stilts, slurp oysters for lunch in a farmer’s backyard (La Kabane is a favorite). In Village Ostréicole de l’Herbe, 3.7 miles (6km) north along a pine-scented cycling path, hook up with oyster farmer Guillaume (tel +33 6 17 08 11 20) for a boat tour of his farm, then stuff yourself silly with oysters at uber-cool bar Hôtel de la Plage.

The feral pull of wild and windy Cap Ferret is such that you might simply not be able to leave. Luckily, an overnight stay at 1950s-California-styled surf lodge Hôtel des Dunes is balm for the soul.

How to get to Cap Ferret from Bordeaux: It’s the same 50-minute regional train from Bordeaux’ Gare St-Jean to Arcachon, then a 10-minute walk to the jetty on Arcachon’s seafront, where UBA shuttle boats sail across the bay to Cap Ferret in 30 minutes.

 A man cycles past Château Pichon Longueville, Pauillac, Gironde, France
While a car is the best way to explore Médoc, cycling past its gorgeous châteaux is also an option © Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

5. Château-hop in Médoc wine country

Travel time: 90 minutes by car

No wine region in France is complete without a helping of châteaux – and the Médoc delivers. Eight appellations come out of what is considered some of the world’s finest wine territory, bolstered by mythical powerhouses with splendiferous châteaux like Mouton Rothschild, Latour and Lafite Rothschild. Tasting or poking around behind the scenes at such top-drawer addresses is only reserved for VIPs – but motoring past their lofty silhouettes en route to open-door chateaux like Château Lynches-Bages in Bages or Château La Haye in St-Estèphe contributes to the magic of a Médoc road trip.

Plan ahead by reserving tours and tastings in advance online; book a table for lunch at wine bistro Café Lavinal in Bages and for dinner at the exceptional chef-owned Nomade in Labarde. At Pauillac’s Maison du Tourisme et du Vin on the waterfront, you can pick up walking itineraries (guided and DIY) and meet local winegrowers.

How to get to Médoc from Bordeaux: Given the rural nature of this vineyard-stitched area, driving is the most practical option for navigating ribboning country lanes and isolated châteaux. A handful of regional trains head from Bordeaux’ Gare St-Jean to Pauillac (75 minutes) hours; from there, bikes can be rented at L’Atelier Vélo by Fun Bike in Bages, 1 mile (1.6km) south.

Medieval architecture in the old town of Périgueux, Dordogne, France
Stroll Périgueux’ medieval streets before a sumptuous duck dinner © Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock

6. Make a date with market day in Périgueux

Travel time: 90 minutes by train

Once done with Bordeaux’ culinary pleasures, insatiable gourmets can steer their taste buds east with a day trip to the Dordogne. Powered by “black diamond” truffles, decadent foie gras and duck in every luxuriant shape and form, this is one of France’s foremost culinary regions. Hit its tiny capital, Périgueux, in the morning, when market stalls heaped high with fresh seasonal produce blaze a tantalizing rainbow of color and taste through the warren of old-world streets around the Cathédrale St-Front. After your shopping spree, lunch on magret de canard (slow-cooked duck confit) laced in orange at Hercule Poireau, or perhaps pan-fried duck livers at nearby L’Épicurien.

How to get to Périgueux from Bordeaux: Regional trains link Bordeaux’ Gare St-Jean with Périgueux in 90 minutes.

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