A visit to Bordeaux may seem a strange choice for someone who can’t drink (I am pregnant), but since the flights were cheap and the school holidays looming I’ve decided to give it a go. Our first choice was a camping trip to France, but we didn’t dare to take a ferry and drive through French ports, because of the migrant crisis. With the hand luggage packed and the flat booked we were ready to take our toddler on another cultural experience. Here’s how a veggie family fared in the land of meat eaters.
PS. We have very few pictures from this trip, as we forgot to take the English adapter and our phones went dead by the second day. Who knew they are so hard to come by in France!?
Family friendly accommodation
Because we were going with our toddler we had to take a few considerations into account when booking our accommodation. We booked a flat via Air B&B, as this meant we could prepare our meals at home, rather than spend a fortune eating out. We chose to stay in a central flat in a beautiful building with high ceilings and shutters, to have the real taste of urban continental life. We’ve made sure we had a couple of places nearby where Little F can have fun: Jardin Public (a lovely park with a big playground and a working old-fashioned carousel, what a treat!), Miroir d’Eau (literally translated as ‘water mirror’ it’s a water feature you can wade in with small jets of water or cool mist interchangeably – great on a hot day regardless of your age).
We were on Rue Foy, on the edge of old town (the main tourist destination) and Chartrons (a less frequented, but more bohemian district). This made our accommodation cheaper and quieter and gave us easy access to both non-tourist shops and tourist areas.
Bordeaux – general impressions
We went in August so the weather was hot. Hot and sunny everyday. It made a nice change to English weather with its unpredictable showers and wind. It did make sleeping at night quite difficult though. And the mosquitos were rampant.
The historic part of town is very big and filled with wonderful stone buildings, cafes, wine bars and ice-cream vendors. It’s also full of tanned French people. It seems it’s still in vogue to be tanned, it’s part of the summer wardrobe. UK gets less sun, but it also seems to be more cautions with the sun due to health advise. It was nice to see older ladies in good shape and wearing shorter dresses, age does not force them to wear respectable below the knee cuts. The heat can be liberating.
Looking at the menus and dining in various cafes we’ve found very little no-meat choices. It was usually smoked or fresh salmon. Otherwise a cheese platter was on standby, which was not an option for me, as I couldn’t eat most of the cheeses on offer (unpasteurised, mould ripened etc). The wine was well priced, in great variety and out of bounds for me. All in all – not a place for pregnant veggies.
We’ve also learnt (the hard way) that city breaks are not what families with toddler do if they want a relaxing holiday. Poor Little F was stuck in the buggy for far too long and, apart from trips to the park or Mirroir d’Eau, he didn’t get to run around much. He also didn’t sleep well in the heat, both during the day and at night, so his terrible two’s syndrome got worse – I was tempted to pop into one of the churches we passed daily to ask for an exorcist.
As I have mentioned we particularly rented a flat to be able to cook our own food most days and not rely on eating out. It made the trip cheaper and gave us more vegetarian options – or that was the theory. Because we have arrived a day before the Bastille Day – a national holiday – almost everything was closed for three days and we could not buy good quality ingredients. In particular we were all disappointed not to be able to buy good bread, which is something we always look forward to on the continent.
Once the bank holiday passed and shops were back in business we’ve found a few wonderful places to buy the best quality products:
Au Petrin Moissagais
Walking into this bakery is like stepping back in time. Nothing seems to have changed since it’s opening under Louis XV’s reign in mid 18th century. The bread and pastries are presented on heavy old wooden tables and in a large trough running along the wall. At the end of the long darkish room looms a large cast iron door of the bread oven, a testament that it all happens here.
72 Cours de la Martinique, 33000 Bordeaux – http://www.au-petrin-moissagais.info/
Fruits and vegetables
This greengrocer has it all: there is variety and quality. The vegetables and fruits are sprayed with a cool mist to keep them fresh in the summer heat. The prices are not cheap, but the products warrant it. If your French is not very good, don’t worry, the owner is an English lady who moved to Bordeaux a few decades ago – you’d never guess it from her impeccable French accent.
52 Cours Portal, 33000 Bordeaux
La Chocolaterie de Bordeaux par David Capy
Since wine and most of the cheese was off the menu for me I have embarked on a search for a sweet treat worth it’s calories. And I have found it, towards the end of our stay, in David Capy’s boutique. There’s plenty of chocolates here, but I was more attracted to the intricate and impeccably presented macaroons calling my name from the display window. I used to work in a two Michelin star restaurant and these macaroons are on par with desserts offered there, except for their bargain price of 5 euros. The quality is not surprising given that the chocolatier holds a prestigious MOF title – Meilleur Ouvrier de France – awarded to only the best chefs and chocolatiers in France. Here’s a great documentary film about the MOF competition, if you would like to know more.
Our phones were dead by the time we’ve found David Capy’s boutique, but if you google his name you will be amazed with delicious images.
7 Rue Michel Montaigne, 33000 Bordeaux – David Capy Facebook page
Canele de Bordeaux
As I have mentioned I used to work in a two Michelin starred restaurant, a French restaurant to be precise. The chef was from Basque country and as a little gift at the end of the meal she offered a canele to all guests. They are delicious tall pastries with the outside crisp and caramelised and the inside soft, custardy and moist. Not something you could ever make at home, because of the temperatures needed to create this delicious effect. I used to love them, but since I left work after having Little F I haven’t had my fix.
I didn’t realise that caneles actually originate in Bordeaux. When I found this out I’ve done some good research before we left London to find the best caneles patisserie – the only research I have done before this trip. Everything seemed to point to Baillardan chain. I was eagerly looking out for their shops from the moment we landed – they have one at the airport.
I’ve tried caneles in many places while in Bordeaux, including Baillardan, and unfortunately I was disappointed. They were not the same as the ones I luxuriated in at work. I guess the local recipe is different to my ex-chef’s variation. My husband, who is not skewed by previous over-exposure, does confirm that Baillardan is the best.
It’s worth trying caneles from different patisseries to find your favourite.
Since we sometimes eat fish and seafood we did not research vegetarian restaurants. We were expecting to be able to find a light salad – it is a hot country after all – or a seafood bar (Bordeaux is a large port city). We were disappointed to find that strictly vegetarian food was not easy to find in cafes and restaurants, and when it came to fish the only option was salmon (smoked or fresh). Our culinary search was not helped by the Bastille day and most of restaurants being closed for 3 days. Since we lost our research power by the end of the first day, with the phone batteries going dead, we couldn’t even search for recommendations.
Even if we did have a chance to do research on vegetarian places to eat we would have been disappointed. The trusty TripAdvisor lists only 14, out of 1755 registered Bordeaux restaurants in total.
Bordeaux is not a place for a relaxing holiday if you are a pregnant vegetarian with a toddler in tow. I would however love to come back for an adult only romantic break to enjoy the wine, cheese and good (stable) weather.
arrive on or near the Bastille Day (14th July)
let your toddler skip naps
forget your phone charger or English plug – these are impossible to get here
assume shops are open all day – like in all southern nations siesta is sacred here
do make sure your toddler sleeps (and you too if you are pregnant) – any parent with a tired child will understand while I repeat this twice
do take mosquito repellent and sun screen
do take swimming nappies for Miroir d’Eau (it’s not fun running around with a heavy, hugely inflated standard nappy)
visit Arcachon beach resort – or better still stay there and come to Bordeaux for a day trip
I’d love to hear from you if you have been to Bordeaux and have any good veggie haunts to recommend.