My first time in Bordeaux

I’m always impressed how large Europe ends up being, how much is reachable by train but yet how every town and region can still be so different.  This was my first time in the southwestern region of France, Aquitaine.  The region around Bordeaux is most famous for their wine. Just an hour away, behind pine tree forests (that Napoleon planted) and different sized sand dunes, you’ll find stunning coasts.  Either the famous, wild surf hotspots further south (Hossegor, Moliets Plage . . .) or the calmer ones full of fresh oysters (Bay of Arcachon).  I knew it was famous for activities like bird watching, canoeing, sailing and biking. However, when we came to the humongous famous sand dune Dune du Pyla, paragliding was added to my list.

But now to Bordeaux:

I ended up being in Bordeaux for only a couple days.  It has left a great aftertaste – narrow streets, massive stone buildings, deep colored doorways large enough to fit carriages, cool fountains, an industrial district with modern architecture . . . . And a not slight amount of specialty coffee and breakfast spots.  Google seems to be good for almost everything, but when I was on the lookout for this type of cafés, it only found Black List.  That’s one right answer, but there are lots more that my google search missed.  Another interesting thing I learned was that set menus are also served for breakfast in France.  The original version is coffee, croissant, orange juice.  However the modern/trendy – whatever we call it – version might be: matcha latte, avo-toast, fresh apple-ginger-lemon juice (Black List). I guess that wasn’t respecting creative take on the local cuisine as much as it should. More of that next time . . . probably in search of the best chocolatine (the term for pain au chocolate down here).

So here are my favorite food finds in Bordeaux, including:

  • gluten-free chocolate fudgy cookies (Banana Café)
  • super beautiful matcha latte art (Black List Café)
  • that minimalist, clean third wave coffee shop interior you except from NY (Alchimiste Coffee)
  • 80 different ice cream flavors, most of them organic (La Maison du Glacier)

click here for map below

Banana Café

The first time I walked by this café, it seemed perfect. Organic and local produce goes into their superfood bread with homemade almond butter, vegan and gluten-free pastries, daily smoothies and juices, medicine lattes, savory poached egg pancakes with goat cheese – all of it made completely from scratch.  But it was completely empty, and not wanting to be the only customer, I continued down the street.  However I chose this spot for my second breakfast outing and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again.

Banana Café is as genuine as SIP and Black List, but more personal and with more outlandish dishes.  The comptoir (bar) displays their baked goods from miniature carrot cake muffins, to homemade fudge or raw brownies along with local business cards, plants and beautiful cookbooks.  The back room is like a courtyard between houses, just inside – with stone walls and arches, large paintings, magazines, more cookbooks, tables with pillowed benches and loungy leather chairs.  I chose the fluffy pancakes with berries and nuts, but there also are international savory dishes like Polish pierogi, falafel and hummus, ceviche or banana corn wraps.

It was 30º outside, which made me opt for a velvety refreshing green smoothie (with peas, spinach, almond butter and banana).   Though if the weather ever gives me the chance, I’ll be super keen to try one of those lattes (black magic, blue moon, coconut matcha, mexican chocolate…) because I haven’t seen those around anywhere else before. Banana Café isn’t a purely vegan or gluten-free spot, but successfully incorporates these diets as well as pesco-vegetarian versions with goat yogurt, or oysters and wine in a very casual and calm atmosphere.
Tu-Sa: 8:30-18:00, Su: 9-17:00, 5 Cours Pasteur

SIP coffee bar

SIP is a rustic and spacious coffee shop, very laid-back, and a relaxing local spot to work and chill.  It’s across from a nice Boulangerie, on a small side street near the old palace.  Our flat white had a light roast, which we usually don’t like much, but this one tasted delicate and sweet.  (I didn’t get to try their matcha).   Breakfast keeps up with specialty coffee shop standards while staying French.  That means a hot drink, fresh juice and either artisan bread with butter and jam (the French way) or banana bread and yogurt with granola (Aussie style).  Plus you can add soft boiled eggs to both, and they’ll give you as much delicious bread as you want.

I feel bad for having been the most indecisive and complicated guest that morning. Still, our service was genuinely friendly and felt sorry for not understanding my wishes, even though I didn’t understand them myself. This modern but local and not trendy coffee shop, is definitely a wonderful spot.
Mo-Sa: 8:30-18:30,  69 Bis Rue de des Trois-Conils, website

Black List

So before my litte trip here, my sparse amount of research for breakfast/flat whites in Bordeaux led to one and only one spot: Black List.  But Black List could also have been enough.  They have specialty roasted coffee, great matcha lattes with the art, and breakfasts that range from homemade cinnamon roll muffins to rustic bread with avocado, passion fruit, chili, poached eggs and a side salad.  Everything, also the piled carrot and chocolate cake, are made in the miniature kitchen, which is literally the end of the aisle that makes up the whole café.  The lady that served me seemed like she was having the time of her life, there is something about the place that makes me thing she always is – singing along to songs, chatting with us tourists and jumping for joy when her regulars came in.  You can’t help but smile when you’re here.
Mo-Fr: 8-18, Sa: 9:30, Su: 9:30-18, 27 Place Pey Berland

L’Alchimiste Café

Another coffee shop that turns red beans to a latte art through their own form of science…  We were walking our fair share through the old town center of Bordeaux.  L’Alchemiste’s La Marzocco and the interior design where enough to show us that they know what their craft is about.  Our city map says they are the pioneers of Bordeaux’s coffee roasting culture and praises their milk, cake and pastries.  Tell me what you think!
Tu-Fr: 8:30-18, Sa: 10-18, 12 Rue de la Vieille Tour, website

Les Mots Bleu

Another little find along the old streets of town.  I remember the promising appearance, and later found it in our “Use-It” travel map.  They described them the following way “good hot tea, a delicious cookie, a fine book, beautiful stone walls and a comfortable sofa … a warm and welcoming place, perfect for a cozy break and homemade tartes that make you feel at home”
Tu-Sa: 10-19:00, Su: 14-19:00, 40 Rue Poquelin Molier

La Maison du Glacier – L’authenticite du Goût

That subtitle means authentic taste, which is assured when you are confronted with about 80 different flavors. The majority of them are organic and toppings include meringue or a flat French biscuit.  They’ll have everything you imagined… and I’m sorry to say that I forgot most of their flavors already, except “buttery breton-cookie”. On the left is the normal parlor, the right entrance is for the café with a menu that includes opulent concoctions just like I remember them from Berthillon in Paris.  Below is my shot prior to slurping up the two boules and crunching through the fluff of meringue on a beautiful calm plaza by the St. Pierre church, before catching the train to the coast.
daily 13:30-22:30, 1 Place Saint-Pierre

La Maison du Glacier, ice cream Bordeaux


Some more tempting cafés from our local maps:

Those two maps I talked about (Use-It and LeMap Bordeaux) had some helpful suggestions, but unfortunately our time, hunger and weather didn’t give us a chance to try all.  Here are some I would remember for my next time:

Plume Bakery & Coffee: pastries baked with love (recommended brownie-cheesecake), soups simmered by Norwegian chef, very hearty Sunday brunch, vintage interior design
(Mon-Sat: 10-19:00, Sun 10-15:00)

Books & Coffee: teahouse, made to chill, read, write, work or chat, calm environment, teahouse with coffee, smoothies, lemonades and delicious pastries, during lunch hours a forever changing menu, terrace outside
(Mo: 14-19:00, Tu-Sa 9-19:00, Su: 11-15:00)

Tamatebako: minimalist workshop look, very cozy coffee shop, owners have great spirit, homebaked grandma style cake, amazing hot unsweetened chocolate
(Tu-Su: 8:30-19:30)

Tchaï Bar: all sorts of teas, homemade savoury or sweet snacks, place to chill, in the basement  dance with La Clé du Quai, an association created by Bela and Antoine (the owners) to connect their artisic life to the café
(Mo-Sa: 12-20:00)

Les Capucins: THE market in Bordaux, more than 250 years old Sunday seafood lunch, jazz music, herb stands, samossas and lots more
(Tu-Fr: 6-13:00, Sa-Su: 5:30-14:30)

La Boulangerie: gigantic pastries (they looked really good!), recommended “Jesuite” cake – flaky, moist pastry with French almond cream inside, or fresh chocolatines and croissants from the oven
(Mo-Su: 7-19:30)


And my recommended “culture list”:

Yeah, I pretty much plan my trips around the meals, but in between there’s lots of time to explore the rest.  In Bordeaux that was walking through the smallest alleyways, window-shopping in local concept stores, walking through misty fountains or renting a bike and ride to the “ecological other side” of the river Garonne.  Below are neat areas I enjoyed, and spots I wanted to see:

Miroir d’Eau: a flat fountain between the UNESCO Place de la Bourse and Garonne river, reflecting the magnificent historic building at night and occasionally steaming out misty fog; especially beautiful in the evening hours, great atmosphere and lots of people

St. Michel: multicultural, bohemian, less-touristy, has a wonderful plaza with a rondel and church, weekly markets, and is surrounded by cafés

Rue du Muguet: just a minute from busy streets we were suddenly alone walking through always smaller alleyways, till we got here, to the most narrow one where my dad could touch both sides

around Bassin à Flot: at the north end of Garonne, a mix of industrial and very modern architecture with street art around the construction sites – there’s La Cité du Vin (a wine-museum, just the building is worth seeing, with a view of the city from atop, a wine museum and temporary exhibits) and Base Sous-Marine (old concrete submarine from the 2nd world war, gigantic cold concrete walls, darkness, artificial lights, now hosts art exhibits, jazz gigs, classical concerts)

Place de Quinconces: a big fountain with spitting horses that looked more like dragons and a freedom statue atop, tourist attraction but beautiful

Jardin Public: green as can be, swans and ducks in the pond, forged iron bridges, natural history misuem, botanical garden, full of locals, students playing Nirvana songs, kids on the carousel
(daily from 7am)

Darwin Ecosystem: on the right bank of the Garonne, renovated warehouses turned into a sustainable, eco-friendly spot; hosting cultural/environmental events, a coworking space, shared garden, sustainable food store and restaurant . . . full of creativity and dynamic

Book Stores

Mollat: biggest independent bookshop in France, more than 200 y. old
(Mo-Sa: 9:30-19:30)

La Mauvaise Réputation: little underground gallery bookshop with hidden gems, comics and fanzines
(Mo-Sa: 10-19:00)

La Zone du Dehors: great bookshop with a geek, street art and kid section, café in the back with tea, coffee, lunch, pastries, and wifi for studying students
(Mo-Sa: 10-20:00, Su: 13-19:00)

Guide for the Map: green = nature, blue = culture, red = cafes and food, orange = book store, gray = the places I haven’t been too

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