France Off the Beaten Path: Bordeaux and beyond – Part 5

The path less travelled in France produced stunning rural vistas, friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture, far beyond our expectations.

Heidi and I hired an electric car at CDG airport in early spring 2022 and drove a six thousand kilometre “figure of eight” around France. Despite moderate fitness levels we hiked and cycled many remote picturesque places. We also found rural and remote areas of France have much to offer serious foodies.

Off the Beaten Path: Nothing ‘ordinary’ to be found

Determined to take the path less travelled we discover stunning rural vistas, super friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture in France, way beyond our expectations.

This is part 5 of a 12-part mini-series which follows our recent 12-week trip.

I invite you to join us and make some delightful discoveries.

Part 5 – Bordeaux and beyond

Bordeaux and beyond

Bordeaux is both a region and a city of more than 250,000 situated on the river Garonne in southwestern France. It is the capital of perhaps the most famous wine region in the world and is home to a wonderfully modernised riverfront precinct and a huge, beautifully preserved vieille ville, parfait pour les flâneurs.

We booked four nights in an apartment in an ancient manor house in Fronsac which is a small wine village several kilometres from Libourne, the second-largest city in the Bordeaux region. From Libourne, it’s a 30-minute train ride into the heart of Bordeaux city. 

Highlights and Hidden Gems

Our French host at the Fronsac manor house turned out to be a fluent English-speaking and delightful ex-wine industry hospitality executive. The Bordeaux region is saturated with large Chateaux (wineries in our language), many of which offer overpriced and often mediocre wine. Of course, there are great wineries and wines too, mais toujours très cher.

Madame, with her impeccable knowledge of the Fronsac sub-region, directed us to a tasting at Château de La Dauphine, just a few kilometres up the road. It is a really grand old place, almost ostentatious, which is both a winery and function centre. Being shoulder season, we managed to score a free personalised tasting across the range including many older vintages. The young wines were definitely not ready however the 2011 and 2012 Château de La Dauphine rouges (80% merlot; 20% cabernet franc) had mellowed into exceptional wines. As these vintage wines were selling for the same price as the new releases (20 Euros!), we purchased a few for our travels. The tasting was followed by a tour of the extensive grounds, gardens and the château itself. Not quite Versailles but not a bad approximation. It was one of our most memorable tastings on the trip.

Walking, Cycling, Touring

We’d targeted a full day wandering Bordeaux city as a priority and were not disappointed. We drove to Libourne station in a few minutes and soon after jumped on one of the very regular trains which take you into the very heart of Bordeaux. It was a quick and stress-free process for accessing the very best of Bordeaux. Some years earlier we’d attempted to drive into Bordeaux and after many frustrating attempts to park even remotely close to the centre we abandoned the visit.

Bordeaux is a vibrant city, an ensemble of ancient landmarks and modern architectural gems. One can literally walk all day in the old town and not see everything. And then there is the riverfront with the architectural highlight being perhaps the modernist wine museum. It is right up there with Paris as a destination for les flaneurs, visually stunning and culturally significant. Do yourself a favour and spend at least a day there if you’ve not been before.

Saint-Émilion, a beautifully preserved mediaeval town, was another day trip destination. With just a nine-kilometre drive from Libourne and an early start, we managed to beat the crowds and park for free right on the edge of the village.

Saint-Émilion is a very significant wine location, the oldest wine-producing appellation in the Bordeaux region. However, it is also a destination full of history. A free tour (arranged by the tourist information office) of a 12th-century monolithic church carved from a limestone outcrop was the highlight. We followed up with a tasting of some of the less fashionable (this is red wine country) local white wines and then stayed for lunch sitting in the beautiful village square on a glorious spring afternoon. What could be better?

Food and Wine

Bordeaux and beyond

Upon leaving Fronsac we were to meet Heidi’s sister and her husband at a B&B in the wine village of Passenans in the Jura sub-region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.

To break up the long drive of some 700 km we decided to stay 2 nights at an old and remote water mill in the Auvergne region in the Massif Central. Our apartment was on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the stream and extensive grounds.

Our French-speaking hosts invited us to dinner the second night and treated us to a feast of regional fare:

  • For the main course – Potée Auvergnat, a remarkably flavoursome baked ‘hotpot’ made with pork, potatoes, garlic and local blue cheese; and Truffade which is a local form of pomme gratin.
  • We finished with an array of superb Auvergne cheeses – Fourme d’Ambert, Bleu d’Auvergne et Cantal. And the biggest surprise – les vins Saint-Pourçain – which are very little-known, even in France.
  • We were offered both a chardonnay and a Syrah and were agreeably surprised by the quality and their very affordable prices. Pas mal!

Bordeaux and beyond


We found that staying in a regional Bed and Breakfast which is someone’s home can be the best way to truly immerse yourself in a local culture.

Eating and chatting with your hosts and sharing their insights into the delights of their region was for us an absolute highlight. And they were usually polite enough to tolerate my very average French language skills which allowed me to become less average by the end of our French adventure, off the beaten path.

When you travel do you plan to the nth degree or let it flow? Do you like to discover the path less travelled? Please share below in the comments section – we look forward to hearing your preferences.

Your subscription (free or paid) will be gratefully received, and will help me continue to build ‘le Bulletin’ – the weekly newsletter of Magazine to be even more rich. Merci Mille Fois

Images credits:
All images copyright Craig Healey.

About the Contributor

Craig Healey

I’m a not-quite-retired business & technology consultant with a passion for the great outdoors and an even greater passion for the wonderful food and wine of France. Each region has a rich gastronomic culture which is always a delight to discover and never fails to tantalise your taste buds.

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