Keen on Caffeine

Coffee lovers, rejoice! Wine is, of course, Bordeaux’s signature attraction. But, there is more than one locally distinguished beverage to be found in this city. Bordeaux is home to several artisanal coffee shops, cafés, and roasters, or les torrefacteurs.

Today, I present to you Bordeaux’s Coffee Map or “Porcelain Trail,” if you will. This map marks Bordeaux’s most authentic, exceptional, and inventive coffee establishments. Each offers outstanding service, aesthetic atmospheres, and true craftsmanship in every pour. This map has aided me greatly in discovering some truly remarkable brews, so I had to share! 

Among my personal favorites are Café PIHA and SIP Coffee Bar, as well as Books & Coffee and Saint-James (which are not featured on the map). 

I like to judge a café’s quality on its humble espresso, “Un café, c’est tout!” But, Café PIHA’s signature drinks are concoctions of pure genius. If you’re tastebuds are adventurous, then this is the place for you! 

With their loft seating, WiFi, and laptop-squatter friendly attitude, SIP Coffee Bar is perfect for afternoons spent studying. Their unique cafés filtres are a must try. And, their carrot cake is amazing.

Books & Coffee is the coziest hole-in-the wall café. Curl up with a cappuccino and a good read during their quiet hours, or gather the ladies for a phenomenal, affordable brunch feast on the weekends. I can’t recommend this spot enough!

Next door you’ll find the very stylish venue of Saint-James; decorated with chic tiles, hanging plants, and modern industrial fixtures. Stop here if appearances are your priority. The stained glass windows offer fantastic lighting. Do it for the ‘gram!

I hope Bordeaux’s Coffee Map guides you well. But, when in doubt, follow your nose and follow the locals. They know best!

Images Courtesy of the Instragrams of Café PIHA, SIP Coffee Bar, Books & Coffee, and Saint-James FR (left to right)

The Wine Capital of France

As a wine enthusiast myself*, I am of course thrilled to be living in the wine capital of France. And I’d be lying if I said Bordeaux’s rich history of wine wasn’t a deciding factor when selecting a study abroad exchange. There are countless different ways for international students and foreign travelers to absorb the knowledge and delight that the Bordelais wine industry has to offer. Below, you’ll find descriptions of my most wine-centric experiences, all of which I highly recommend!

Make Like a Scholar and Study Wine

Incorporate wine into your academic life by enrolling in business electives. Examine and analyze the oenological industry. By studying Wine Marketing, I was able to gain major specific credit all while learning of the fascinating ins and outs behind Bordeaux’s wine economy.

Fine or Fair Dining

Wine is an integral part of la vie en France, especially for the Bordelais, especially when paired with great food. A glass of red sipped with a delicious dish is both routine and celebrated. One of the best ways to immerse yourself into the world of wine is to simply partake! Taste and discover for yourself! Treat yourself to a prestigious grand cru classé at a one of Bordeaux’s finest restaurants or go the more affordable route and order from la carte du vin at a casual apéro bar. A personal favorite of mine is the Vintage Café, featuring an ambient atmosphere, fantastically low prices, and cozy outdoor seating with a view of la Garonne. 

Tour La Cité du Vin

La Cité du Vin is an absolute must see! This interactive museum will expand your wine vocabulary tenfold. Rise to the top floor and finish your tour with a rare, affordable tasting of an awarded wine of your choice. 

l’Intendant Grands Vins de Bordeaux

Take a gander up the narrow spiral staircase of this renowned wine cellar. Feel free to just browse; looky-loos are welcome. The boutique is an attraction in itself, trading bottles upon bottles of terroir specific wines. There’s a bottle for everyone. Some are dry reds. Some are sweet whites. Some are novelty sized, both small and large (well massive really, you’d need a trough to drink bottles of that size). Some are priced at shockingly high numbers, literally climbing into the millions. And some are promoted as staple Bordelais souvenirs. Before you go, be sure to catch the view of Bordeaux’s Grand Theatre from the highest story. It makes for an Instagram-worthy shot. 

Châteaux of the Bordeaux Terroir

One of my most memorable excursions from Bordeaux includes a sunny day spent in the village of Saint-Émilion. Here, I toured the marvelous grounds of Château de Pressac. There are countless more châteaux within the borders of Bordeaux’s wine production region. You can tour the cellars and vineyards of these castles for a fair price, where a travel guide and wine tasting is always included.

February views of Château de Pressac’s vineyards

* Please note that due to the US’s restrictive federal regulations, I have only consumed wine in countries where in which I was legally of age

La Petite Ville des Quatre Saisons

One of my most memorable excursions from Bordeaux includes a sunny day spent in Arcachon, France. Arcachon is a charming little village along the southern Atlantic coast nestled in Le Bassin d’Arcachon. Coined La Petite Ville des Quatre Saisons, this fishing village is a favorited destination among the locals of Bordeaux. Only an hour long train away, Arcachon makes for a lovely single day well-spent for international students. Featuring oysters, sand, and humble aesthetics, Arcachon will have you breathing easy between studies.

For your connivence, I offer a simple itinerary to guide your travels. This itinerary combines my own time spent in Arcachon as well as other experiences of my fellow étudiants étrangers.

Arcachon Itinerary

8:00AM Train Departure from Gare St. Jean | Start your travels early, morning birds, and make the most of your day. Tickets can be purchased last minute, hassle-free at station kiosques for just over 10.00€

9:00AM Train Arrival in Gare Arcachon | Simply board the shuttle for a mere 1.00€

10:30AM Brunch Atop La Dune du Pilat | Treat yourself to a pique-nique of bread, jam, and cheese after conquering the barefoot trek up Europe’s tallest sand dune. Sunbathe at the peak, or tumble down the slopes towards La Plage de la Corniche. Whichever you choose, the view is spectacular and free of charge! Return to the city center by shuttle or by bike. 

2:00PM Stroll the Streets of Le Ville d’Hiver | Arcachon is known for its unique division of districts, each one representing a season. Make your way to the central coast by starting further inland. Find your way through Winter Town’s maze of leafy streets. The unique architecture of Winter Town is a free attraction in itself, but if time permits, visit Parc Mauresque or the Sainte-Cécile Observatory.

4:00PM Golden Hour in Le Ville d’Été | Just a few short blocks from Winter Town is Summer Town, the heart of Arcachon. Pop in one of the many boutiques or saunter down the boardwalk. Finish with a perfectly lit photoshoot at the end of one of Arcachon’s many piers. 

6:30PM A Dinner of Oysters Galore | Follow your nose to a restaurant for an early bird dinner. Taste the Arcachon specialty: oysters. Lovers of seafood will be amazed by the spread of freshly caught fish. Le Pitt and Le Cabestan come highly recommended.

8:30PM Train Departure from Gare Arcachon | Arcachon’s station closes sooner than you’d think, so be sure to catch the last train to Bordeaux! 

Bay views over the Great Dune of Pilat

Qu’est-ce que la bise?

As an international student and a foreign traveler, it’s important to be familiar with local customs and traditions. One of the more culturally unique customs of France is la bise: the common greeting gesture of a simple, bright *smooch* against one’s cheek. 

This gesture is an essential part of la vie en France. It’s how the French greet their nearest and dearest and even how they approach their newest acquaintances. La bise is often portrayed and romanticized in cult classics and French cinema. So, it’s not an unfamiliar concept. Perhaps you’re thinking, “After all, if Audrey Tautou can fait la bise, why can’t I?”

For an additional pinch of complexity, the details of la bise vary across France. To master la bise, you should become familiar with the specific etiquette followed by the locals of your particular region. In some cities, folks lean toward the right cheek, in others, folks lean to the left. In some cities one kiss is placed, other cities go so far as to place four. It all depends on the region. For your convenience, I offer the details of my experience with la bise in Bordeaux. This includes regional specific instructions as well as my own personal words of advice. 

In actuality, the concept of la bise is trickier to grasp than you’d imagine. In fact, it’s frequently a cause of culture shock among foreigners. Many find la bise to be too intimate of a gesture in relation to the casual manner in which it’s used. 

La Bise in Bordeaux: Instructions

In Bordeaux, you begin by placing your right hand on your opposite’s right shoulder so as to firmly ground yourself. Gently place your right cheek against your opposite’s right cheek, making a *smooch* sound before switching to to place your left cheek against your opposite’s left cheek, following with another *smooch* sound. After my many awkward attempts before mastery, I share with you six areas of advice: 

  1. La bise is not a cheek kiss. Your lips should never touch your opposite. There should only be cheek-on-cheek contact.
  2. La bise is traditionally practiced between pairs of two women and pairs of one man and one woman. Men traditionally greet one another with a handshake.
  3. Following the rules of the T – V distinction is a good rule of thumb when deciding who to greet with la bise. Those who you address tutoyer, fais la bise! Those who you address vouvoyer, ne fais pas de la bise!
  4. When in doubt, take it slow and steady with deliberate movements. You don’t want your lips, your hands, or your head (yes head, I’ve accidentally knocked skulls with someone) to accidentally fall somewhere else. 
  5. The sound of your *smooch* should be loud. La bise is just plain weird if it’s not audible.
  6. If you’re truly not comfortable with la bise, know that a handshake is a perfectly acceptable alternative. I’ve adored adopting the gesture of la bise to greet my close, personal friends. However, as someone who is more physically reserved, I find la bise very uncomfortable in the early stages of relationships, especially with men. Often, men have attempted to pressure me into la bise. This has actually been the cause of quite the controversy concerning the etiquette of this gesture. Given my own unpleasant experience, I felt it was imperative to share with any other fellow female travelers that, even as a foreigner, you are by no means required to practice la bise. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten the argument, “Oh, but you want to be as the French, non?” Oof… in short, I’ve found insisting on a handshake diffuses the situation with ease.

All in all, I very much recommend trying your hand at la bise while in France. With practice, this greeting can become a noteworthy achievement of your French cultural emersion. But remember, you must find your own personal balance between new and exciting foreign customs and your own native customs.