Not far from Bordeaux
Bordeaux is one of France’s famous wine regions. French wine is a delicacy that anyone hoping to encounter the nation’s culture must delight in. French wine production is second in the world league tables, and cycling French wine regions is certainly great travel activity.
On the periphery of Bordeaux, sits the Libournais wine region which is named after the beautiful medieval town of Libourne. Geographically, Libourne sits on the banks of the Dordogne river and played an important part in the shipping of French wine.
I visited and stayed in Libourne during my French travels. I soon found that the best way to travel around Libourne was to cycle. There is nothing more relaxing than a slow cycle through ripe vineyards, past medieval town buildings and quaint French villas. Green country rolls out beyond you and well-kept cycle routes connect Libourne to surrounding French wine destinations. The roads are beginner-friendly and from Libourne, it’s only 5 miles to Saint Émilion – the oldest, and most charming wine producing town in the Bordeaux region!
Libourne on Sundays
Beginning our tour, my two friends and I ended up landing in Libourne for a Sunday. On Sundays, Libourne’s market comes to life and wandering the streets up from the town square, you can step into history. Smelling fresh oysters and purchasing local fruits gives you the sense that you are retracing the steps of medieval locals and participating in the preservation of Libourne’s market-town heritage.
Fortunate to be hosted by local friends, we observed life as those in Libourne play it on Sundays: up early, stroll the markets, and stop for a coffee (or a glass of French wine) in the indoor market café. It’s simple yet wonderful!
Our friends then headed off to a local wine bar to join friends for a bread & cheese lunch – something the locals enjoy alongside some French wine to continue good friendships. We picked up some bread at the market and jumped on the bikes to continue through Libourne.
A 20 minute gentle cycle along cycle paths landed us at Libourne’s local lake, Lac de Dagueys. This large, man-made lake is the perfect pic nic spot and place for an afternoon swim. You can cycle round the lake to a beach area and other attractions also sit along the perimeter, including a water park which opens during the summer. Since everything closes and life ‘halts’ on Sundays, the lake is by far the best way to relax and live like the locals!
Pedalling the French Wine
Experiencing French wine often comes by tasting, buying, smelling and perhaps visiting vineyards. We found another great way – cycling the French wine region! Pedalling through the countryside and quite literally rolling past grape fields on your bike gives a new perspective. Each vineyard is part of the network of the Libournais production. Besides, it’s just incredibly relaxing!
From Libourne, cycle routes will take you out of town and beyond the railway. From there you can follow quiet country roads, past a number of vineyards and a couple of wine museums. The route is a total of 5 miles (approximately 40 minutes at gentle pace) to Saint Émilion, and flat most of the way. [See the route here.]
Saint Émilion – A French wine must-see!
Built into a hillside, Saint Émilion is a beautiful medieval city to meander through. Rest from cycling and park your bike by the Saint Emilion church and take a look inside. You will find a beautiful mural in the cloisters!
Then, I advise you walk around the corner to the office desk tourisme where you can pay €2 to climb the tower. Here you get stunning views out across the region. Look back on where you cycled from, or absorb the green scenery; I enjoyed watching people wander through the lanes below you.
Saint Émilion Recommendations
Back on the ground, take a day to explore French wine! There is no set way to do this, other than to meander and experience as much or as little of the wine shops and bars ass you like. However here are some suggestions from our French Wine cycling trip:
- Cloitre de Cordeliers: a beautiful converted church and cloister, now selling French wine & gifts, offering tasting, and a coffee shop in the cloister gardens.
- Find an art gallery: there’s one here.
- Sit in the square outside the Ermitage de Saint Émilion: Have a glass of French wine from one of the cafes, or enjoy a picnic.
- Walk along the Rue du Convent: Here you can enjoy some beautiful views of Saint Émilion and continuing past La Tour du Roy, you can venture towards the cities old wine tunnels – where barrels of wine are stacked up and stored in the heritage network of underground caves.
End your French Wine tour well!
After a delightful day, you can pause to stop for an ice cream right where you parked your bikes! This place has some delicious flavours and a private courtyard with a water feature to sit in, if you enter and pass through the back door of the store. What a dream – French wine and ice cream, and well deserved after that cycling!
Cycling the French wine region of Libournais is a wonderful way to slow down and soak up culture! We added a trip into Bordeaux onto our 48 hours and it was definitely worth it. Whilst we took a 40 minute train from Libourne, there definitely would be an option to hire bikes and cycle along Bordeaux’s river to.
Thinking of planning a holiday? Cycle the French wine region of Libournais!
More on France? Click here!
Want more cycling ideas? Take a look at this cycle tour of Helsinki.