Far less known to tourists than Bordeaux or even Saint-Émilion, Libourne is a charming slice of the South West of France that makes for an easy day trip from Bordeaux. Escape the crowds of tourists that pile in to Bordeaux and head for a distinctly French experience in this fortified harbor town situated on the confluence of the Dordogne and Isle rivers.
Founded in 1270 by Sir Roger de Leyburn, Libourne’s long history as a trading port for not only wine, but wool, wood and salt allowed it to flourish. In fact, Libourne was the very first maritime navigation port on the Dordogne. Growing from a single country house that established Libourne as a new city in the 13th century, the unique location on the Gironde Estuary was soon attracting many to settle there.
By the time the Hundred Years War ended, the splendid Town Hall had been built on Place Abel Surchamp, there were two churches, and a convent for the Cordeliers. Even a glassworks set up in Libourne, and the wealth the town enjoyed thanks to the wine trade funded the construction of high quality buildings in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Today Libourne remains a destination in its own right and it’s well-worth devoting at least a day to discovering it. From wine tasting at one of the many Libournais châteaux to discovering the Aquitaine culture and gastronomy, there’s actually so many things to do in Libourne that you could easily spend a week there. But if you only have a day to visit Libourne during your Bordeaux itinerary, there’s a few must-dos for the perfect summer day out in Libourne.
9AM | Marché Libourne
Place Abel Surchamp has long been the heart of Libourne. Though the Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville) wasn’t built until the 15th century, it’s been a gathering space for the city since its existence. The Libroune farmer’s market is easily one of the best in the Gironde and the market has been held on Place Abel Surchamp every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday for over 600 years.
The open air market (marché) fills the entire 3000 meter square before vendors continue snaking along the streets leading in to Place Abel Surchamp. You’ll find everything from fresh seasonal produce from local farmers to oysters from nearby Cap Ferret. You’ll no doubt want to try the French nougat being offered as samples, or the variety of regional French cheese like a Brebis with Espelette (a sheep’s milk cheese with Espelette pepper, both from the Pays Basque).
Locals come from in and around Libourne to shop, snack and enjoy the market atmosphere. You’ll spy every French woman with a straw market bag, likely a baguette – or two – sticking out of it along with their grocery shopping. And of course, you can purchase your own French straw market bag from a couple of vendors selling them as a souvenir to bring home.
10:30AM | Cruise on the Dordogne River
After shopping to your heart’s delight, make your way to the quayside for a 2-hour cruise along the Dordogne. Available through the Tourisme Libournais tourism office, this cruise aboard Yacht de Bordeaux is brand new as of July 2020.
Departing from the quais of Libourne, guests are offered a canelé or a macarons de Saint-Émilion – both local specialties of the Gironde – and a glass of wine to enjoy onboard. With a glass of wine in hand, you can sit back and relax as you cruise past the châteaux and vineyards of Fronsac situated along the Dordogne.
The boat cruises down the Dordogne River to Château de Vayres, one of the most prestigious castles in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. Dominating the Dordogne River, Château de Vayres was built in the 11th century to protect the city of Bordeaux. Though nothing remains of the original fortress, it was rebuilt under the order of King Eward II of England as a fortress. After being badly damaged in the Hundred Years War, then inherited by Henry IV, it was finally restored in the 18th century style by Jacques-Joseph de Gourgue, Bishop of Bazas.
It’s still owned and occupied by the Gourgue family today, but was classified as a historical monument in 2001. Magnificent French gardens were designed by landscape architect Louis-Ferdinand Duprat in 1938. Visible from the river are the gardens of Château de Vayres, and the cruise briefly stops to admire the sort of Versailles of the Nouvelle Aquitaine and tell guests a bit about the château.
Unfortunately, there’s not a dock (at least for now – it’s in future plans) that visitors can disembark to visit Château de Vayres. But you can do that easily from Libourne later in the afternoon.
Cruising back to Libourne, take in the sights of the bastide town like the iconic stone bridge of Libourne dating from 1820 and the two towers rising from the Porte du Grande Port. This important gate to the walled town of Libourne is the oldest on the confluence, dating from 1324 to 1330.
12:30PM | Lunch at Libourne’s Best Restaurant
The cruises on the Dordogne River are two hours in length and timed to deliver guests back to the port of Libourne just in time for lunch or dinner. If you managed to show restraint from sampling everything at the Libourne market, by now the gastronomic specialties of the area are calling. Head to Chez Rémi, one of Libourne’s best restaurants.
As the name notes, it’s run by Rémi and his recipes are proudly “his father’s cuisine”. Remi himself is likely to greet you with a warm welcome and he does speak English. Even if you don’t need help translating the chalkboard menu, Rémi’s animated explanations of his dishes is a show itself.
You’ll find very local specialties here and the restaurant is very well known for ris de veau, or sweetbreads. If you’ve ever wanted to try sweetbreads, Chez Rémi is the place. Otherwise, the less adventurous eaters can rest assured the magret de canard (duck breast) is also a south west specialty and fantastic.
The wine list offers a nice selection of the Libournais appellations both by the glass and by the bottle.
3PM | Wine Tour of Château de La Dauphine
You simply can’t leave Libourne without visiting one of the nearby Libournais appellations. Fronsac is the the Libournais appellation with a wine producing château located closest to Libourne. Visitors without a car can even rent a bicycle and bike the short 3.5 kilometers from Libourne to Château de la Dauphine.
The château itself was quite literally built for royalty. When Maria Josepha of Saxony, Dauphine of France, decided to visit the vineyard producing the wine that was the most sought after at the time, the regal house was built in order to welcome her.
Today it remains a place fit for royalty with one of the most notable wines in the Fronsac appellation. The luxury visit offers a peek inside the château itself, which serves as a holiday home for the owners, along with a stroll through the magnificent park and unique vat room. Of course, the visit ends with a tasting of two wines in the estate’s boutique.
Know Before You Go
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