Bordeaux: The City of Water

One of the most beautiful cities of France, Bordeaux, is normally known for its wine. But visit and you’ll see it has a special link to water as well.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Bordeaux, France

It may be known as the region of wine but, to me, Bordeaux is all about the water. The sweet nectar of the vines may be its biggest export but the French city lives – and seems to literally breathe – by the water.

Let’s start with the river: the majestic Garonne.

Although Bordeaux is one of the most spread-out cities in Europe, all streets seem to lead towards the river.

It is the heart of the urban sprawl, with is connected by the veins of the roads. And it is on this river that Bordeaux was able to build its wine empire, with easy transportation by boat straight out to the Bay of Biscay and into the Atlantic or around into the Mediterranean.

Fountains in Bordeaux, France

The name ‘Bordeaux’ doesn’t translate perfectly into English, but it essentially means ‘water by the river bank’. I can’t think of a better way to capture the essence of the city during the summer month I visited.

Walking along the riverbank, the sun drawing closer to the horizon, the promenade was bustling. Bikes weaved their way between joggers, families, couples and tourists enjoying the warm afternoon and the cooling breeze.

Fountains in Bordeaux, France
Fountains in Bordeaux, France

It’s peaceful. And then you come across the Water Mirror.

The large reflection created by the thin layer of water and the mist being fountained up from it. It looks like the boardwalk is breathing up to us. And as the evening descends, it catches the light in such a perfect way it looks dreamlike.

Fountains in Bordeaux, France

It’s not so much a reflection but a window into the soul of the city.

Children play; an elderly couple walks hand-in-hand; a man in a wheelchair rolls himself around even though he can’t feel the cool moisture splash between his toes like the others around him.

Fountains in Bordeaux, France
Fountains in Bordeaux, France

I walk along the river for a bit longer and, leaning over the fence, see some beaver-like animals building a home for themselves on the bank – much like the first humans did here in about 300BC.

Fountains in Bordeaux, France

I cut up into the town and, wandering past a fountain, see a slightly destitute woman swimming in a fountain to collect coins that luck-wishers have thrown in.

Fountains in Bordeaux, France

And then, around another few narrow twists and turns, I come across a public artwork with water weeping out like tears and trickling down onto the tiles.

Fountains in Bordeaux, France

When people try to compare Bordeaux to Paris (which they constantly do, in the global tradition of city rivalry), it is always the wine that is mentioned. For good reason, many times.

Fountains in Bordeaux, France

But let’s not forget the water in any future discussions. It is all through the city and it’s what binds the animals, the children, the locals, the visitors – and even the vagrants. It is the lifeblood for all, including the surrounding vineyards themselves.


The nicest places to stay in Bordeaux are in the historic centre and spreading out from there along the river.


With a really modern design, Central Hostel is definitely the best option if you’re looking for dorm beds or a friendly environment.


You’ll get a good deal and experience some local culture at Hotel Saint Louis Beaulieu, part of a local Catholic complex.



Offering an intimate experience in a 19th-century private mansion, Yndo Hôtel has large and comfortable rooms.


In a perfect location, the beautiful Hôtel Singulier Bordeaux also has a stunning rooftop to enjoy the view.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

28 thoughts on “Bordeaux: The City of Water”

  1. I grew up an hour away from Bordeaux, and I lived there for three years in the 90’s and I really do have fond memories of the place, and I really enjoy going back there at times.
    It’s definitely one of the most pleasant cities to live in or to visit in France (way before Paris).

    A couple of details though.
    You say that the city is one of the most spread out in Europe. The actual city (i.e. the commune of Bordeaux) is actually pretty small, but it’s true that the “urban community” of Bordeaux is quite spread out for a French (or European) city.
    Concerning the name of the city, while “Bordeaux” sounds and looks like “Bord d’eaux” (water banks), the exact origin of the name is unclear. It could be that, but it could be other things. The original Celtic name was Burdigala. Its meaning is unclear. It could mean “muddy cove” or “shelter in swamp” (I’ve seen both translations)
    The current name, while it finds its origins in the original name, really comes from the Gascon (the local language before French took over) “Bordèu” that has been “Frenchified” into Bordeaux.

    • Thanks, David.
      You’re perfectly correct on both those points. As far as the size goes, it is the suburbs and all that I was referring to which is quite spread out. Although, as you say, the historic (and touristy) part is relatively easy just to walk around.
      And with the name, I did read a bit about the old names which had been bastardised along the way. But, for someone who doesn’t speak much French, it’s hard to avoid the apparent meaning in ‘Bordeaux’. Forgive me this one, for it fits my theme 🙂

      • No problem. You are forgiven. 😉
        To be honest, most French speakers (myself included when I’m not in etymology mode) think about water when they think about the name of the city (although they think about wine when they think about the city). 🙂

  2. Wow, amazing photos! The clouds in the photo of the cathedral are beautiful. I have been to France many times, but never to Bordeaux…now it is definitely going on my bucket list!

  3. I never realized that Bordeaux’s name was from bord d’eaux — or something like that. Very interesting! Those beaver-like animals might be otters. But I can be wrong. A very interesting note on Bordeaux, indeed, Michael! Oh and the photos are superb, as usual!

    • The animals are “coypus” (ragondin in French). They’re originally from South America but they arrived in Europe a few decades ago and are now very common on river banks, Garonne included.
      Concerning the origins of the name “Bordeaux”, see my previous comment. 🙂

      • What David said. He has become my new France expert! Any story I write about the country will be proofread by him first so I don’t call the “coypus” something along the lines of “beaver-like animal” again 🙂

        • LOL. Well, coypuses are indeed “beaver-like animals” (they’re both rodents and they do look alike). But I was wrong too, they didn’t arrive in Europe a few decades ago, rather in the 19th century.
          But honestly, if you want me to proofread future posts, feel free to contact me, I’ll gladly do so. 🙂
          Now, I don’t know everything about France (who does?), it’s just that here, you’re talking about my home area.

  4. Haha, lovely post! And why did I never realize the namesake of Bordeau? It’s so obvious now you’ve pointed it out. I’m going to start planning a trip to Bordeaux now… 🙂

  5. Monsieur Turteuille, I have visited Bordeaux, too – though only the hospital, where my brother got his dislocated shoulder treated (a wave smashed him into the ground – the Atlantic ocean is not exactly a bath tub), but it’s on my list for 2013. I’m very sad David pointed out that the coypus are coypus – because I knew that, too, and it’s not often that I know something someone else doesn’t (apart from stuff nobody cares about, like coypus):( I will have to get faster on the comment section – another thing I’m not good at. Anyway, enjoyed the post and looking forward to see the city myself:)!

    • I am still impressed you know what a coypus is. I had never heard of them before.
      And I can’t wait to hear what you think of Bordeaux (outside of the hospital, at least). You’ll have to let me know once you’ve been there!

  6. Neat. France is rarely on my list of places to see, but Bordeaux sounds neat. And actually moreso to see it realated to water instead of wine.
    The beaver things look neat. I have never heard of them and the picture looks like rats, but I trust you that they are beaver-like.

  7. Hi! Great post. I just returned from a trip to Bordeaux and am loving reading more about the history and random trivia.

    One question I am hoping you or someone else could answer: What is this history behind the bronze turtles in Place de la Victoire?


    • Oh, I have no idea, I’m sorry. I had my photo taken with one (for obvious reasons) but didn’t ask anyone about the significance. I hope someone comes along, reads this, and lets us know!

  8. We are here in Bordeaux at the moment traveling within france for my 50 th birthday. We have done Paris, Nice, Avignon and Montpellier prior to here. So far Nice and Bordeaux are my favourites – I loved Paris too but for some reason Bordeaux feels a little more relaxed, maybe it’s the great home stay apartment right in the middle of the city with a loft and 1800s charm that is swaying me. I found this blog whilst googling the water rats here. Thank you for the coypus info.


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