“Shopping in Bordeaux: What is it like?,” some people ask me.
In France, le lèche-vitrine (window-licking, browsing) can be a ritual some are even more likely to indulge in while traveling. I am one of these people who enjoys browsing the wares in the cities I visit, to get a feel for a neighborhood. I typically stay clear of shopping centers, or large, crowded commercial streets (la rue Sainte Catherine, in Bordeaux,) that tend to feature the same brands, and the same chain stores one can find all over the country, and all over the world.
Rue Saint James: Small is beautiful
In Bordeaux, I have noticed the same trend I spot in Paris and other French cities. In spite of globalization, and the much-touted economic crisis resulting from a strict, two-month lockdown in the spring, smaller stores and boutiques may just survive. They specialize in creative, environment-friendly products (and packaging) often made in France. Even if quality does not always justify the higher price tags, even if many of these stores seem to sell gadgets or accessories that will only add to the clutter at home, it’s fun to browse their colorful, original selections.
As I scouted a few locations for an upcoming live-streamed stroll in Bordeaux a few days ago, I had fun stepping inside a few boutiques. I realized they played the nostalgia card, and it worked! These stores, as we say in French, are endearingly “régressifs.” Here’s a sample of what caught my eye in one of them.
Shopping in Bordeaux: Au Bonendroi
I immediately loved the entrance, with curb appeal, as they say in the United States, and the play on words in the name. Bonendroi refers to “Au Bon Endroit,” the right place. You have come to the right place. They call themselves a “modern drugstore” because they sell everything. Good news: They have an online store too.
Do you know la Carafe, a French brand? Their colorful carafes make drinking water more appealing, don’t they? They also sell equally colorful and adorable “dessous de plat” (trivets.)
I am always happy to find old-fashioned bols à café (bowls) instead of the ubiquitous mugs. In the morning, le café noir (or café au lait) somehow doesn’t taste good unless you can dip your whole head inside le bol, your elbows comfortably resting on the table, am I right? Le bol is perfect for all of us “dunkers.” Nothing worse than to see our perfectly buttered biscotte crumble into a thousand little pieces because it doesn’t fit inside a coffee mug!
The funniest thing about trendy glassware for French natives in my age groups: So many popular bistros, in France and abroad, have adopted the classic (and indestructible) Duralex glassware. You see, these are the glasses we used at la cantine (the elementary school cafeteria.) These days, I see people drinking chichi wines in them, no doubt feeling very hip (and very French.) Marrant. Funny.
More indispensable kitchen items
What would soups be like without le Moulin passe-légumes (manual food mill?) Forget modern appliances. They are loud and hog electricity.
Plastic bags are so… yesterday. What we all need is a cheerful, sturdy Filt bag to bring groceries home. I always had fun using mine when checking out in the United States: The cashier could not believe how much went inside it (granted I often had to drag it back to the car, because it was too heavy to lift, but you get my drift.) Mine is bright red, with shoulder-length handles. I bought it in Bordeaux’s Old Town several years ago.
Ah, la guillotine. I certainly don’t know why everyone shudders when we, tour guides or teachers, mention it was still used in the 1970s! We are only saying this because we don’t want foreigners to know every reputable French home has one (but we use it only to slice saucisson for l’apéro these days.)
A good housewares store *must* have great knives. The best French picnic knife is made in Chambéry, Savoie. The brand is Opinel. I own a set I use daily at home, and I never travel without my folding, Opinel picnic knife. It’s been a constant companion for the last… thirty years?
Shopping in Bordeaux with old friends
Everyone knows “la Deudeuche,” “la Deux pattes,” the one and only, the iconic, the friendliest-looking, sturdiest, most economical French car ever built, la Deux Chevaux (Citroën 2CV.) It makes me smile, as it goes by in the street, or when I spot it in miniature size. I love it so much I once wrote a tribute to this marvel of French engineering. The question is, who is its little friend, proudly sitting next to it on the shelf? My mom had one, and many French people loved it just as much. Hint: Renault was the manufacturer.
Et le goûter? What about a snack?
The French don’t believe in snacking throughout the day… yet they love nothing more than a late afternoon snack, le goûter. They start indulging at a young age, on the way home from school (if they are lucky and can stop at the local boulangerie,) or at home, before doing their homework. La rue Saint James had me covered. There are many eateries too choose from, from coffee shops to tapas restaurants and bars, some with menus written in English (C’est très Brooklyn!)
I settled for a local specialty, le Cannelé. The delicious little cookie came in plain or rhum-flavored versions, each in three different sizes. I went for one of each, so I could decide which one was best (answer: Go for the Classic, with rhum!) It was perfect: Caramelized and slightly crispy outside, soft and fragrant inside. The store is called Cassonade. It’s named after the natural sugar (in light or dark color,) people in Northern France and Belgium love spreading on their crêpes and waffles. They also make delicious iced tea. Everything is “bio(logique)” (organic) and homemade. Did you know les cannelés are traditionally made in copper molds? Cassonade sells those too. They are manufactured in the area.
Shopping in Bordeaux: Le Serviteur Muet
I am not sure what Le Serviteur Muet (the Mute Servant) is… maybe a gift shop… or a confiserie (candy store,) or a fine grocery store. One thing is for sure: It gives out big nostalgic vibes, from the decor, to the 1940s music coming out of an old radio. I would go back just to sample the incredible selection of nougat, the popular European confection (made in Montelimar, as it should.)
For those among you who don’t enjoy shopping in Bordeaux (or anywhere else,) drinking, eating, sitting down en terrasse, don’t despair: La rue Saint James has got you covered. One of Bordeaux’s most beloved (and visited) landmarks, la Grosse Cloche, stands at the entrance. Of course, if you joined my live-streamed walk, you already knew that. Just walk up the street and go check it out (pretend you are a medieval pilgrim on your way to Santiago de Compostela!)
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