Traveling by car
You may drive with a valid U.S. driver's license in France. In addition, it is recommended (not required) to carry an International Driving Permit or attach a French translation to your US driver's license. You must also be at least 18 years old and hold a valid credit card.
There are several good car hire companies throughout Europe, I would recommend one of the following;
ADA – 0825 169 169
Avis – 0820 150 505
Europcar – 0870 607 500
Hertz – 0720 903 905
The speed limit is 50 km/h (30 mph) in the towns, and 90 km/h (55 mph) on the open roads.
We chose to rent a car and drive from Den Haag to Southwest France as it was the most economical and easiest way to get to and around France.
This picture was taken on my way back from Bordeaux, via St Emilion. I always enjoy traveling by road, as it affords me the opportunity of seeing other towns and cities. It also give the feeling of knowing the geography of the terrane very well.
- Road Trip
To and around Bordeaux.
Tel: 33(0)556 345 050
Tel_ 33 (0)892 353 535
Tel: 33 (0)826 022 022
Look ma, no wires!
Like most French cities, Bordeaux had an efficient tramway system for over three-quarters of a century – from 1880, when the first horse-drawn trams were installed, to 1958, when the last of the 38 electric tram lines fell victim to automania.
For the next 45 years Bordeaux was dominated by cars, hundreds of thousands of them, supplemented only by a few shabby bus lines for the poor.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 21st century that the city finally started building three modern tramway lines, which went into operation in 2003 and 2004. As in other French cities, the new tramway was accompanied by a comprehensive program of urban renewal, including the restoration of the main monuments, the redevelopment of the river banks and a complete overhaul of the road network in favor of pedestrians and cyclists.
Second photo: Bordeaux was the first city to power some sections of its tramways using a new system called APS, meaning Alimentation Par Sol = power supply from the ground. This system is rather complex and had huge teething problems when it was first installed in Bordeaux in the early noughties, but now it seems to be working smoothly and has been adopted by three other French cities, Reims, Angers and Orléans, for part of their tramway networks.
As I noted in one of my Reims reviews, the APS system makes it possible for the trams to get their electricity from an electric rail in the middle of the track. At first sight I found this rather alarming, since I was reminded of the ‘third rail’ that I used to see on the Chicago elevated system when I was a child, a high-voltage electrified rail which brought instant death to anyone who touched it or stepped on it. But it turns out that the new ‘APS’ system is not a danger to pedestrians because it is divided into eight- or ten-meter segments which carry electricity only when they are completely covered by the tram.
The reason for using the APS system is to prevent the city center from being cluttered up by overhead wires. So you can still take photos of the cathedral and the opera house without any wires getting in the way.
Third photo: A tram without wires on the Cours de l’Intendance in the center of Bordeaux.
Fourth photo: Outside the city center, some sections of the tramway still use overhead wires, as this tram is doing as it approaches the railway station Gare Saint-Jean. These conventional overhead wires are not aesthetically pleasing, but apparently they are much cheaper to install, operate and maintain than the new APS system.
• The proposed tramway in Avignon
• The new tramway in Besançon
• The tramways of Grand Lyon
• The new tramways in Marseille
• The tramway T-3 (now the T-3a) in Paris
• Extension of the tramway in Paris
• Look ma, no wires! in Reims
• Trams in Strasbourg
Next Bordeaux review: Cycling in Bordeaux
St Jean Railway Station
The railway arrived from Paris in 1852. Today you can get from Bordeaux to Paris Montparnasse in 3 and half hours. In the other direction, you could get to the Spanish border in about 2 and half hours.
Gare St Jean is one of those delightful French railway stations that still uses the mechanical train departures display. Dozens of people stand watching (and listening to) the clac-clac-clac as the timetable updates itself above the ticket hall.
Directly outside is a tram stop with trams leaving every few minutes towards the city centre.
- Historical Travel
Trams (and Buses)
Bordeaux has an excellent tram and bus network. The tram system opened in 2003 and is gradually being expanded. Currently there are three tram routes in different directions across the city. There are also 12 bus routes and a number of small 'navette' electric buses along the narrow streets.
The fare system seems very simple. For the price of a single ticket (1.30 euros in 2007) you can travel for up to one hour from the time you get on board, a machine by the tram door stamps a date and time on your ticket. There are ticket maachines at each tram stop, which also have a map of the tram and bus system on the side. You can also buy a 'carnet' of ten tickets at a reduced price.
I didn't see any ticket inspectors while I was in Bordeaux and I expect it woud be almost impossible to check people's tickets on a crowded tram at rush-hour. But it is up to you if you dare take the risk!!
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VCub bicycle sharing
VCub is Bordeaux’s spontaneous self-service on-street bicycle sharing system. It has been in operation since 2010 and is very similar to Vélo’v in Lyon and Vélib’ in Paris, though it is run by a different company, Keolis (70 % of which belongs to the French railway system SNCF), instead of JCDecaux as in Lyon and Paris.
The name “VCub” has nothing to do with baby animals such as lion cubs or tiger cubs, as we Anglophones might assume. The V stands for Vélo (bicycle) and “Cub” is for the Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux, the Urban Community of Bordeaux and vicinity (now officially re-named Bordeaux Métropole, but the bike sharing system still has the same name as before).
As you can see from my photos, the bikes themselves are marked “V3”, with a large V and a small raised 3. This puzzled me, until someone was kind enough to point out that “V3” is a term from mathematics, “V cube” (= V times V times V) and that in French cube and cub sound the same (not that cub is a French word, but they would say it the same way). I’m not sure everyone in Bordeaux understands this, but that doesn’t stop them from using the bikes.
On my Paris page I have explained in some detail how to use these on-street bike sharing systems, so I won’t repeat it all here. (See my Paris review How Vélib’ works for a start.)
The one really unusual feature of VCub in Bordeaux is VCub Predict’, a new function which predicts up to twelve hours in advance how many bicycles will be available at a certain station at a certain time. This function was developed by a local company called Qucit, which calls itself “a startup inventing new tools to make cities smarter.” (The name “Qucit” is supposed to mean “Create Efficient Cities”.)
They say the calculations for VCub Predict’ are “based on the four years of the VCub network and take into account the history of the occupation of stations (nearly ten million trips since 2010), the action of regulatory teams and specifics such as the date, time and the school calendar.” For greater accuracy, the predictions also take into account the local weather forecast and the number of bikes actually available when the prediction is calculated.
The predictions are can be seen on the computer terminals at all the VCub stations, on their Apps for Android and iPhone and on their website – click here to see an example.
They say that over 700 cities and regions worldwide now have self-service bicycle systems (800 according to other sources), but VCub is the first system to include predictions. I wonder if this feature will catch on in other cities.
Second photo: Riding a VCub aka V3 bike on Rue des Frères-Bonie.
Third photo: The two VCub stations Gare St Jean (in the foreground) and Rue St Vincent de Paul (further back, to the right). I used these two stations quite often because they were right in front of my hotel.
Fourth photo: Bringing more VCub bikes to the station at the Conservatory.
Phone: 09 69 39 03 03
• The red and white Velo-Antwerpen bikes in Antwerp, Belgium.
• Bern rollt, free bicycles in Bern, Switzerland.
• VèloCité in Besançon, France.
• Metropolradruhr in Dortmund, Germany.
• DB Call-a-Bike in Dresden, Germany.
• NextBike in Dresden, Germany.
• StadtRAD in Hamburg, Germany.
• NextBike in Hamburg, Germany.
• NextBike in Hannover, Germany.
• DB Call-a-Bike in Karlsruhe, Germany.
• NextBike in Leipzig, Germany.
• V’Lille in Lille, France.
• Vélo'v in Lyon, France.
• Bike sharing system le vélo in Marseille, France.
• BikeMi has come to Milan! in Milan, Italy.
• Vélib’ in Paris, France.
• VélôToulouse in Toulouse, France.
• Free bicycles from Züri rollt in Zürich, Switzerland.
Back to my first Bordeaux review: The National Opera of Bordeaux
Back to my Bordeaux intro page
Cycling in Bordeaux
In 2013 the website copenhagenize.eu published its second “Copenhagenize Index”, ranking the world’s most bicycle-friendly large cities (not including smaller cities like Groningen or Münster, I presume), as determined by performance in thirteen categories, namely:
• bicycle culture
• bicycle facilities
• bicycle infrastructure
• bike share programme
• gender split
• modal share for bicycles
• modal share increase since 2006
• perception of safety
• social acceptance
• urban planning
• traffic calming
(Click here for an explanation of these thirteen categories.)
Amazingly, Bordeaux tied with Seville (Spain) for fourth place in the ranking, just behind Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Utrecht. The website explains: “Every country needs a city that just gets on with it and shows what is possible. Bordeaux is that city in France. For many years, Strasbourg was regarded as the premier cycling city but Bordeaux storms into fourth spot on the Top 20 of the Copenhagenize Index for what it has achieved in the past five or so years.”
They go on to say that Bordeaux “has invested brilliantly in bike lanes and cycle tracks. There are 200 km in the city and 400 in all when you include the surrounding CUB - Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux. In the CUB there is a 5% modal share, but that rises to 10% in the city proper. Up from just a couple of percentage points only 6 years ago.”
According to the report on copenhagenize.eu, “Bordeaux is taking bicycle transport seriously, and it goes hand in hand with the city's new investment in an impressive tramway network. As we often see, a tramway city becomes a bicycle friendly city. Bordeaux's bike share system VCub is a great success and serves to place bicycles beneath a great many citizens. Bordeaux has figured out how to market its bicycle initiatives to a mainstream crowd, avoiding the narrow and ineffective sub-cultural context. France is the country in Europe that is taking bicycle transport most seriously and Bordeaux has become the leader.”
Two other French cities are also listed in the Top 20, namely Nantes (tied with Antwerp for fifth place) and Paris (tied with Hamburg for fourteenth).
By the way, copenhagenize.eu is one of three websites that are run by the Copenhagenize Design Company. The other two are copenhagenize.com, about issues dealing with “Bicycle Urbanism for Modern Cities”, and Copenhagen Cycle Chic, which I described several years ago on one of my Copenhagen tips as my “absolutely second favorite website in the whole world (after VirtualTourist)”.
Next: VCub bicycle sharing
VCUB - The best way to get around in Bordeaux
VCUB is the city's "bike for rent" system. I have never been to a city with so many cyclists using rented bikes. It is very cheap, very easily accessible and very practical, particularly as the tramways are often very crowded.
How does VCUB work? Depending on how long you stay in Bordeaux or how long you want to use the system, you can either go for a short term usage of 24 hours or 1 week or a long term usage of 1 month or 1 year. You go to the next VCUB terminal (they are literally everywhere, see this map for details), register with your debit card, pay (e.g. 5 euros for 7 days), receive a code which you !!MUST!! bear in mind and create your own 4-digit security number. You then take the bike and are free to go wherever you want. Once you're done, you simply leave it at the next VCUB terminal. The best: If you use it for less than 30 minutes, your trip won't cost you anything apart from the 5 euros!
One last thing: Be careful when you're using roads with tramway tracks. These have exactly the same width as your tyres and can cause some dangerous accidents.
The website below only exists in French, but perhaps the tourist information can help you with an English instruction manual.
The sleek blue trams that operate in Bordeaux are a great way of getting around in the city centre or the suburbs. It's three-line tram is easily navigated and a good way of getting around Bordeaux.
The hours of operation are between 05:00 and 01:00 and tickets can be purchased at the tram stops.
We didn't use the tram during our visit and I am not quite sure what the ticket price would be.
To and from Bordeaux by train
The railway station Gare Saint-Jean is a short distance southwest of the city center, just a quarter of an hour by bicycle from the opera house (Grand Théâtre), a distance of 3.3 km.
I traveled to Bordeaux on a TGV train from Toulouse, travelling first class because when I booked there was a special deal available on the website voyages-sncf.com for only 25 Euros.
A few days later I left on an “iDTGV” train. This train left Bordeaux at 11:18 and went non-stop to Paris, arriving at the station Paris-Montparnasse at 14:34 (or 14h34 as they write it in France).
This was my first time on an “iDTGV” train, and it was fine. In fact it was coupled with a normal “TGV” train, so they both left Bordeaux at the same time and arrived in Paris at the same time.
As is often the case with initials in French, no one quite seems to know exactly what “iDTGV” stands for. OK, the TGV is for “train de grande vitesse” (train of great speed), just like the normal TGV trains. I assumed the small “i” was for internet, because you can only book “iDTGV” online, but supposedly the “i” is really for interactivité which means just what in looks like, but doesn’t make much sense as far as I can tell. The “D” in the name allegedly stands for Détente (=relaxation).
It turns out that “iDTGV” is not only a brand name but also a separate company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the French national railway SNCF. This company was set up in 2004 to compete with cheap airlines, so these trains only go to and from Paris and only serve places that are in France but at least 400 km away. (Which means, essentially, that they only go to places in the South of France.)
You can only book “iDTGV” tickets online, not at a station or travel agency, and you have to print them out yourself, which I always do anyway whenever I have that option. The tickets go on sale six months in advance and at first only cost 19 Euros, no matter what the destination. As the train fills up, the prices also go up. I paid 35 Euros when I booked 72 days ahead of time on the SNCF website voyages-sncf.com, but that was still somewhat cheaper than what they had on offer for the normal TGV train at the same time.
Second photo: People arriving at the station Bordeaux-St-Jean.
Third photo: First class in the TGV from Toulouse to Bordeaux.
Fourth photo: Bar in TGV to Bordeaux.
Fifth photo: Le Pôle Vélo at the station. This is a place where people can park their bicycles for a small fee, so they will be indoors and guarded. Also they offer a repair service for bicycles. (I didn’t use the Pôle Vélo because I had a subscription to the VCub bike sharing system.)
Directions: VCub bicycle station Gare St Jean or Rue St Vincent de Paul
Location, aerial view and photo of Saint Jean station on monumentum.fr
Next: Look ma, no wires!
Like most cities in Europe, Bordeaux is pretty compact with most of the major sites centrally located and easily reached by walking. We arrived by car and started our exploring on foot.
Walking is one of my favorite ways of exploring a city because it allows me a better perspective of the city, I can go "off the beaten path" at my pace, stopping to admire beautiful architecture, city life, or a quick stop for a snack or drink.
By car to Bordeaux
My sister, a travel companion and I went to Bordeaux by car. It was rather far - more than 1800 kilometers in two days.
From Paris: Take to motorway A 10, distance is about 550 km, and it will take about 5 hours.
From Toulouse/Marseille: Take the motorway A 62, it is about 500 km from Marseille, Toulouse is closer.
There are big distances in France!
- Road Trip
By plane to Bordeaux
Some major airlines also serve Bordeaux regulary, for example Lufthansa (from Munich) or MALEV (from Budapest). Please check to shedules of the airlines.
Instead of going directly to Bordeaux you can also take a plane to Paris. There is a regulary high-speed trainservice (TGV - train a grand vitesse) linking Paris and Bordeaux. Look at the SNCF-Website for more infos.
Bordeaux modern tram system
Coming from a city that has one of the largest tram networks in the world (Melbourne, Australia), I was amazed at the great trams in Bordeaux. They are sleek, modern, comfortable and fast, but what makes them so special is the absence within the historic centre of Bordeaux of an ugly overhead power supply system so common with tramways around the world.
The tram system has 3 lines and covers a grid of about 40 kilometres. The system carries around 190,000 passengers each day.
The overhead power system in the outer areas of the network powers up the traction motors and stores power within a bank of on-board batteries. Once in the historic area, the pantographs (overhead power pick-ups) are retracted and sit flush with the roof line. The tram then runs on battery power with the addition of magnetic power pick-ups between the 2 rails of the system - it is quite safe to walk on the tracks without the danger of electrocution.
Web link provided below is in French only and may give links if you require further information.
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