When I was visiting Libourne a few months ago, I realized I needed to know more and knew just the person to ask – Jennifer Poe of My Bordeaux Tours, who is an experienced local tour guide & American expat living in Bordeaux. She is the blogger behind ‘American Mom in Bordeaux‘ and has worked with multiple river cruise companies offering tours to their clients. Thank you for this post!
By Jennifer Poe –
During tourist season, I often visit and give tours of this lovely growing town, located at the confluence of two rivers, the Dordogne & the Isle, with my river cruise guests. With it’s bastide (planned medieval market town) city center, newly renovated waterfront & it’s ever popular town market happening three times a week – this place never disappoints. In fact, Libourne boasts one of the oldest continual town markets dating back to the 14th century. But this past season, I truly missed my morning strolls in this growing bedroom community of Bordeaux (40 minutes by car) and the entrance to the Right Bank wine appellations of Saint- Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac, just to name a few.
I decided in December it was time to visit and the Christmas holidays gave me a perfect excuse. The town was decked out with lights and decorations – store windows welcomed clients – I only wish I lived closer to see the lights at night.
Located in the center square is the majestic and beautiful town hall (Hotel de ville) & the mayor’s office (Mairie). This beautiful gothic building is actually the work of gothic revival master, Violet le Duc. He renovated this building in the late 1800’s with his neo-gothic style including pointed spires, gargoyles and details reminiscent of the gothic period. It’s is a beautiful building inside and out. It also houses a very lovely art museum on the 3rd floor that includes works by artists such as Rodin, Princeteau & Manfredi. The permanent collection keeps growing and even though it’s small in size, it’s quite remarkable for a town of this size.
The number of market vendors vary depending on day and season. It was fairly quiet on this particular day – but all the local gourmandise were available.
Local fruit & vegetable vendors also with local cheesemakers.
Agen, a town located an hour and half from Bordeaux is known for its prunes – delicious, large and full of flavor.
Vanilla is often sold at French markets – Meet the local vanilla vendor. In fact, he wanders around the market and sells it direct.
There’s a covered market also in Libourne – located off one of the corners of the center square at 1 Rue Montesquieu. This market is open 6 mornings a week from 6am to 1pm. It houses butcher shops (all varieties – beef, pork, and poultry), fish vendors, cheesemakers along with a small fruit and vegetable stands, pastries and vendors who offer ready made dishes – (traiteurs). This is often where many local restaurant chefs shop for their menu of the day. There is even a small bar/cafe on one end. I am often amused to see the older French men there while their wives do the shopping.
Back along the main shopping street – Rue Gambetta – there were lovely holiday displays all over – from store windows, lights and umbrellas hung from above. Unfortunately, Pere Noel (Santa) couldn’t make his usually appearance for photos but his sentiments were there and of course a letter box for children to send their lists. Fun fact about Libourne – Libourne is the “North Pole” of France. The Libourne post office is where all the letters received in France for Santa Claus (Pere Noel) are sent. Any letter that is sent to Pere Noel, Pole Nord, maison du Pere Noel from French children around the world are received here. Beginning in late November, the post office hires extra personnel to answer each letter! They receive around a million letters each year! Not bad for this small town of 25, 000 inhabitants.
Rue Gambetta is all decked out for the holidays. I can only imagine the beauty of this street at night as all the umbrellas are lit. During normal times, there are cafes & restaurants offering outside terrace seating.
Due to COVID restrictions all cafes and restaurants have been closed since early November. However, they are allowed to sell take out. Many cafes offer service in their doorways and one can stand nearby and enjoy a fresh expresso or cafe creme. Maison Politi, an Italian food shop (epicerie) offered not only many Italian items, but also an Italian deli and were more than willing to make take out plates, salads or meat platters along with fresh Italian expresso / 65 Rue Gambetta, 33500 Libourne / +33 (0)5 57 08 97 / https://maisonpolitilibourne.com/
These are Italian truffles – but just East of Libourne in the Dordogne region, black Perigord truffles are found and are a delicacy used often in local French cuisine. Truffles are added to oils or mixed into sauces. One can’t visit this area without trying something enhanced with truffles. There are several stores in Libourne that sell local truffle products – along with fois gras and pate – both also recognized to be regional favorites. The Bordeaux region and South-Western France in general is known for many gourmet specialties and excellent local products.
Moving beyond the French market and food specialties, Libourne is additionally well connected to the wine industry. As I mentioned ealier, it’s the gateway to many well-known wine appellations located on the Right Bank (Eastern side of the Garonne River). Historically, the port of Libourne shipped out wines from Saint Emilion, Pomerol & Fronsac (along with other Right bank appellations) to other major ports in Europe and even further abroad. Given the history, many wine traders (negociants) had and still have their headquarters & shipping buildings located near the port of Libourne. One such family of wine traders is Jean Baptiste AUDY. A couple of times during the year, they, like other wine trading companies hold Public Open Houses offering their wines at reduced prices. This is a great time to stock up on some favorites and to try some new ones. This family owner group sells & exports wines from own properties plus many other local properties. They export 65% of their wines abroad.
The wine pictured above – Chateau Picque Caillou (Pessac Leognan) is actually a vineyard which backs up to a park where I often walk. Its funny, I had often thought that I should try their wine, so to find it at AUDY was the perfect opportunity. It was delicious – full of black and red cherry flavors, along with blackberry, plum, oak and vanilla. A wonderful balance of Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot. The 2016 could definitely be aged more but was still nice young. I will be buying more of this wine!!
Libourne has a lot to offer any visitor from walking along the port, wandering through the old bastide section of town, a lovely fine arts museum and exploring it’s variety of stores, cafes and restaurants. Especially on market days, Tuesday, Friday and Sunday mornings – this town is alive and vibrant – not just around the holidays. For those who love history – the Gate of the Old Port gives a glimpse of time gone by- Libourne’s early days dating back to the 14th Century & is now all that remains showing how the city was once walled in for protection during the 100 year war between France & England which ended in 1453.
Today many people are choosing to live in or near Libourne, as it still has very affordable housing and is only a short direct train ride to Bordeaux or 40 minutes by car, offering the best of both worlds, countryside and city. Libourne is the city where not only two rivers converge but also boasts the beautiful blend of delicious food, history & wine. Definitely worth a visit.
I fell in love with this beautiful region of stunning architecture, wealth of dynamic history and beautiful blend of city and countryside, harmonized with a “joie de vivre” of its inhabitants who, like me, chose to make it home. Read more about the area or book a tour with Jennifer on her page, My Bordeaux Tours or at http://www.mybordeauxtours.com / firstname.lastname@example.org