The top favourites with the locals
As with everywhere there are some "top" places to see... Starting at the tip of the Medoc region with Port Bloc, many local children will associate in their memories their first boat crossing up towards Royan. Further upstream, on the same bank, Pauillac provides the unusual setting of a river port slap bang in the town centre, with bar and restaurant terraces lining up along the 19th century dock façades.
Move slightly further on and you'll find boats that take visitors to discover the estuary and its islands, along with the Medoc vineyards and châteaux, some of which are visible from the water. Here the boating pontoons rub shoulders with the professional fishermen and the "in crowd" head to La Rotonde, former headquarters of the "Pauillac Nautical and Sailing Circle", listed "20th Century Cultural Heritage" and now converted into a restaurant.
Fifteen kilometres further south, the small Port de Lamarque is also known for its regular links with Blaye on the opposite bank, however tourists and locals also go there for the view over the estuary and it’s islands and for the two restaurants, ideal for relaxing summer moments.
Off the beaten track
That being said, nothing beats the mesmerizing charm of the small ports... The Gironde Estuary (the biggest in Europe by the way) has a flock of tiny ports more or less hidden away and always a pleasure to come across.
On the right bank, at the foot of the ramparts, the port de Bourg is well signed. A stopover port for boat trips from Bordeaux, it provides a direct view of the rocky outcrop with the high town and its chalk cliffs, which is also home to a handful of troglodytic houses. Organised for recreational purposes, the docks stretch into a promenade all the way to the parc de l'Esconge, a haven of greenery on the edge of a lake with a play area for kids.
You need to go forty kilometres further north to get the full impression of the small fishing ports so typical of the estuary. Bordering the canal of the same name, the miniature port des Callonges has the double benefit of a slightly wild look mixed with recent improvements. A departure point for boat trips, which is perfectly nestled in a natural reserve, has a guinguette and a panoramic restaurant. Just nearby the "Terres d'Oiseaux" bird reserve is home to nearly 200 ornithological species.
Back to the left bank for the Medoc's hidden gems...the delightful little ports of La Maréchale, tucked in a bend of the river, 15km north of Pauillac; Saint-Christoly, with its old customs house converted into a bistro-restaurant and guest house, and its recent guinguette open from June to September; and finally, Saint-VIvien, twenty kilometres further up, on the banks of the Gua Channel, where a string of wood cabins (bars, guingettes and restaurants) promise many a pleasant moment on sunny days.