Bordeaux is the “the very essence of elegance”, according to Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II. Well, who are we to argue with Her Majesty? The capital of the world’s greatest wine-growing region is an historic city, and has been settled since at least the 5th-century B.C. The grandiose buildings of the centre (a UNESCO world heritage site) date from the 18th-century. By the late 20th-century, though, it had grown a little shabby around the edges. No longer – the city has been visited by the renovators. Its noble stone façades have been sand-blasted and restored, tram lines have been installed, and vast swathes of riverbank have been reclaimed from dereliction. It used to be called the “Sleeping Beauty”, but not any more – Bordeaux has become a modern, hip and vibrant city. Small wonder that it was top of the Lonely Planet guide’s list of cities to visit in 2017.
There is something in Bordeaux for everyone. Here is just a tiny insight into its charms:
The striking Cité du Vin was designed to look like wine swirling in glass, or a knotted vine, or the eddies of the nearby Garonne river. Regardless, this celebration of the world’s wine regions is a must-visit attraction for budding oenophiles. This next-generation museum immerses you in the history, the geography, the geology, the art, the culture, the smell, the magic of wine. And if that’s not enough, their extraordinary shop sells bottles from 800 different producers (200 French, and 600 from around the globe). Alternatively, the Musée du Vin et du Négoce, housed in an Irish merchant’s house dating to 1720 in the cool, ancient trading district of Chartrons, offers a fascinating insight into the historic origins of Bordeaux’s wine trade and the importance of the négociant (merchant trader) in the 18th and 19th centuries. Afterwards, check out the Bar á Vin run by the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux in the city’s 18th-century “flatiron’” building, Maison Gobineau. Here, Bordeaux reds start at €2. Or perhaps the Aux Quatre Coins du Vin, with their tasting machine that allows one to buy Grand Cru vintages by the glass. As you would expect, these are just a couple of hundreds of great wine bars in the city.
La Cite du Vin - Bordeaux
Bordeaux is a gastronomic delight, the best in France according to respected food website Atabula. Visitors must sample some of its specialities, such as oysters from the nearby Bay of Arcachon, or entrecôte á la Bordelaise (a dish of rib steak cooked in a rich sauce made from Bordeaux wine, butter, shallots, herbs and bone marrow). What about milk-fed Pauillac lamb, grazed on the marshes by the Gironde estuary, perhaps served with cèpes de Bordeaux (reputedly the best mushrooms in France)? Or perhaps duck confit or magret de canard, fresh from the lakes and rivers of the Médoc? For dessert, canelés, a local speciality that makes delicious use of the egg yolks traditionally left over from the wine-making process. Feasts of dishes that can be paired perfectly with the local sauvignon blancs, or clarets, or sweet Sauternes. Bordeaux has restaurants to cater for all tastes and budgets, from Gordon Ramsay’s two Michellin-starred Le Pressoir d’Argent in the Grand Hotel, to La Tupina, the second-best bistro in the world according to the International Herald Tribune, to the many tasting tables that surround the city’s markets.
Entrecôte á la Bordelaise
Bordeaux has a variety of markets for foodies and antique-lovers alike. The area around the Marché des Capucins has been transformed into a hipsters’ paradise in the past few years. Here, local producers sell their fresh produce. Visit on the weekend and enjoy a plate of oysters from one of the restaurants in the middle of the market. A couple of hundred metres away is the Marché Saint Michel, located in a square beneath the famous basilisque of the same name. Here, you can browse the vintage items, or visit one of the dozens of antique stores or restaurants that surround the market. Another particular favourite is the Marché des Quais, an open-air market that runs alongside the Garonne on the edge of the trendy Chartrons neighbourhood. It opens every Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and serves all manner of regional food and drink delicacies. Other markets include the Marché des Bouquinistes in Les Chatrons, open to book-lovers on Wednesdays between 09.30 a.m. and 7 p.m., the Marché des Tissus in Saint Michel where shoppers can buy original fabrics at very affordable prices, every Monday, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., or the Marché de Cenon, one of the oldest and most frequented markets in Bordeaux, located on the right bank of the Garonne. On a grander scale is the Foire à la Brocante des Quinconces. This is held in Spring and Autumn on the grand Place des Quinconces and hosts more than 200 exhibitors showcasing a considerable range of antique and modern furniture (some of which has found its way into the living room at Manoir Saussus!).
Antiques Market - Foire à la Brocante des Quinconces
It would be impossible to do justice to the grandiose Bordelaise architecture in a single paragraph. Therefore, don’t take our word for it, but instead go to see the graceful Palais-de-la-Bourse reflected in the Miroir d’Eau, the world’s largest reflecting pool, or the splendid mansion blocks that line the riverfront, and surround the peaceful Jardin Publique in Les Chartrons. Or sample a hot chocolate on the terrace of the magnificent Grand Hôtel, with its views of the elegant Grand Théâtre opera house. For the more adventurous, climb the many steps in the Basilique St-Michel or the Cathédrale St-André, and watch this noble city unfold beneath you.
Palais-de-la-Bourse and the Miroir d'Eau
For lovers of designer clothes, the top-end shops gravitate around the Triangle d’Or, Bordeaux’s monumental heart, bounded by three fine boulevards (Cours Clémenceau, Cours de l’Intendance, Allées de Tourny). For the more price-conscious, the trendy St. Pierre district provides some hip alternatives, and the designer outlet shops on the Quai in Les Chartrons are sure to serve up a bargain or two.
Bordeaux has a wide variety of cultural options. The Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) situated in the elegant surroundings of the Jardin de la Mairie is well worth a visit. So too is La Base Sous-Marine, a seriously cool underground culture centre, art gallery and concert venue housed in the mammoth concrete hulk of a submarine base built by the Germans in World War II. In a similar vein, Le Garage Moderne is both an alternative garage (where mechanics help locals fix their own cars and bikes) and an experimental cultural space in the edgy Bacalan district. For more mainstream fare, the Musée d’Aquitaine houses Gallo-Roman statues dating back 25,000 years, to exhibits covering the 18th-century Atlantic trade and slavery, and the emergence of Bordeaux as a world port. The Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux also offers both opera and ballet set in a beautiful neo-classical building opposite the Grand Hotel.
Nowhere has the transformation of Bordeaux in the past couple of decades been more profound than on its waterfront. Formerly, derelict warehouses and lost souls littered the quays. Now, abandoned spaces have been turned into gardens, and old warehouses on the Quai de Bacalan have become shops, jaunty bars and cafés, and their stone façades glow in the sun. The view from the Pont-de-Pierre bridge, or from the Right Bank of the Garonne is of a city riverscape unparalleled in Europe.