Beating 20 other selected top destinations. In 2016 it will only be 2 hours from Paris by the TGV train so fingers crossed it wont change too much. We like it like it is! But it was not always that way.
When I first arrived in Bordeaux in 1989 in an old 2CV Citroen car from England it was into the somewhat dodgy Quai du Bacalan (the wine merchant area of Bordeaux also shared, when dusk fell, by the ladies of the night) who would have thought that 25 years on, this city would be so intertwined with my life.
It was August and Bordeaux was deserted with most people holidaying on the coast. I rang the bell at 19 Quai du Bacalan, one of the tall, imposing buildings along the quayside. I was to be a ‘stagiare’ at this one of the famous wine merchants; Maison Sichel (who part-own Château Palmer, one of the top Margaux wines). Bordeaux, a word so famous for its wines and history linked to England was to be my home for the next few months (in the end it was a year and a half when I had to return back to the UK only then to keep coming back. Bordeaux has now been my home for over 20 years and I am permenantly here now as a wine guide and writer).
The high limestone buildings were all blackened. It was as though the city had not awakened since the war-time. (In fact the same sleepy mayor – Chaban Delmas ruled Bordeaux for 47 years. He was apparently a resistance leader and was revoted in year after year as a thank you by the people). The River Garonne which modelled its story was confined behind a a barbed wire fence and the old hangar warehouses blocked the view of this curved band of water which gives Bordeaux its name of Port de la Lune due to its crescent-moon shape. Since Alain Juppé became mayor in 1995 Bordeaux has undergone a transformation and today it is what it should be with its beautiful 18th century buildings sandblasted to reveal their creamy colour, a modern tram system, cycle paths and cafés line the Riverside now and many Streets are pedestrianised and a pleasure to stroll around.
Here is what makes the city of Bordeaux special to me: The most stunning of Brdeaux’s monument is the Gross Cloche, one of the rare medieval monuments left standing after the city’s remodelling in the 18th century. It is the site now of a Young trendy area with lots of street food restaurants and unusual shops. The only remaining vestige of Roman times (when Bordeaux was called the Celtic name of Burdigala) is the stunning Palais Gallien ampitheatre set in a quiet area of Bordeaux just down the Rue Palais Gallien off the central square Place Gambetta. The Jardin Public is a relaxing place to spend a few hours and see the ‘Bordelais’ people relaxing. It is a park created in the early 19th century based on an english park, full of lawn and immense trees and an old botanical garden worth ambling around.
The Mirroir d’eau is a recent addition. Artistically it is supposed to reflect the beautiful Place de la Bourse opposite it. For the kids of Bordeaux on a hot sunny day it is the best play area with its spray jets and water to paddle in.
Place du parliament with its restaurants and cafés on each side offering lots of choice for eating ‘en terrace’ when the sun starts to shine. Wonderful French atmosphere.
The bustling newly renovated arab quartier of St Michel is the perfect destination if you are looking for bric-a-bracs, steamy Hammam, authentic tajine or sweet minty tea. Passage de St Michel is a large warehouse full of antiques and stuff on three floors.
The Chartrons is the hippest area with its sandwich bars (Breadstorming), restaurants and antiques shops (Rue Notre Dame). There are many wine bars some with live jazz where you can sample wines from Bordeaux and other corners of the world
Sunday market on the Quai du Chartrons where enjoying fresh oysters and Bordeaux white wine in the sun is ‘de rigeur’ on a Sunday morning after doing the shopping for the week of local produce.
The First Sunday of every month is car-free day in the centre of Bordeaux and there are lots of activities organised such as tango dancing and rollerblading tuition. The city’s museums have free entry.
Bordeaux’s Best Museums:
Musée d’Aquitaine (back to Roman times, medieval, slave trade through the port, to today)
Centre Jean Moulin – WWII in Bordeaux but captions in French
CAPC Comtemporary Art (and nice restaurant on top floor)
Musée d’art decoratif – beautiful crockery from Bordeaux 17 & 18th century
Musée des Beaux Arts – paintings
Here is a suggested Bordeaux City walking route which I often do with customers (I am a private wine guide) and encompasses the key sites and monuments of Bordeaux (maps available from the tourist information) Or it can be done by bike Velocub (can be rented from stands all over Bordeaux)
Starting near the Grand Theatre at Place de la Comedie – Rue de Pilliers de Tutelle – Rue St Remi – Place du Parliament – Rue Philippart- Place de la Bourse – Rue de Faussets – Eglise St Pierre – take small road to its right onto the Quai Richelieu – until Porte Cailhau (rare medieval Gateway built in 1493) on right, pass through it – Rue de Palais de l’Ombrière (location of the medieval castle of Eleanor d’Aquitaine and Henri II – all destroyed) – Cours d’Alsace & Lorraine – Place Lafargue – Rue St James – Grosse Cloche (12th century Gateway) – retrace Rue st James – turn left and take rue des ayres – Rue de Dubergier (Musée d’Aquitaine on left) – Tour Pey Berland – St Andrews Cathedral– pass infront of its northern doorway (Centre Jean Moulin is here) and towards the Palais Rohan (now the Town Hall/Hotel de Ville) – Rue de Remparts – Rue Porte Dijeaux (Place Gambetta on left) – until taking Place Paulin on left (opposite rue de cheverus) – Cours de l’intendance – Back to Place de la Comdedie – into the Wine Bar of Maison du Vin (the large triangular builing opposite the tourist information) for a deserved glass of two of our Bordeaux wines (there are 20 different appellations here to try – ask for a tasting sample so you can try more)
Comments received during the competition for Bordeaux:
|Bordeaux is a beautiful destination. There is nothing better in the world than walking on the docks and in the old town.” “Bordeaux has everything of a capital city without the disadvantages of it. I like Paris a lot, but Bordeaux is like Paris but with more nature, landscapes, and a relaxed rhythm of life.” “I vote for Bordeaux because this city has reinvented itself in recent years without losing its identity and soul.” “Bordeaux has to win because it’s beautiful. It is not only a beautiful city, but its surroundings are stunning ! Saint Emilion, the Bassin d’Arcachon, the Dune du Pilat, the bird island and the landscapes that make everyone dream.” “Bordeaux is romantic, it’s fine it’s historical it’s beautiful! And much more!”|| “When I think about Bordeaux, I think about wine, heritage, gastronomy, art of living, I think about France.” “Bordeaux is a beautiful destination for adults but also for children with its water mirror, animations, the Pessac zoo, picnics in the floral park and for us ,vineyards, museums, beautiful mansions and a breathtaking scenery.” “When I went to Bordeaux for the first time, they were performing « Nutcracker » at the Grand Theatre. As to me, the whole city is like the Grand Theatre. It is rich, generous, full of surprises, soft and inviting. ” “You can discover Bordeaux passively or actively. This year my discovery was active because we made our own wine and we learned how to cook ! (almost as well as the best chef in Bordeaux ), and made our own macarons … well|