Paris - Following the meticulous 15-year renovation of its magnificent, Unesco-listed 18th-century city centre and the launch of a sleek new tramway system Bordeaux inaugurated the R1.4-billion La Cité du Vin (laciteduvin.com) last month.
Designed by Paris architectural firm XTU, the swirling gold, aluminium and glass building on the banks of the Garonne River, north of the city’s historic heart, aspires to be the world’s largest cultural centre devoted to wine.
The epicurean French city is also in the midst of a restaurant boom. The 2016 Uefa Euro 2016 championship is currently taking place in France and Bordeaux will welcome up to five matches, including one quarter-final, in its brand new 43 000-seat stadium. A giant fan zone will also be set up on the Esplanade des Quinconces where all of the matches will be broadcast on a giant screen.
The Merignac airport (bordeaux.aeroport.fr/en) is 12km west of Bordeaux. The shuttle bus (30direct.com) to Bordeaux St-Jean train station takes 30 minutes and operates from 8am to 11pm daily; a one-way ticket costs e7.20 (R120), a return e12.30 (R204). Taxis average e25 (R415) to e30 (about R500).
St-Jean station is just south of the city centre, which is easily reached by tramway or bus (infotbc.com); it runs daily from 5am to 1am. Unlimited day passes cost e26, two-day passes e33, and three-day passes e40. Individual tickets cost e1.50 and can be bought on trams and buses; these allow for free transfers between buses and trams.
Built on a quarter-moon-like bend on the Garonne River in the Aquitaine region of south-western France, Bordeaux is lyrically known as the “Port de la Lune” (port of the moon). The Garonne river runs north-south, and so does Bordeaux, which was founded by Celtic tribes around 300 BC as Burdigala. It was conquered by the Romans, who brought grape vines to the region in 60BC.
The city has rent-it-here, leave-it-there bicycles for hire. The first 30 minutes of any rental, which is paid for by credit or debit card, are free, and then cost e2 afterwards.
Located in a handsome, 19th-century town house in the heart of the city, the recently opened 12-room Yndo Hotel (yndohotelbordeaux.fr) at 108 rue de l’Abbé de l’Epée is furnished with high-end contemporary furniture and features amenities rarely found in hotels of this size in France, including 24-hour room service and air conditioning. Doubles start at e440, room only.
A cosy, 12-room boutique hotel with a convenient location from which you can walk or ride the tram to the most of the city’s attractions, the Hotel de Tourny (hoteldetourny.com) at 16 rue Huguerie has comfortable rooms with contemporary décor and a friendly young staff. Doubles start at e160, room only.
With Philippe Starck as its headliner designer, the Mama Shelter chain has a reputation for hip good-value lodgings in Paris, Marseille and Lyon. Its 77-room hotel in Bordeaux (mamashelter.com) occupies a renovated office building just on the edge of the historic centre at 19 rue Poquelin Moliere. Rooms are comfortable, well-designed and kitted out with iMacs, and the bar and pizzeria are busy with a young local crowd nightly. Doubles from e69, room only.
The best view of Bordeaux is from the 8th floor Belvedere gallery at La Cité du Vin at 134-150 Quai de Bacalan (citeduvin.com), which offers 360-degree views of the city.
The museum also includes three tasting laboratories that include specially designed multi-sensory spaces for an immersion in wine; a dock from which to embark on visits to the wine chateaux up and down river and a exhibition centre and restaurants. Seen from the viewing terrace Victor Hugo’s description of Bordeaux makes sense: “Take Versailles, add Antwerp and you have Bordeaux.”
To hike from the Cité du Vin, take tram line 8 to the Place de la Bourse and its handsome 18th-century customs houses on the banks of the Garonne that are the traditional heart of the city.
These buildings also house two interesting museums, the Musée National des Douanes (Costumes Museum) and Bordeaux Patrimoine Mondial, which explains how the city’s architectural heritage and urban landscape evolved and became a Unesco-listed world heritage site.
Afterwards, follow the riverfront north to the Cours du Chapeau Rouge, which runs west from the river, and continue until you arrive at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, one of the finest 18th century theatres in the world. Next, head south on the rue Sainte Catherine, the pedestrianised high street, to the rue du Loup. Turn west here to visit the gothic Cathédrale Saint André where the 15th-century bell tower offers another superb view over the city.
For lunch, head for Le Flacon at 43 rue de Cheverus (dishes e6-18). It serves a good selection of wines by the glass and small dishes, such as Réunion-style steamed pork-and-citrus dumplings and mini veal-shank hamburgers. Nearby, the Saint Pierre quarter has morphed into one of Bordeaux’s best restaurant districts. Here, seek out Belle Campagne at 15 rue des Bahutiers to lunch on a chalkboard menu of south-western French dishes made from local, seasonal and usually organic produce. (Starters e4-8; main courses e14-25).
Bordeaux’s choicest shopping streets are the Cours de l’Intendance, where you’ll find major French luxury brands like Hermès, and the charming Allée de Tourny, with one-of-a-kind shops such as L’Intendant des Grands Vins de Bordeaux – one of the best places to buy fines wines in Bordeaux. Further along, Cadiot-Badie is an old-fashioned chocolate shop at No 26, founded in 1826.
Aux Quatre Coins du Vins at 8 Rue de la Devise is a popular new wine bar where every customer receives a magnetic card that allows him or her to serve themselves from a selection of grand cru wines by the glass; you pay when you leave.
Otherwise, head for the terrace at Le Regent, 52 Cours du Chapeau Rouge a café across from the Grand Theatre, for a lillet, an aperitif produced in the village of Podensac south of Bordeaux from wine and citrus liqueurs, and some first-rate people watching.
Chef Tanguy Laviale’s superb contemporary French restaurant Garopapilles, 62 rue de l’Abbé de l’Epée (prix-fixe dinner menu e69), is the most sought-after reservation in Bordeaux, so book in advance. The menu changes regularly but runs to dishes such as pan-roasted scallops on a bed of shiitake mushrooms in parsnip cream and veal filet with poached pears, cockles and squid’s ink gnocchi .
Miles, 33 rue du Cancera (average à la carte dinner for one without wine costs e35) is a great example of the young bistros making Bordeaux a good food city.
With bare wooden tables, flea-market chairs and a good-value e20 menu that includes scrambled eggs with local asparagus, roasted potatoes and bacon, La Cagette, 8 Place du Palais serves from 11.30am to 3.30pm and is popular for brunch.
Inspired by the church of the Gesù in Rome, the baroque exterior of the church of Notre Dame on Place du Chapelet belies its strikingly simple Romanesque interior. The church and adjacent Cour Mably also include the surviving vestiges of a 13th-century Dominican monastery. The great organ (1775) is used year-round for concerts of religious music.
The tree-lined lawns of the Esplanade des Quinconces (the word refers to the way the trees are planted in staggered rows) runs from the Garonne River to the Place des Quinconces where the opulent 19th-century Monument aux Girondins is a riot of allegory referring to the Girondin faction during the French Revolution and the values of the French Republic.
For more fresh air, head north along the Cours de Verdun to the beautifully landscaped Jardin Public. It includes a children’s playground and puppet theatre.
As is true of many port cities, the best views are to be found from the water, so the 90-minute cruises on the Garonne River offered by Croisières Burdigala are not only fascinating but relaxing.
Tickets can be booked via the Bordeaux tourist office website (bordeaux-tourism.co.uk) – e15 for adults, e2 for children. The embarkation point is Quai Richelieu, Ponton d’Honneur. The schedule changes according to the season.
Of the 11 museums in Bordeaux, the two not to miss are the Musée des Beaux-Arts, 20 Cours d’Albret (musba-bordeaux.fr; e4, free admission the first Sunday of every month), the city’s fine arts museum with a rich collection that includes works by Perugino, Van Dyck, Van Goyen, Rubens, Chardin, Corot, Delacroix, and Matisse, and the Bordeaux-born artists Odilon Redon and André Lhote; and the Musée d’Aquitaine, 20 cours Pasteur (e4, free admission the first Sunday of every month), which recounts the history of Bordeaux and the surrounding Aquitaine region.
A variety of half-day excursions to the wine towns, including Saint Emilion, and estates surrounding Bordeaux are detailed on the tourist office’s website (bordeaux-tourism.co.uk).
Among the best is the English speaking half-day tour to the Margaux wine region with a personal guide-driver offered by Ophorus tours (ophorus.com). It includes a wine tasting at one of the “cru bourgeois” châteaux of the Margaux appellation (e75 per person, available from April to October).