Recently nominated as the Best European Destination 2015, this vibrant and elegant city is often neglected by tourists who, if they haven’t been to France before, will opt for the larger and more easily accessible city of Paris. However, since becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, Bordeaux is becoming one of the main destinations to visit in France, especially for those interested in French culture, architecture and history … and, of course, food and wine. Bordeaux is the acknowledged capital of great wines and fine cuisine in south-west France, and such is a great base for a city break. Some not to be missed Bordeaux experiences include:
The Triangle d’Or and the Grand Théâtre
Bordeaux’s Golden Triangle, bordered by the three boulevards of Cours Clemenceau, Cours de l’Intendance and Allées de Tourny, is the focal point of the city’s historic district with its numerous old buildings and monuments. To explore this area on foot is a great way to soak up the atmosphere, admire the façades of the old buildings and enjoy some good shopping, and dining too. The Allées de Tourny leads down to the Place de la Comedie and the Grand Théâtre, home to the the Opéra National de Bordeaux, as well as the Ballet National de Bordeaux. With its magnificent neo-classical façade, designed by 18th century architect Victor Louis, the structure consists mainly of wood, which provides for perfect acoustics, and has a circular cupola with a wonderful ceiling painted by Claude Robin in the 18th century.
The Place de la Bourse and the Miroir d’Eau
A short walk from the Place de la Comedie, towards the Garonne river, will bring you to the Place de la Bourse, where French 18th century architecture can be admired on a grand scale. Created by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, architect to Louis XV, the Place de la Bourse is a showcase of monumental, identical buildings, with the beautiful Fountain of the Three Graces, built by Visconti in 1869, as its centre. The architectural grandeur of the Place de la Bourse is highlighted at night by beautiful lighting. Since it was created in 2006, the Miroir d’Eau (Water Mirror), which lies between the Place de la Bourse and the river, reflects the 18th century façade along the Garonne and has become one of the city’s main attractions. The spectacular pool was designed by Michel Coraioud and alternates a mirror effect with a magical artificial misting effect. It provides a great meeting place for those who enjoy putting their feet into the cool water in the summer.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (CAPC)
Also located close to the Garonne, in Entrepôt Lane, the Museum of Contemporary Art has been resident in a former colonial warehouse, for around 40 years. This interesting space, originally used for storing goods such as sugar, coffee, cocoa and spices, has become one of the leading places dedicated to contemporary visual arts, with a permanent exhibition of around 1300 works by 190 artists. Large temporary exhibitions are arranged regularly and often include local artists. Visitors can also enjoy the views and the food at the roof top terrace restaurant and café here.
The Garonne River
Very much one of the highlights of any visit to Bordeaux is the riverfront, which was revitalized as recently as the 1990s, as part of the urban development scheme, instigated by mayor, Alain Juppé. It has now been transformed from a’ no-go’ area of derelict warehouses, to offering pedestrian friendly, tree-lined promenades, with the old warehouses converted into shops and restaurants. It has also become the focal point of the various festivities, including the famous annual Bordeaux fête le Fleuve (“Bordeaux celebrates the river”), when it is well worth a stroll around the quays to experience the atmosphere, with bands, street entertainers, food and wine stalls, dance lessons, open air film screenings and even a swimming race from one side of the river to the other. This year the Bordeaux River Festival takes place from 22nd – 31st May, when it also hosts one of the world’s great yacht races, the Solitaire du Figaro. The celebrations will also include exhibits focused on the sailing and boat building industry, and visitors will also have the opportunity to explore the Solitaire du Figaro village and meet the skippers, organizers, sponsors, and firms involved in the race.
The St Pierre district
To experience the authentic historic Bordeaux, it is also worth exploring the district of St Pierre, behind the Place de la Bourse. With its picturesque narrow, cobbled streets and charming squares, and mansions decorated with wrought iron and stone balconies, this 18th-century historic neighbourhood was the site of the city’s original Gallo-Roman port. It is a reminder of the times when Bordeaux was a flourishing port, before the docks and quays needed to service the river, were relocated south to the mouth of the Peugue. Today the main square, the Place du Parlement is home to wonderful architecture, a decorative neo-renaissance fountain, and many bars and restaurants with open-air terraces, perfect for a late-afternoon drink in summer. The area is also regarded generally as Bordeaux’s culinary heart, with numerous interesting restaurants, catering for every taste. Also in the area is the St Pierre Church, dating from the 15th Century on the site of the former Gallo-roman port. The market held in front of Saint Pierre church is the leading organic market with a 20-year history of bringing naturally cultivated produce to old Bordeaux.
Celebrate the wine
If you love the great wines of Bordeaux, you might want to plan your trip around the Weekend des Grands Crus on the 30th and 31st of May. At this time every year, wine professionals from all over the world come to Bordeaux to discover the new vintage while it is still in barrel, and includes the Weekend des Grands Crus, which the general public can attend. Everyone will have the opportunity to enjoy tastings of the new vintage, and expand their knowledge by listening to the vineyard and chateaux owners explain the background to the wine. Another unmissable event for wine lovers is the biennial Bordeaux Wine Festival. The dates for 2016 are 26th – 29th June. During the festival, some two kilometres of wine stalls will line the quays, and there will be tastings, music, fireworks and, for four days and nights. Wine enthusiasts should also consider is a wine trip out of Bordeaux, to St Emilion, or Médoc, which can be arranged on a daily basis by the Bordeaux Tourist Office between 1st April and 15th November.
Susie Marquis is Owner of The City Apartment Book Ltd.