Bordeaux, an appealing town between vineyards and ocean – Meanderings through France n° 192
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
In less than 25 years Bordeaux has been going through huge works of renovation and innovation, turning this old “Sleeping Beauty” into a 21st century town mixing heritage and new technologies, traditional food and new ways to enjoy them, classic fine arts and avant-garde. At less than two hours from London by plane or at two hours from Paris with the new high-speed train inaugurated in 2017, Bordeaux holds all the assets for an entertaining city-break.
Long-time residents will tell you that they hardly recognize their hometown today. All the beautiful 18th century buildings that were hidden under a thick layer of black dirt have been carefully cleaned, revealing the beautiful light colour of the quarried stones they are made of. Several tramway lines now crisscross Bordeaux in all directions making it easy to reach all the different points of interest. (Don’t even think to drive your car there, traffic is a nightmare for all drivers and people never stop complaining about commute taking more and more time each year). On the banks of the Garonne River ancient industrial districts with ugly looking buildings, have been replaced by boho chic areas with trendy cafes and art galleries. Embellished and modernized Bordeaux, beside still being a business town, now is an attractive tourist destination.
The “Cité du Vin” a futuristic building dedicated to wines
This unique cultural centre is meant to present us the culture of wine throughout the world in all its diversity and richness. Since its opening three years ago the “Cité du Vin” has welcomed over one million visitors from the five continents. This shows how wine is closely bound to many different cultures from ancient times up to the present day. The curves and round lines of the building’s bold architecture rising on the riverbank, have been designed as a reminder of wine slowly turning into a glass, elegant and unforgettable. Once inside an interactive journey invites you to travel back in time, history and cultures. The visit ends on the 8th floor for a wine tasting (included in your ticket fare). You can choose a wine from a wide selection of wines from the whole world and enjoy your drink on the outside terrace admiring Bordeaux stretching at you feet. www.laciteduvin.com
The “Halles Bacalan”, market, restaurant and entertainment in a single place
After visiting the “Cité du Vin” you’ll just have to cross the road to get to the “Halles Bacalan”. This market place opened two years ago next to a brand new district of Bordeaux. Initially made to promote local produce this new kind of market place was an immediate success. The Cafe Biltoki is the central beating heart of the market, surrounded by stalls selling breads, Italian food, chocolates, cheese, fruits and vegetables, truffles, fish and oyster, foie gras and cold cuts. In the alleys going through heaps of tempting food, tables are set up to welcome guests all day long. For a snack or a whole meal, every dish is made on the spot, as fresh as can be. Live concerts, big picnics and sport events are organized every weekend. Not to forget wine or beer tasting! (Closed on Mondays).
Bordeaux, a UNESCO listed site
There are no less than 350 buildings listed as heritage landmarks in Bordeaux and half of the town’s area is a UNESCO site! Most of these buildings were built in the 18th century and their neo-classical façades create an impressive architectural unity. Recently cleaned they really are magnificent. It all started in 1730 by the creation of the “Place de la Bourse”, a vast horseshoe shaped square facing the Garonne River. A great theatre and wide avenues lined with elegant mansions were soon built in the same style. Today these streets are the liveliest ones of the city with dozens of shops.
But Bordeaux’s history started much early and you will also see medieval and Renaissance buildings such as remarkable half-timbered houses, the Saint André cathedral, the Pey-Berland Tower from where you’ll have a spectacular view over the city. The “Grosse Cloche” (Big Bell), is one of France’s oldest belfry, built in the 13th century. It houses “Armande-Louise” a 7,750 kg (17,000 pounds) bell that sets the pace of life for Bordeaux people since 1775.
“Arcada”, a newly opened restaurant for boho lifestyle lovers
Located in a narrow street close to the “Place de la Bourse”, Arcada is all at once a restaurant, a cocktail and wine bar or a pleasant place for a morning snack with a cup of “real” coffee! The owner, Sofiane Bouhabib, left no detail to chance. Quality is his leitmotif! Only 35 guests can be seated under the vaulted ceiling (booking is highly recommended for dinner). The decoration is a successful mix of stones, wood and copper, while an impressive 4-meter long solid wood bar stretches along one wall. Two young chefs Samuel Metayer and Théo Duprat take turn in the kitchen to cook a tasty and creative cuisine made with organic and extra-fresh ingredients. Even the ice creams and sorbets are homemade. Filled with colours and tastes their cuisine simply is delicious for an amazing good value for money. A place to absolutely discover! (lunch menu from 18 Euros, dinner from 34 Euros). www.arcada-restaurant.fr
Practical information: www.gironde-tourisme.fr/decouvrir/incontournables/les-quais-de-bordeaux
Text & Photos ©Annick Dournes