Bordeaux

Esplanade des Quinconces © Jonas Witt
Bordeaux is synonymous with its greatest export; wine. Bordeaux wines have commanded respect worldwide since Roman times, when vines were first cultivated in the region. The first winery is said to have emerged around AD 37-38. The lush green countryside captures perfectly the meaning of the French saying la douceur de vivre; 'the sweetness of living'. To the east lie the vineyards of Route de Medoc and the charming medieval town of St-Emilion. The North hosts white-sand beaches on the atlantic coast. The region is also a major stop on the fabled pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella.

The city of Bordeaux itself is one on the rise. Bordeaux is consistently voted one of the best French cities for young people to live in, and has the largest number of preserved historical buildings in France, aside from Paris. The city is tucked into a bend of the Garonne river and houses stone-sculpted palaces, 18th century wine merchant mansions, and stunning contemporary architecture such as the decanter-shaped La Cite du Vin. Bordeaux features several interesting museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Musee D'Aquitaine, featuring exhibits of Gallo-Roman statues and relics dating back some 25,000 years.

Wine connoisseurs looking to take home some of their favourite bottles from the region would do well to buy directly from the wine farms. However, shops such as La Vinotheque on cours du XXX Juliet, or L'Intendant and Badie on alless de Tourny are good alternative options. The city also plays host to the world's most famous wine fair, Vinexpo, every two years. The next fair is in May 2019.



Attractions

Basilique St-Michel
Basilique St-Michel © Jean-Christophe Benoist

Basilique St-Michel

Constructed in stages between the 14th and 16th centuries, the Basilique St-Michel is a typical Gothic-style church and the main place of Catholic worship in Bordeaux. The main distinguishing feature, the Basilique's tower and spire - which rises to a height of 374 feet (114m) - is considered the highest in the south of France. At the base of the tower lies an ossuary where an exhibition of the mummies excavated during the 19th century can be viewed. Most of the original stained glass was destroyed in World War II, and has since been replaced by new windows by modernist artist Max Ingrand. Another famous feature of the church is the pulpit, which features Saint Michael, the warrior saint, slaying the dragon. There is a pleasant square in front of the Basilique where weary travellers can take a break and do some people watching or socialising. There are some wonderful views to be found climbing the tower and this is well worth doing but it is only open to visitors between June and September. The Basilique St-Michel is a stop on the famous Santiago de Compostello pilgrimage and therefore receives numerous pilgrims every year.

Address: Place Meynard; Website: www.bordeaux-tourism.co.uk/offre/fiche/fleche-saint-michel/PCUAQU033FS0003N


Bordeaux Wine Country
Bordeaux Wine Country © Mark Goebel

Bordeaux Wine Country

The area surrounding Bordeaux produces more than 70 million gallons of wine each year, including some of the world's best red wine. Many vineyards are small family-run businesses without staff to cater for tourists, but the larger, more famous wineries organise tastings and tours at the cellars and vineyards. Château Mouton-Rothschild is located just north of Pauillac. It is still run by the Rothschilds and attracts thousands of visitors each year, who come as much for the impressive collection of art and the picturesque estate as for the wine. Château Lafite-Rothschild is nearby and was purchased by the Rothschilds in 1868. The vinothèque contains many vintage bottles, several dating from 1797. Château Margaux is an imposing 19th-century château south of Pauillac; the estate produces three wines from its 650 acres. To see the vat rooms and wine cellars, make an appointment by email or phone. These are just some examples of famous wineries in the region - visitors could easily spend several wine-drenched days exploring this beautiful area.

Website: www.bordeaux.com/uk/


Grand Theatre de Bordeaux
Grand Theatre de Bordeaux © Christophe Finot

Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux

Designed by renowned architect Victor Louis, the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux was built between 1773 and 1780 and is one of the grandest 18th-century theatres remaining in the world. It served as the National Assembly for the French Parliament briefly in 1781 and was the scene of the premiere of the ballet La Fille Mal Gardée in 1789. This theatre is the oldest in Europe to have never burnt down or needed rebuilding since its erection, and is now home to the Opéra National de Bordeaux, as well as the Ballet National de Bordeaux. The interiors are as impressive as the architecture and taking in a performance here can't be missed by opera or ballet fanatics. See the website for the event calendar. Although many people still choose to dress up formally for performances visitors can wear whatever they please and not feel uncomfortable. Be aware when booking seats that some have reduced visibility; whoever makes the booking should point this out. Guided tours of the theatre are available. There is a restaurant and cafe in the building.

Address: Place de la Comédie; Website: www.opera-bordeaux.com


Musee des Beaux-Arts
Musee des Beaux-Arts © Alain Muller

Musée des Beaux-Arts

The Musée des Beaux-Arts was established in 1801 and is one of the largest French galleries outside of the capital city of Paris. Featuring the works of artists from the 15th to the 20th centuries, visitors can view the works of Perugino, Titian, Rubens, Veronese and Delacroix. The museum is best known for its outstanding collection of French and Dutch paintings. Although paintings are the core of the collection there are also valuable drawings and sculptures on show. Apart from the impressive permanent collection the museum also regularly organises special, temporary exhibitions and runs a rich cultural program of concerts and lectures.

Address: 20 cours d'Albret, Jardin du Palais-Rohan; Website: www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/bordeaux


Place de la Bourse
Place de la Bourse © Veronique Debord-Lazaro

Vieux Bordeaux

Vieux Bordeaux (old town) centres on the Quartier St-Pierre, which is surrounded by narrow streets, and lined with old churches and grand mansions adorned by wrought-iron balconies and arcading. There has been a lot of restoration over the last few years, but some streets remain a bit seedy - in a way, this ramshackle look adds to the atmosphere. One of the most opulent displays of Bordeaux's former glory is the Grand Theatre. It was built between 1773 and 1780 on the site of a Roman temple and is faced with an enormous colonnaded portico topped by 12 Muses and Graces. Visitors can view the impressive interior by attending one of the operas or ballets. Nearby is the Esplanade des Quinconces, which was laid out between 1818 and 1828 and covers nearly 12 hectares (30 acres), making it the largest square of its kind in Europe. A smaller but more beautiful square is the earlier Place de la Bourse. Its centrepiece is a fountain of the Three Graces and is bordered by quays opening onto the river and flanked by the Custom House and the Stock Exchange. Crossing the river is the impressive Pont de Pierre, which was built during Napoleon's Spanish campaigns, and has 17 arches in honour of his victories. The views of the river and quays from here are memorable, particularly when floodlit at night. Important churches include the delightful Basilique St-Michel, across from which is the Fleche St-Michel, which has the tallest stone tower in France; it was built in 1472 and is 374 feet (114m) high. During July and August (afternoons only) visitors can climb the 228 steps for wonderful views over the river. To the west is the 13th-century Cathédrale St-André, the most impressive and ostentatious church in Bordeaux (look out for the wonderful sculptures in the doors). The city's museums are gathered around the cathedral, the best being the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which has a fine collection of European art including works by Reynolds, Titian, Rubens, Matisse and Marquet, a resident of the city. The old town is fairly compact and is best explored on foot; two-hour walking tours can be arranged through the local tourist office. Boat tours can also be arranged.

Address: Located between Cours de l’Intendance and rue Peyronnet; Website: www.bordeaux-tourism.co.uk/Discover-Bordeaux/Bordeaux-and-surroundings/Districts-and-boroughs/Vieux-Bordeaux-Old-town