Think Bordeaux, think wine. But not just any old plonk. Located on the River Garonne, Bordeaux is the largest wine-producing region in France, and possibly the most famous too – producing a range of wines that are considered among the best in the world.
The Romans brought vines to the area as far back as the 1st century, and in the 12th century, King Henry II kicked off a roaring export business by granting tax-free trade with England. Today, with the city at its heart, the AOC-controlled Bordeaux vineyards span the whole Gironde department, following the Gironde estuary and the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.
But wine aside, there’s a lot more in Bordeaux that you can raise a glass to.
Take its architecture for instance. You won’t find any soaring skyscrapers or high-rise blocks here – the condition of the subsoil takes care of that. Instead, Bordeaux is full of low-rise buildings, some hundreds of years old. Many feature grand palatial styles such as the magnificent Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux – an 18th century theatre designed by Victor Louis with a neo-classical façade and impressive pillared entrance. Or there’s the UNESCO-protected Golden Triangle – a favoured shopping area located around the Place des Grands Hommes. Here you’ll find the 18th century Allées de Tourny and the Church of Notre Dame, along with plenty of boutiques, malls and pavement cafes.
There’s plenty to see and do in the UNESCO city of Bordeaux. And if you fancy getting out and about, you could always head over to the beautiful Cote d’Argent for the chance to sunbathe, surf and sink your toes into those silvery sands. In fact, there’s no better place to enjoy a French pique-nique with some tasty local canelés and the obligatory tumbler of full-bodied Bordeaux. Santé!
Bordeaux Travel Tip: Insider’s Wine Tips
A visit to Bordeaux is a treat for the senses. There are sights, sounds and experiences by the bucket load, but of all the senses, it’s the taste buds that get the best treatment.
First off, wine. Bordeaux wines are world-renowned, and the region is justifiably proud of its heritage. From its conception over 2,000 years ago when wine was produced for Roman soldiers, to its daily appearance on Richard the Lionheart’s dining table right through to its status today, Bordeaux has gained in strength and popularity over the centuries. The name comes from the French au bord de l’eau – “along the waters” – and without a doubt, Bordeaux’s accessible sea and riverside location has played a major part in its success rate.
Today, the majority of Bordeaux is produced as red varieties but dry white is also favoured, with sweet white, rosé and crémant (sparkling white) also produced locally. There are hundreds of vineyards dotted around the region.
Visit the beautiful family-owned Château Carbonnieux (Léognan) to see how the famous tipple is produced on a local scale, and soak up the vineyard’s incredible 800-year history. Or for an alternative tasting experience, head to the Cave Aux Quatre Coins du Vin (8 Rue de la Devise). Here you can sample dozens of wines from a tasting machine called ‘Vin au Verre’. It’s a novel way to taste grands crus at reasonable prices, as well as having the chance to buy your favourites from the cellar.
Another must-taste experience in Bordeaux is the famous canelé. This local delicacy is a small, moist caramel cake typically flavoured with rum and vanilla. You’ll find them all over the city but Baillardran, a local chain, is considered the best. The story goes that canelés were invented to use up leftover egg yolks, back in the days when egg whites were used to filter the wine. So like most things in Bordeaux, this tasty speciality has its roots firmly in the wine trade.
Bordeaux Things To Do
1. Stroll across Pont de Pierre
Walk across the Pont de Pierre, stopping at the centre to behold the photogenic city skyline (watch out for cyclists and trams). The stone bridge was constructed during Napoleonic times and is particularly attractive at sunrise and dusk, complete with ambient lighting and superb views of the city.
2. Visit Cathédrale St-André and climb Tour Pey-Berland
Bordeaux’s beautiful and imposing Cathédrale St-André is a spectacular sight. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is centuries old; its oldest part dates back to 1096 when it was consecrated by Pope Urban II, and much of the rest was built in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. It was here in 1137 that the future Louis VII married the young Eleanor of Aquitaine. Separate to the cathedral is the gargoyled Tour Pey-Berland, a gothic bell tower built in the mid-15th century. Climb the tower’s 232 steep steps and enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the city.
3. Soak in wine
You can literally immerse yourself in red wine at the Spa de Vinothérapie Caudalie. An interesting by-product of wine production, vine and grape extracts are said to offer various health benefits, such as blood-strengthening and anti-ageing. Enjoy the fruits of the vine through such treatments as a Barrel Bath, a Merlot Wrap, Honey and Wine Wrap and even a Crushed Cabernet Scrub – all at the hands of expert vinotherapists.
4. Scale sandy heights
Bordeaux is generally flat, so to reach any natural heights you’ll have to travel away from the city. Try the Dune de Pyla (or Pilat), a huge sand dune located about an hour away from Bordeaux at La Teste-de-Buch on the Atlantic coast. At 3 km long and over 100 metres high, Europe’s highest sand dune is quite a spectacle and offers fantastic views from the top. Hike, paraglide, sandboard or just spread out a towel and soak up the sun.
Daily – Victor Hugo, Place de la Ferme de Richemont
Daily – Saint-Michel, Place meynard and Canteloup
Weekdays – Capucins, Place des Capucins
Other markets can be found at Place d’Arlac, Place Eugène Gauthier Caudéran, Place Calixte Camelle, Rue Serr, Rue Achard, Place Lucien Victor Meunier and Quai des Chartrons.
There is also a Christmas Market at the Allées de Tourny (23rd Nov – 30th Dec 2012)
Bordeaux Top Restaurants
Our selection of restaurants in Bordeaux
15 Rue Maubec, 33700 Mérignac
Phone: 05 56 47 39 91
Hailed as Bordeaux’s best-kept secret, L’Appart is a little hidden away in Mérignac but is well worth seeking out. The chefs are creative and often bring new twists to old favourites with a wonderful array of dishes. Prices typically range from €16 (midweek and lunch) to €40 (weekends and evenings).
7 Quai de la Douane
Phone: 05 56 81 23 40
A charming bistro on the river serving fresh Atlantic seafood such as mussels, sole and scallops, along with other French favourites such as veal, goose and steak tartare. They offer a reasonable lunch menu for under €20, and set menus for evening meals from around €25 and up, with variable prices for the à la carte options.
2 Place de la Comédie
Phone: 05 57 30 43 46
An elegant and traditional brasserie overlooking the Place de la Comédie with views of the beautiful Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. Serving local specialities from the South West including seafood platters and such delicacies as baby escargots, pigeon breast, foie gras and oysters. Prices typically range from €22-€25 for lunch, up to €35 for evening meals and €45-€75 for à la carte options.
Le Chapon Fin
5 Rue Montesquieu
Phone: 05 56 79 10 10
At the higher end of the scale, the Michelin-starred Le Chapon Fin is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in the city. It has plenty of competition, but its 19th century surroundings and exquisite menu ensures it stays firmly at the top of the list. Peruse a superb selection of Bordeaux vintages matched to such delicacies as Aquitaine langoustines with caviar, calf sweetbreads with orange and ginger, and ‘pieds de cochon’ with a truffle cream. The lunch menu is around €39, evening meals start at €60 and a nine-course tasting menu is typically around the €90 mark.
Bordeaux Driving Distances
Driving distances from Bordeaux to nearby cities:
Angoulême: 120km / 75 miles
Périgueux: 130km / 80 miles
Bayonne: 190km / 118 miles
Brive-la-Gaillarde: 203km / 126 miles
Montauban: 215km / 134 miles
Toulouse: 244km / 150 miles
12 cours du 30 Juillet, 33080 Bordeaux Cedex
33 05 56 00 66 00
SNCF Gare St-Jean Station:
Rue Ch. Domercq, 33800 Bordeaux
33 05 56 91 64 70
Hall B, entry B5
33 05 56 34 58 08
Bordeaux has an attractive quality of life – a riverside location close to the coast, a wonderful climate, UNESCO heritage and of course excellent wine. The area is now highly accessible thanks to the international airports in Bordeaux and Bergerac, the Eurostar/TGV connections from Paris, the local auto-routes and the modern internal tramway.
The city has high international popularity and yet, it is still considered one of the cheaper towns in which to buy property in Southern France, especially when compared to other cities of similar size. Many British buyers typically opt for the outskirts of the city which has pushed prices up in the suburbs. However, demand for property in Bordeaux has slowed with the national trend, and on average prices have followed suit – making some areas more affordable.