An Introduction to Bordeaux
Surrounded by some of the world’s most famous vineyards and France’s second largest Atlantic port, Bordeaux is an elegant city with stunning 18th century architecture, tree lined boulevards and a culturally vibrant centre to rival even Paris.
With a history that is embroiled in the Romans, the fight with the English in the Hundred Years War, the wine trade and numerous Chateaux with stories of scandal between Royalty and the nobility, the Bordeaux region is one that is worth exploring. The city itself is beautiful, offering an outstanding architectural heritage and packed full of art galleries, excellent food, good shopping and wide boulevards which are largely pedestrianised.
The wine trade has long over-shadowed the region’s culinary creativity, but things are finally changing. That’s especially the case with the arrival of Michelin star chefs who are keen to showcase regional produce and make their mark on the French food scene.
Bordeaux is now a foodie’s heaven. Pierre Gagnaire (voted the World’s Best Star-Rated Chef 2015) heads La Grande Maison, while Gordon Ramsay has opened Le Pressoir d’Argent in the beautiful Grand Hotel. The showcase restaurant is partnered with Le Bordeaux-Gordon Ramsay, a more relaxed brasserie that offers a unique menu combining great British food with traditional local dishes such as snails, oysters and canelés. We’ve eaten at the new Ramsay offering and it’s exceptional.
But that’s not all: Philippe Etchebest, a French chef with two Michelin stars, has also opened Le Quatrième Mur Brasserie in the centre of the city, meaning there is no shortage of world-class cooking now on offer in Bordeaux.
Harvest, or ‘Les Vendanges’, as it’s known in French, is one of the most exciting times to visit Bordeaux. It takes place from mid-September to the end of October, depending on the weather and the vineyard. It’s a joy to watch as the vineyards come to life with the fever, hustle and bustle of hundreds of workers picking the plump grapes by hand. As the harvest comes to an end, the vines prepare for winter, their green leaves transforming into a tapestry of deep reds, purples and, finally, yellows, as they fall away for the year.
One of the most exciting things to happen in recent years has been the opening of the Cité du Vin. Part theme park, part museum, part multi-media spectacular, the building is a homage to wine and to viticulture – it’s an international showcase and an open door to the world’s vineyards.
The building itself is on the banks of the Garonne River, its iconic architecture designed to resemble the movement of wine in a glass.
There is no permanent collection, but there’s a self-guided tour of 20 themed spaces that explain all that’s good and great about wine. The final phase leads to the belvédère for a tasting of wines (over 14,000 bottles from 70 countries). And, being French, there’s also a spectacular in-house restaurant.
Nowhere is Bordeaux’s renewal more evident than along the banks of the Garonne. What was once abandoned is now open space and gardens; old warehouses on the Quai de Bacalan have become shops, bars and cafés, and the honey coloured stone glows in the reflection of the river. We don’t think there’s a finer city riverscape in Europe.
The most spectacular feature of the riverfront is the Place de la Bourse, open to the river but enfolded on three sides by the Palais. Located between the Garonne and beautiful 18th-century palace façade, is the Miroir d’Eau – a great expanse of shallow water that reflects the palace and comes to life with a magical, misty water display. This spectacular pool is the most photographed site in Bordeaux and is listed as one of UNESCO’s contemporary World Heritage Sites. The effect at night, when floodlit, is mesmerising.
The region of Aquitaine is vast and offers a diverse range of scenery, from mountains to beaches. From Bordeaux, the capital of the region, it’s possible to climb the Dune du Pylat (Europe’s largest sand dune), play golf in the Medoc, and lay on the beach at Lacanau – all in one day.
Less than an hour south-west of Bordeaux is the stunning bay of Arcachon, one of the largest natural bays in France, and bordered by the Pylat. Voted second most beautiful beach in the world, the bay is famous for its preserved natural beauty, charming villages, oyster farms and eateries.