Bordeaux is the most extensive urban environment in the world to be honoured as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is easy to explore the various districts in the heart of the city along the Garonne River, with areas reserved for trams and bicycles.
To the north, the Chartrons, former hub of the wine trade, is now the place to find antique, curio, and design shops. Then, here is the vast Place des Quinconces. The Grands Hommes district, set among plane trees, pays homage to great French thinkers, from Montaigne to Diderot. The «Triangle» is also known, for its luxury boutiques, elegant architecture, and the majestic Grand Theatre, a masterpiece designed by Victor Louis.
Not far away lies old Bordeaux: the young, trendy neighbourhood of Saint Pierre with its delicious food, outdoor tables, beautiful squares and winding little streets; don’t forget to look up at the Bordeaux «mascarons» – wonderful carved stone faces that adorn the buildings. The Place de la Bourse with its majestic eighteenth century façades is popular with visitors, providing the perfect backdrop for a Bordeaux selfie. Opposite is the Miroir d’Eau («Water Mirror») – the largest in the world – with its entertaining cycle of mist and water.
Place Pey Berland is not far away, with its three UNESCO monuments: Pey Berland tower, offering magnificent views over the city, next to Saint-André cathedral, and Palais Rohan, now the City Hall. To the south, Porte Cailhau and the Grosse Cloche lead the way to Saint-Michel: this cosmopolitan district features spicy aromas, the lively Capucins market, and many curious shops. The outdoor cafés and bars around Place de la Victoire are the students’ favourite place to be.
Finally, we’ll head to the right bank, over the Pont de Pierre bridge: this leafy district includes the Botanical Gardens and a waterfront park with an unforgettable view of the river and the historical façades on the opposite side. There are some surprises, too: a blue lion on Place Stalingrad, Caserne Niel, and Chaban-Delmas bridge.
For Bordeaux is not averse to contemporary architecture, as demonstrated by its three most recent constructions, the Jacques Chaban-Delmas bridge, La Cité du Vin and Bordeaux Métropole Arena, that join other modern features of the city such as the County Court, the Mama Shelter hotel, the winery at Château Les Carmes Haut Brion, the new Matmut Atlantic Stadium…
The “Miroir d’Eau” is less than 10 years old, but located just across from a monument nearly 3 centuries old, it has become one of the city’s main attractions.
The Water Mirror
Located across from Place de la Bourse, between Quai de la Douane and Quai Louis XVIII, this spectacular pool, designed by landscape artist Michel Corajoud, alternates a mirror effect and artificial misting in an extraordinary way.
The rhythmic changes in 2 cm of water on a gigantic slab of granite make this location truly magical. Children adore playing here and it is a meeting place for lovers as well as people who enjoy putting their feet into the cool water in summer!
Located between the Garonne and beautiful 18th century façades, the Mirroir d’Eau is the most-photographed site in Bordeaux and is listed as a contemporary World Heritage Site by Unesco. You can immortalise the pool too, and send the photos to your friends around the world.
The Place de la Bourse
It took 20 years of hard work in the 18th century to build what has since become the city’s very symbol! The square represents a break with medieval Bordeaux surrounded by walls for centuries. The city was finally free to grow!
Intendant Boucher had tried to convince the town aldermen and the parliament to create the square and open up the city walls since 1720. He decided to entrust Jacques Gabriel, Louis XV’s “First Architect” with designing this rectangular square with bevelled corners, as well as constructing the famous buildings decorated with mascarons and wrought iron.
The buildings framing this place royale consist of the Hôtel des Fermes built by Gabriel’s father, followed by the Hôtel de la Bourse built by Gabriel himself, and the isolated central pavilion (1735-1755).
Place de la Bourse was originally separated from the river by railings, but these disappeared during the French Revolution. The equestrian statue of the king was briefly replaced by one of Napoleon, followed by the Fountain of the Three Graces in 1869… The latter has been much appreciated ever since and is photographed by tourists from all over the world.
Of all the public buildings in Bordeaux, the Grand-Théâtre is unquestionably the most well-known and appreciated. It stands on the site of a former temple (Les Piliers de Tutelle) that was once in the middle of a Gallo-Roman forum.
The Grand Théâtre’s construction was made necessary by the destruction of a performance hall in 1755. The latter was located in the outbuildings of the former town hall, near the Grosse Cloche.
Architect François Lhote, assisted by Soufflot, initially proposed a project that was not accepted by the city aldermen. Eventually, Marshal de Richelieu, governor of the province of Guyenne, imposed the Parisian architect Victor Louis (1731-1800). In order to pay for the construction, the land located on the southern glacis of the Château Trompette was sold.
It took more than five years to build the Grand Théâtre and, after many vicissitudes, it was inaugurated in 1780 with a performance of Athalie, a play by Jean Racine.
The rectangular-shaped structure opens up onto Place de la Comédie to the west with a peristyle featuring 12 Corinthian columns supporting an entablature and a balustrade decorated with 12 statues (the nine muses and three goddesses). At the beginning, this peristyle was on the same level as Place de la Comédie. However, in the mid-19th century, it was decided to lower the level to make it easier for horse-drawn carriages to cross.
The auditorium has a circular cupola with a ceiling painted by Claude Robin in the 18th century (and restored by François Roganeau in 1919). The structure consists mainly of wood, which provides for perfect acoustics. The beautiful combination of blue, white and gold (the colours of French royalty) is reminiscent of the opera house at the Château de Versailles built a few years previous by Jacques Gabriel.
The Grand Théâtre was nevertheless innovative, and Victor Louis imagined a clever oblique arrangement of stones maintained by a metal tie beam at the angles of the peristyle in order to support them. This ingenious combination became known as “Victor Louis’s nail”.
The French parliament also met in the amphitheatre of the Grand Théâtre during some of the most tragic times in French history, such as the Franco-Prussian war (1871).
Located near the City Hall, this is the most beautiful religious monument in Bordeaux
Obviously, it is not like the cathedrals in the Paris region. Although it is not easy to compete with Amiens, Chartres or Reims, Saint André’s heterogeneous style is nevertheless unexpected and endearing, especially because of its freestanding belltower. Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII, the future king of France, were married here 1137, as were Anne of Austria and Louis XIII. The cathedral was used to store fodder during the French Revolution… a sad fate for this monument that also suffered from a devastating fire in the 19th century. All of the furniture was replaced with that taken from other churches.
The well restored royal entrance in the north wall of the nave epitomises 13th century French Gothic architecture. Like many other cathedrals, sculptures were painted in bright colours at the time to attract worshippers.
Saint-André cathedral’s original 12th century tower was insufficiently squat to support the weight of the tenor bell. It was thus decided to build a dedicated free-standing tower next to the cathedral in 1440. The Pey-Berland Tower was long one of the tallest buildings in the city. Unfortunately, a storm in 1617 ripped out the rostrum and this was replaced with a cross.
In 1853, a huge tenor bell was attached to the belltower’s beams. Weighing 11 tonnes, it is the fourth largest in France. You need a good pair of lungs to walk up the 229 steps to the top of the tower (50 metres), but this is well worth the effort because the view of Bordeaux and its monuments is outstanding. The bell tower is open every day of the week except Monday.
BORDEAUX METROPOLE CITYPASS
The CityPass is a contactless card that allows you to visit most of Bordeaux and its metropolitan area (museums, monuments), to use public transport, and to explore the surrounding area (Saint Emilion, Blaye …). Access to the exhibition Monet at the Musée de la Mer et de la Marine (from the opening in June) and La Cité du Vin is included. Available from the Tourist Office, TBM network ticket offices, and online on http://bit.ly/2DmNYMY
Bordeaux, a port city. The city’s past as a busy port is obvious today to anyone walking along the quays beside the Garonne. Serving as the backbone for trade, the river has shaped the city’s growth from Gallo-Roman times through to the present day. The natural port formed by its meandering half-circle, from Paludate to Bacalan, like a crescent moon, gave rise to the city being baptised the “Port of the Moon”. The moon symbol can be spotted discreetly incorporated into many Bordeaux coats of arms, and the municipality’s logo consists of three interlinked crescents.
A DAY ON THE RIVER
There are 76 km between Bordeaux and the tip of the Gironde estuary, providing several cruise companies with the perfect setting for cruises and excursions that can last from an hour and a half to the whole day. See Bordeaux, with its harmonious 18th century façades, and the beautifully restored Quais des Chartrons, from a different angle. Continuing downstream, the rich architectural diversity of the city is revealed, before giving way once more to a wild landscape of trees and greenery.
The river cruise companies, Bordeaux River Cruise, Croisières Burdigala and Croisières Marco Polo, offer a wide range of possibilities. Cruises through the Port of the Moon, and further down the Garonne River and the estuary, an aperitif accompanied by the winegrowers who produced the wine you are drinking, stopovers at beautiful châteaux and nature-reserve islands, or dinner cruises, that may even be accompanied by a jazz trio!
Instead of using traditional public transport services, Bordeaux residents and visitors can take the «Batcub” river shuttles, with five stops at Place Stalingrad (Bastide), Place des Quinconces, the Hangers, the Cité du Vin, and Lormont, at the base of the Pont d’Aquitaine, the French equivalent of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a fun way to get to destinations on different sides of the river, for the same price as a tram ticket.
From April to October, you can also take a guided tour of the Garonne by jet-ski, canoes and stand-up paddles.
Bordeaux has not one but five wine trails!
The Gironde is the leading fine-winegrowing area in France, with 65 appellations, and Bordeaux wines are prized by connoisseurs worldwide.
Vines in the city! Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion – with its remarkable winery designed by Philippe Starck – is the only château that is located within Bordeaux itself. The greater urban area includes more than 20 wine-producing properties.
The Cité du Vin took three years to build and opened on 31 May 2016. Its glass and iridescent aluminium envelope designed by Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières of XTU architects, houses a new style of cultural facility that is the only one of its kind in the world.
The “museum” offers an immersive experience with a sequence of 19 themed modules laid out in a beautiful 3,000 m2 exhibition area. Visitors are invited on a journey through time and space, presenting wine through the ages and across the world, with experiences that involve all the senses. Among the themed spaces: a stunning flight over the greatest vineyards in the world, created using projections; a 50-seat boat equipped with a 220° screen for a journey back in time with a crew of wine merchants; a series of interactive globes to see how vines have spread across the planet… A tour usually lasts about two hours, but there is in fact ten hours of content available via more than 120 audiovisual displays!
The visit ends with a ride in a lift up to the eighth floor for a wine tasting in theaptly named Belvedere, which offers a 360° panoramic view of the city of Bordeaux and its river.
Three tasting areas are available to further develop your knowledge of wine, including a multi-sensory immersive space and educational workshops for younger visitors.
What do Delacroix, Picasso, Bruegel, Monet, Rodin, Buren, Goya, and Jeff Koons have in common? They all have works exhibited in one of Bordeaux’ fifteen museums. The Bordeaux museums offer an eclectic, exciting, year-round programme, to suit all tastes.
The Musée d’Aquitaine (Aquitaine Museum) presents the history of Bordeaux and the surrounding region, from prehistoric times up to the present.
Freedom is in the air! Over the last ten years, Bordeaux has seen a variety of alternative and “underground” projects emerge in abandoned areas of the city. Fresh activity gradually resumes, welcoming creative people from all walks of life. Musicians, graffiti artists, sculptors, designers, painters…
Enjoy an outdoor drink on a roof-top terrace with a view over the city, and then continue to a live concert, or go dancing at one of the city’s bars or clubs… Bordeaux night life is lively and full of surprises.
The three squares of Parlement, St. Pierre and Camille Jullian form a joyous triangle, in which numerous bistros and cafés offer friendly terraces where you can enjoy a drink. La Comtesse bar with its kitsch, curiosity shop décor, is renowned for its mojitos. In the same street, the Alchemiste serves cocktails in an American prohibition-style atmosphere. In Place Camille-Jullian (known to Bordeaux inhabitants as «Caju»), the Utopia, a former church converted into an arts cinema has its own restaurant and bar with outdoor seating. Or there is Chez Fred in the Place du Palais, the best spot for a drink with a view of the Porte Cailhau. Going up towards Place Fernand Lafargue, The Apollo Bar attracts an eclectic crowd, and then on the Rue des Boucheries, there is the Quebec-style pub Au Nouveau Monde where you can drink organic beers brewed on site.
If you fancy a roof top bar, then the Mama Shelter and the InterContinental offer great views of the city during the summer season. Those in the know will head for the terrace at the Siman, to enjoy the magnificent spectacle of the sun setting on the city’s UNESCO world heritage façades.
For a lively atmosphere and some New Orleans jazz, head for the Gascon wine bar Le Pépère, every first Tuesday of the month. The Trois Coups, a small theatre in the St. Michel district, hosts an eclectic mix of artists. The open-air venue Chez Alriq is packed from June to October. A little patch of green in the centre of town, the programme offers music from around the world, with some big names every season. Near the Botanical Garden, Le Caillou offers a cool jazz programme with open-air concerts throughout the summer.
For a more electro-rock vibe, popular venues include the Antidote, Wunderbar, Quartier Libre and the i. Boat barge in the Bassins à Flot. Latino music fans should head for Calle Ocho.
Bordeaux also boasts several concert venues such as the Rocher de Palmer in Cenon, Rock School Barbey, the long-standing Krakatoa in Mérignac, or the Antirouille in Talence.
To continue into the night, head for La Dame, a barge in the Bassins à Flot. The centre of town also has several popular nightclubs, including the Cercle right in the centre, the Black Diamond, the InterContinental’s very chic private club, and the Monseigneur, the oldest club in Bordeaux, near Quinconces. For drinking late into the night, the community bars on the Rue Bouquière open at 11pm. Students meet on the Quai de Paludate in the numerous late-night bars, pubs and discotheques such as La Plage.
Bordeaux is at the top of every French ranking of liveable cities. Why? The attractive living environment, its commitment to eco-friendly transport, and nearby unspoilt countryside!
In 2016, Bordeaux has positioned itself as the 6th most cycle-friendly city in the world – two ranks higher than in 2015 (source: Copenhagenize). The city has become a role model with 163 km of cycling trails Seven routes (6.5 – 33 km) for exploring the city by bike.
Looking for a bike? 1,800 VCub bikes are available at 177 self-service pickup points throughout the urban area. The VCub Facile app makes it easy to sign up to the service, check the list of pickup points with bikes available, and borrow one using your smartphone at one of the contactless VCub terminals.
Another alternative: take Citeis 47, the eco-friendly electric shuttle bus that winds through the heart of the city or call a Happy-Moov cycle-taxi – the drivers are also a mine of useful addresses.
The Bordeaux Métropole area includes 29,000 hectares of natural vistas: woods, hillsides, landscaped parks, pine forests, private gardens, agricultural areas and marshlands.
Bordeaux residents rediscover their parks: Parc Bordelais in Caudéran, Jardin Public, Parc Palmer in Cenon, and the Jardin Botanique, focal point of the Bastide district. The Parc des Jalles, to the North of Bordeaux, is the green lung of the Metropolitan area. This 4,500-hectare nature reserve is home to around fifteen protected species, including white stork and European mink. A 10-minute drive takes you to the artificial grottos at the Parc de Majolan in Blanquefort – a sight not to be missed.
To the south, the 6 km trail along the banks of the Eau Bourde stream in Gradignan is ideal for walking and cycling. Must see: historic Cayac priory and Montgaillard mill.
On the right bank, the Parc des Coteaux, running through Bassens, Lormont, Cenon, and Floirac, offers over 25 km of walking trails and amazing views over the Garonne River, as well as featuring musical hikes and botanical trails. The first few kilometres of the major «green thread» project, enhancing the walking trails through Floirac, were inaugurated in May 2015.
From a tasty organic snack at the market, to simple or sophisticated traditional or vegetarian cuisine… Bordeaux has lots to offer gourmets, with Michelin-starred establishments and a new generation of young chefs that delight in the specialities of Southwest France.
The stands at the Marché des Capucins covered market offer a wide range of delicious food to eat in or take away. Order a seafood platter from Chez Jean-Mi, or enjoy a veggie brunch at Café Laiton. Take a stroll along the quays to the open-air Chartrons market where you can find oysters from Arcachon Bay, tricandilles (chitterlings), pork tripe cooked in garlic, or grenier médocain (a type of sausage), as you admire the view of the Garonne. And since November 2017, the Halles Bacalan has about thirty counters offering gourmet products, opposite the Cité du Vin, with locally sourced truffles, oysters, foie gras, organic produce and a vegetarian caterer… There is plenty to see and to taste!
La Tupina (which means a cauldron in Basque) has upheld the colours and traditions of South-western gastronomy since 1968. It is the perfect embodiment of fireside hospitality. Chitterlings sizzle in the pan and soup simmers, while beef is grilled over glowing coals… Another Bordeaux gastronomic jewel, L’Orleans offers a perfect expression of the traditional French brasserie. Located in the heart of Bordeaux, Le Noailles, described as, ”the most Parisian of Bordeaux’s brasseries” – has been seducing palates for generations.
Restaurants such as Côté Rue, Le Hâ, or Garopapilles* flirt with haute cuisine, and will delight lovers of imaginative culinary combinations. Clos D’Augusta offers original, modern flavours in an elegant, refined atmosphere. Soléna is another favourite, with a simple yet rigorous style that transcends the familiar.
Fusion cuisine is also well represented in Bordeaux, with Miles, that incorporates influences from all four corners of the world, and its little brother, Mampuku, or Nama, Dan, or L’Exquis with deliciously inspired Asian flavours.
Some very imaginative and affordable restaurants have opened in recent years in Bordeaux, such as L’Atelier des Faures, in the Saint Michel district, which uses traditional French products in dishes inspired by Berber, Polish, Indian and Asian cuisine. Still in Saint Michel, Le Taquin delights with its simple style of cuisine and cocktails. On the Quai des Chartons the trendy and hidden-bar Symbiose was awarded «Best Original Bar 2017» by Le Fooding. Belle Campagne has earned widespread acclaim for its cuisine based on local products.
Organic and vegetarian restaurants are flourishing in Bordeaux, successfully rising to the challenge of reinventing traditional cuisine to meet a growing demand. For lunch, head for the friendly Cuisine de Johanna, Cosmopolis or the inspired Kitchen Garden. Bordeaux also has a gourmet vegetarian restaurant in the form of Rest’O (O for organic) and the biggest organic restaurant of France : Le Magasin Général.
With around fifteen golf courses in the Bordeaux area, keen golfers have plenty of choice. Clubs just a few minutes from the city centre, on Arcachon Bay, in the Médoc, and near Saint-Emilion provide opportunities to play 9 or 18 holes and explore four very different areas.
What a pleasure to find a golf course in the city! The Bordeaux metropolitan area has three: Golf Bordelais in the suburb of Caudéran (18 holes), Bordeaux-Lac golf course, with two 18-hole courses and a pitch & putt in a green setting, and Golf de Pessac, with its fairways set among pine trees and ponds on a 120-hectare estate, just a few minutes from the airport. Facilities: an 18-hole course, a 9-hole course, and a pitch & putt.
The five courses around Arcachon Bay are bathed in wonderful scents of pine trees and sea air: Aiguilles Vertes in Lanton, with 9 holes, is an ideal place to warm up; the Arcachon International golf club has an 18-hole course beside Arcachon Bay, near the Dune du Pilat; Golf de Gujan (27 holes) is reminiscent of Florida, with its varied courses well-integrated in their natural surroundings; the course in Biscarosse is more challenging, with narrow fairways nestling between two dunes; and the latest addition,, opened in 2013, is the Cap-Ferret’s 9-hole pitch & putt, the only course lit up at night.
Head for the Médoc, with its great wines and endless beaches. The 18-hole Lacanau golf course is set in an enchanting environment among the pine forests. The 18-hole Margaux course winds through 45 hectares of forests and ponds, with lovely views over the estuary. The Médoc golf course has a Scottish feel, with moorland, pine trees, and wide fairways bordered with heather. This prize-winning club has two 18-hole courses and a 4* resort hotel. It was ranked 3rd-best golf course in France by the Rolex guide in 2010, among the Top 5 French golf courses by a jury of professional golfers, and n°1 by Fairways magazine in 2014. The Entre-Deux-Mers also has an 18-hole golf course in Cameyrac, with a particularly friendly atmosphere. And, finally, the Graves & Sauternes golf club has a lovely, 18-hole course.
In the Dordogne: Château des Vigiers golf club has it all, with a 17th-century castle converted into a 4* hotel, 3 restaurants, and 3 9-hole courses, which may be combined to make several 18-hole courses. Teynac, near Saint-Émilion, offers an attractive 18-holes course, amid vine-covered hillsides, a restaurant in a former winery, and bed-and-breakfast rooms in the dovecote.
Bordeaux is now the capital of the largest region of France, and boasts an outstanding natural, architectural and cultural heritage. From Poitou to the Pyrenees, there’s something for everyone!
Only a short drive away, the Gironde estuary is a world of its own, with secret Islands, the Vauban fortifications, and eccentric looking fishermen’s cabins perched on stilts along the banks – a fascinating region that can be explored by car, or for a really authentic experience, take a cruise from Bordeaux.
Arcachon is barely an hour away: the seaside town still has a Belle Epoque style (some of the old villas are listed buildings); nearby is the famous Pyla sand dune, a string of little oyster ports and Cap-Ferret on the other side of the bay. If you want crashing waves, open spaces, endless beaches and fragrant pine trees, head for the Médoc Atlantic coast and the lakes and ocean beaches at Lacanau, Soulac, and Montalivet, and the Landes forest, the largest tree-covered area in Europe, a paradise of walks and bike paths.
An hour and a half north of Bordeaux, the Charente is famous for its cognac. On the other side of the Gironde estuary lies Royan, a city of art and history, with a mixture of modern Bauhaus architecture and 1920s style villas. Out to sea, the Cordouan lighthouse can be visited depending on the tide.
Two hours away is the old port of La Rochelle, with its three monumental towers and arcades in the historic centre. The city’s aquarium is one of the largest in Europe. Between land and sea, explore the wonders of the islands with a trip to Ile de Ré, Madame, or Oléron.
Two and a half hours away, towards Poitiers, the Vallée des Singes is home to more than 450 monkeys who live in complete freedom. A few more kilometres and you reach Futuroscope which inaugurates a new immersive 5D attraction in 2018, featuring World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb’s car.
To the east lies a land of plenty: Périgord, with its proud châteaux, gourmet markets in Sarlat and Périgueux, the wines of Bergerac, and since December 2016, the Centre International de l’Art Pariétal. The Centre contains a full-scale replica of one of the original Lascaux caves, known as the «Sistine Chapel of Prehistory». In Limoges, the National Adrien Débouché Museum has been completely renovated and presents machines and tools related to the porcelain industry for which the town is famous. An hour and a half further to the east, The International Tapestry Museum opened in Aubusson in the summer of 2016.
There is a dramatic change in the landscape as you enter the Basque country, with its vibrant villages, Biarritz and its surfing beaches, and Saint-Jean-de-Luz and its port. In the commune of Sare, 10km from Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the “Petit train de la Rhune”, an authentic vintage rack railway takes visitors to the summit of the Rhune, at an altitude of 905 metres, for an exceptional panoramic view of the entire Atlantic coast and the Pyrenees. More inland, in the neighbouring region of Béarn, the birthplace of Henri IV, lies Pau, with its British charm, offering unspoilt valleys, hiking trails and ski resorts.
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