World Class Wine, Culinary Treats, World Famous Art, Decadent Lodging
….all of these combined create the rich signature of the Bordeaux region. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are just some of the grape varieties found in local vineyards. The fruit is carefully tended and then artfully blended to create elegantly flavored wines enjoyed around the world.
Brief Bordeaux History
Bordeaux was founded by the Romans in 56 BC. Between 1154 and 1453, thanks to an auspicious marriage between King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the area belonged to England. Today this architecturally eclectic city straddling the Garonne River is decidedly French.
After centuries of being out of the spotlight, even garnering the nickname “La Belle Au Bos Dormant” or “sleeping beauty” Bordeaux experienced a renaissance of sorts. Cars were banned from some of the city’s major streets, encouraging pedestrians to wander freely. The neoclassical architecture was cleaned and restored and a high tech public transit system was built. Thanks to an increase in tourist traffic and a burgeoning student population at the University of Bordeaux, the city no longer sleeps.
In 2007 Bordeaux became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearly half of the city, roughly 1,810 hectares (4,472 acres) is included in the listing. The Garonne River, the age old port and over 350 buildings already considered historic listings and/or monuments, are within those borders.
Top Bordeaux Attractions
The success of the wine industry made Bordeaux an up and coming city, even as far back as the 1700s. The Grand Theatre, a neoclassical treasure filled with original oil-painted walls and gold covered wood paneling dates back to 1780. Operas, ballets, musicals and concerts are still performed in this setting.
Walk along the quays fronting the Garonne River and you are walking through history. Work began in the mid-1700s with the Palace Royale completed in 1755. The classically French building has two wings that border the quays and features the elegant arches and stone facades popular in that era. Other builders followed suit. Many of the 80 or so buildings were private residences belonging to the wine merchants of Bordeaux.
In the heart of Bordeaux is the Jardin Botanique, a lush bit of open green space half-hidden by the architectural treasures that surround it. Beyond the traditional wrought iron gates is an English-style formal garden complete with its own pedestrian bridge and ponds with ducks and swans. Walk the grounds and find commemorative statues dedicated to painters, architects and political luminaries.
The Musee d’Histoire Naturelle, or Museum of Natural History is housed in what was once the Hotel de Lisleferme, circa 1778. The museum is on the garden grounds near a statue of Rosa Bonheur, an artist from the 19th century. The collections date back to the era following the French Revolution when the interest in science blossomed.
Other museums of interest outside the garden include the Musee d’Aquitaine filled with treasures and statues, some nearly 25,000 years old. The Musee des Arts Decoratifs specializes in vintage works of porcelain, pottery, glass, iron and gold. Hand-made furniture is also on display.
Fine arts, including examples of Italian, Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 17th century, are housed at the Musee des Beaux Arts. The museum itself is a work of art, housed in the Hotel de Ville built in 1770. A formal public park, the Jardin de la Mairie, is next door. Modern art has its own showcase at the CAPC Musee d’Art Contemporain. The huge warehouse, built in 1824, provides a cavernous backdrop for modern day painting and sculptures.
Not to be missed is the Cathedrale St-Andre, parts of which date back to 1096. Most of the building was created during the 13th and 14th centuries. Featuring a Gothic design, complete with gargoyles and carved stone façade, a highlight is to climb the 232 steps to the top of the tower. The panoramic view of Bordeaux is a definite photo-op.
Best Wine Tours – Savor and Learn
Nearly a dozen wine tours are offered from Bordeaux to the various vineyards and producers. Half-day tours average about five hours. One example is the Bordeaux Vineyards Wine Tasting Half-Day Trip which offers larger group tours on air-conditioned buses.
More intimate alternatives are the Medoc or St-Emilion Wine and Chateaux Tours, where smaller groups are transported by mini-van. The latter tours offer not only wine tasting, but appetizer platters, wine workshops and the chance to really delve into the area’s history.
One tour that celebrates both the wine and cuisine of the region is the Bordeaux Wine and Culinary Tour. The nine-hour trip visits four of the areas vineyards and includes a stop at Le Savoie in the Margaux area for a gourmet lunch. The last stop is the famed Chateau La Tour De Bessan, built on the site of a medieval building dating back to the 13th century, intended to protect the area’s Lord Jehan Columbus.
Top Wine Tours:
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Best Bordeaux Festivals and Events
No matter when you visit Bordeaux chances are you’ll find an event or festival to keep you entertained. Examples include the National Antiques Market held at the Bordeaux Lac Exhibition Centre, drawing lovers of vintage furniture from around the world. Lovers of wine, food and dance attend Les Epicuriales at the Allees de Tourny Antique and indulge in local flavors.
Two annual events are particular favorites. One is the Bordeaux River Festival. In 2013 the city is pulling out all the stops. One of the world’s most prestigious yacht races, the Solitaire du Figaro Eric Bompard Cahemire, will begin in the heart of Bordeaux. The 45 yachts will help open the festival with a parade down the Garonne River, then head for their moorings until race time. Festival events include river cruises on a variety of vessels, a recreated nautical village, an outdoor sailor’s ball, dance parties, concerts and fireworks. In 2013 the festival runs from May 24 to June 2.
The other is Bastille Day, a French national holiday. It celebrates the storming of the Bastille in Paris by French citizens, aiming to free political prisoners and show their displeasure with the monarchy. The overthrow on July 14, 1789 marked the end of feudalism and the beginning of French freedom. Bordeaux celebrates Le Fete Nationale with music, dance and a huge fireworks display over the Garonne River.
Best Places to Stay in Bordeaux
Combining modern creature comforts with 18th century architectural charm, the Best Western Grand Hotel Francais is nothing like your typical chain hotel. The ornate lobby, complete with high ceilings, elegant Bordelaise staircase and polished sandstone walls is pure old-school. The rooms are modern with air conditioning, wireless Internet access and the other perks expected by modern travelers. A lift, or elevator, is available in case you’d rather not take the stairs. Located in the center of Bordeaux, it’s an easy walk to museums, the cathedral and the quays.
White is the color of choice in this ultra-modern creation sitting in central Bordeaux. Seeko’o has been described as iceberg-shaped, its monocromatic, angled façade an usual find in this historic city. Public and personal spaces feature recessed lighting and contemporary furnishings. Guest rooms and suites offer the latest in electronic gadgetry and creature comforts. An onsite sauna is available for guest use. Located in the Chartron’s neighborhood, Seeko’o is close to the Bordeaux Wine and Trade Museum, Cap Sciences and the Contemporary Art Museum.
Appart’hotel Victoria Garden Bordeaux
Live like a local at the Appart’hotel Victoria Garden Bordeaux, located in the center of town. Each suite offers a kitchenette complete with cooking and dining utensils. Go to a local market and pick up the makings for a meal and a bottle or two of wine and enjoy a relaxing night in. At the same time enjoy hotel-like amenities like wake-up calls, a daily breakfast buffet and services of a multi-lingual front desk staff.
Other Top Recommendations:
Best Restaurants in Bordeaux
Specializing in French family-style cassolettes, or casseroles, this centrally located restaurant lets your choose what goes into your special dish. Fill out the check-off form and your freshly prepared food is served. Cassolette Café does tend to get crowded, especially on the weekends. The hearty cooking and reasonable prices attract students from the nearby university. Things can get a bit rowdy when these high-spirited young people erupt into song and laughter. It’s all part of the fun.
Seafood lovers, head to this smallish restaurant built on stilts on the eastern bank of the Garonne River. In addition to the cod, bass, scallops and scampi, dine on French favorites such as pigeon served with a rich, sweet port and black-current sauce. This is a great place to enjoy the sunset, offering panoramic views of Bordeaux’s classic skyline.
Baud et Millet
Who would think you could make an entire meal out of wine and cheese? Offering more than 250 different types of cheeses and the various wines found throughout Bordeaux, the Baud et Millet makes this entirely possible. This rather understated neighborhood eatery near the Jardin Botanique also offers a cheese buffet where you can indulge to your heart’s content.
An up and coming player on Bordeaux’s restaurant scene, Solena was founded by a native son. Chef Aurelien Crosato came home after working in restaurants in both France and San Francisco. Combining seasonal local ingredients with the best of Bordeaux wines, Solena is the place to savor and celebrate the tastes of this age-old French region. The restaurant is on the Rue Chauffour only a few blocks from the University of Bordeaux.