It might be the best possible rail connection from Paris for your holiday in south-western France, but if you give Bordeaux a miss beyond picking up the hire car at Gare St Jean you will be doing yourself a huge disservice. There is a reason Bordeaux has been designated not only a World Heritage-listed site but also Europe’s Best Destination for 2015.
The word Bordeaux may be synonymous with great wine, but it is now also attached to a superb destination with a restored and rejuvenated waterfront, stunning 18th-century architecture, and first-class wining, dining and entertainment.
It is known as the Paris of the South and there is no doubt that Bordeaux’s architecture is among its most compelling attractions. A key focal point on the promenade fronting the River Garonne is the beautiful Place de la Bourse and its irresistible water mirror. The reflections on the water are compelling during the day and breathtaking at night.
Other key sights include the ornate Pont de Pierre, the 18th-century Grand Theatre and the Gothic Basilica of Saint Michael. As well as a highlight of old Bordeaux, the basilica is also a feature of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. Art enthusiasts will love the Musee des Beaux Arts, which houses works by some of the great masters, one of about a dozen museums.
Eat and Drink
With such a world-renowned wine-producing region on the doorstep it is little wonder that Bordeaux is a gastronomic heartland. You can indulge in some of the finest French restaurants – Joel Robuchon, who has more Michelin stars than anyone, has a restaurant here.
That said, there are plenty of options to suit all budgets and tastes, including cafes, brasseries and wine bars. There are some excellent eateries riverside, with the bonus of a wonderful backdrop.
For local specialities, look out for wood pigeon, slow-roasted lamb, foie gras, and confit duck. For buzzing bars, start off in the medieval Saint Pierre district or the riverfront Quais.
Where to Stay
There are enough hotels and apartments for either a splurge or a tighter rein on the purse strings. It’s a similar story with the ambience – you can find a room in a hotel in the style of some of Bordeaux’s grandest buildings or in much more contemporary surroundings.
The neighbourhoods between Cours de l’Intendance and Rue Peyronnet are the heart of old Bordeaux. For shopping as well as sights, look for accommodation close to the Quais and Rue Sainte Catherine. There are plenty of options in the area between Rue de la Porte Dijeaux and Cours d’Alsace-et-Lorraine..
The city was built on trade, so no wonder Bordeaux continues to satisfy any craving for retail therapy with an eclectic range of goods, from local arts, crafts, gourmet and artisan food and superb wine to clothing, fashion and shoes – both high end and high street. For luxury brands head for the district bounded by Cours Georges Clemenceau, Cours de l’Intendance and Allee de Tourny.
You can wear off some serious shoe leather window shopping dozens of boutiques – think Longchamp, Cartier, Sonia Rykiel, Mont Blanc and Louis Vuitton to name just a few. For more high-street brands, you will find what you want on or around Rue Sainte Catherine, the longest pedestrianised street in Europe.
Bordeaux Like a Local
If you get the chance, don’t miss the fabulous Marche des Quais, the Sunday farmers’ market on the Garonne at Quais des Chartrons where oysters and white wine are a speciality. Locals also know that the best fresh produce is available daily in the main market in Place des Capucins – a boon for self-caterers. For those keen to find out why Bordeaux is all about wine, head to Maison du Vins where you can sample a range of labels without breaking the bank.