Finding the right destination for that mid-week or weekend getaway can prove to be more difficult than you imagine. Do you head off to the usual hotspots of say Barcelona or Amsterdam, each with their own unique attractions, or do you fancy a trip that doesn’t require you to join in with the selfie-stick hurdles? One of my favourite destinations is Bordeaux; authentic France without mass tourism!
Getting to Bordeaux from the UK is relatively easy during the summer months, when traffic is at its peak, servicing the many gites of the Charente and Dordogne ‘departements’, most by-passing the delights of this great city. In the winter, holidaymakers are somewhat limited by departure airports, the principal one being London Gatwick.
A central portion of the city is now a Unesco World Heritage site, which is not surprising given its strategic importance for the wine industry. Equally, that importance is reflected through the many thousands people, who left its quaysides for a new life in Americas or indeed its central location during the Second World War and the Battle for the Atlantic.
Today, Bordeaux offers itself as a bright dynamic city, where the history of the past meets the vibrancy of the 21st Century.
Whether your time is long or short, I would like to share my 5 ‘must-see’ outings when in Bordeaux:
1. Any start to a visit to Bordeaux should begin at the Grand Theatre in the Place de la Comedie. The theatre is indeed grand in scale and offers the opportunity to visit its interior through visits organised by the nearby tourist office or by booking a seat for its many performances. Another way to appreciate its majesty is to perhaps sit in a nearby outdoor cafe and watch the Bordelais go about their business?
2. A short walk from the Grand Theatre, lies a shopper’s paradise along the Rue St Catherine. As you enter the street from the Place de la Comedie, its retail opportunity stretches out before you, claiming to one of Europe’s longest shopping streets. Every style and desire is catered for and it will probably need a full day to satisfy your spending urges, particularly if you stray into the many streets that branch off from this consumer hub!
3. When you tire of spending, take a walk along the riverside and admire the wonderful architecture that borders the River Gironde. From the Place de la Bourse, to the wonderful ‘water mirror’, through its small parks and rest areas, to the old but renovated quayside buildings, you can dictate the pace of life and watch the city come to life through its river activity;
4. As the river snakes its way out of Bordeaux, at the Pont Jaques Chaban Delmas, the iconic Cite du Vin is a must-see visit whilst in Bordeaux. The region’s close connection to wine is celebrated within this museum, but it is not just about Bordeaux or indeed French wines, it is a celebration of the history of wine-making and indeed architecture through its ‘World of Culture’ opportunities. But, once you have sampled the delights of this museum, I would suggest that you take a short diversion, not far from Bordeaux, to the Margaux wine-making area. If you hire bikes, you could take a local train out to the Gare de Margaux and visit the nearby Chateau. In my view, Margaux wine is the smoothest and silkiest of all red wines; you could extend your tribute to wine-making by taking lunch in the many fine local restaurants of this area?
5. Evening in Bordeaux offers the delight of the St Pierre district. Here you will find many bars and restaurants offering cuisine from all around the world along with French favourites. Activity is spread across several squares and streets and if you locate yourself in the Place du Parliament or the square by the Catholic Church of St Pierre, the many interweaving streets will reveal the choices ahead of you; some of my favourites are L’Ombriere (great for lunchtime), Le Petit Commerce, Aux quatre coins du vin and La Cote de Boeuf, but, the choice is entirely yours!
Bordeaux is an intriguing city at whatever time of year and offers a great range and options on transport. To get you started, don’t take a taxi from the airport to the centre, take a bus. The Liane1 will take you from the airport to the City Centre, all for the princely sum of €1.60 – see the Bordeaux of the Bordelais (the route takes you past an enormous memorial dedicated to the bravery of the Bordelais during the world wars). Hotels, guesthouses and apartments are plenty and are available at whatever suits your pocket (a recent hotel stay for 3 nights at the Hotel de L’Opera (close to the Grand Theatre) cost €207, but remember, this is a conference city and you need to plan well in advance to get the best location and rate! Bordeaux is not the cheapest of destinations but careful planning will help you manage those all important expenses and I promise you, the city will capture your imagination, not just for its possibilities but for those beyond its city limits – you will want to come back time and time again!