Wine, mais oui! And so much more be­sides...

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - FRONT PAGE -

rea­son that I didn’t know whether it was right, left or straight on to the car park be­cause the car park signs had run out. Only to reap­pear, glimpsed in the rear-view mir­ror, point­ing back the way I’d come.

Fi­nally, I ducked down into the Park­ing des Grands Hommes (“CarPark of Great Men” – in recog­ni­tion, I imag­ine, of the tal­ents needed to find the damned place), parked, locked up, clam­bered above ground, and ev­ery­thing came right. No mat­ter how of­ten you’ve seen it, the el­e­gance of the city’s hy­per-cen­tre – the Tri­an­gle d’Or – smacks the senses. As with Vitru­vian Man, the pro­por­tions are ex­actly right. In the 18th cen­tury, they ripped out me­dieval squalor and re­placed it with stately open space and neo­clas­si­cal ex­pres­sions of be­lief in the power of colo­nial riches. A sense of en­ti­tle­ment floats on the air; this is ev­i­dently a cap­i­tal city in search of a coun­try to rule. I al­ways want to go around or­der­ing slovenly pedes­tri­ans to smarten up. Then I see my re­flec­tion in a shop-win­dow, and hurry on.

As I now did, down a side-street to the Mama Shel­ter ho­tel. From the out­side, it looked like the re­gional HQ of an in­sur­ance com­pany. In­side it con­firmed Mama Shel­ter as, presently, my favourite ho­tel chain: groovy enough for groovers, with­out cast­ing the old adrift. It’s in­tu­itive to use and full of good touches. Bed­rooms are com­pre­hen­si­ble, the en­tire bed head­board con­sti­tutes the read­ing light, and the bar-res­tau­rant is a cross be­tween a school can­teen, beach club and cof­fee shop. The ex­hor­ta­tions writ­ten here and there (“Mama loves you from head to toe” in the bath­room) are weari­some, and I had to shift my­self smartly from the re­cep­tion-area dis­play case on re­al­is­ing that the Eif­fel tower-shaped items were sex toys. Oth­er­wise, full marks.

But you can’t spend all af­ter­noon in a ho­tel bed­room, not by your­self. I lit out. It was Mon­day, so gal­leries and mu­se­ums were closed, ex­cept the Fine Arts Mu­seum (Musée des Beaux Arts; A stroke of luck. This was the only one I’d not be­fore vis­ited. Its north­ern wing was full of re­nais­sance yearn­ing, be­seech­ing and Vir­gins. In the south­ern wing – deal­ing with 19th and 20th cen­turies – I fell among the an­i­mal paint­ings of Bordeaux-born Rosa Bon­heur. On a Mon­day af­ter­noon, I ask no more of art than the hugely pow­er­ful horses of her Tread­ing the Wheat in Ca­mar­gue. Critic Théophile Gau­tier wrote: “There’s no need for gal­lantry. [Bon­heur] ap­proaches art se­ri­ously, so may be treated like a man.” Quite. To get close to her sub­jects, she wore trousers – for which Ms Bon­heur, like all other 19th-cen­tury French­women, had to re­quest bi-an­nual per­mis­sion from lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, lest “transvestism” get out of hand. (The law re­mained on the statute book to 2013.) Bon­heur met Queen Vic­to­ria, was a friend of Buf­falo Bill and, dur­ing her life, sold paint­ings for a for­tune. Post-mortem, she fell from favour. Now she is es­teemed once more, and about time, too.

I roamed on, from the mon­u­men­tal Place Pey-Ber­land – where the cathe­dral faces the pala­tial town hall, re­pair of mayor Alain Juppé and his dashed 2017 pres­i­den­tial hopes – to the even more mon­u­men­tal Place de la Comédie. The kitchens of the Grand Ho­tel are now un­der the con­trol of Gor­don Ram­say. Op­po­site, the res­tau­rant of the great clas­si­cal theatre is run by Philippe Etchebest who, by co­in­ci­dence, is trou­bleshooter for the French tele­vi­sion ver­sion of Kitchen Night­mares.

Both were too ex­pen­sive for me. So I went to the nearby pedes­trian Rue St Rémi, where cheap and cheer­ful reigns, to eat at a Cor­si­can res­tau­rant which, sur­pris­ingly, was nei­ther cheap nor cheer­ful.

Next morn­ing, I had two break­fasts – one at the ho­tel, a sec­ond with Sylvie Berteaux on the hid­den ter­race of the À La Recherche du Pain Perdu bak­ery. Sylvie reg­u­larly has break­fast with un­known men. And women. And it’s al­ways here, at the foot of the St Pierre church. From the bak­ery, the city’s sec­ond old­est, she kicks off a morn­ing gas­tro-tour of Bordeaux’s me­dieval in­nards, the parts that hold to­gether the mon­u­men­tal stuff else­where. The dis­trict con­sti­tutes a con­spir­acy in which any­one can join; Sylvie pro­vides an en­trée (; two hours, £22pp).

So does the baker Noël Capron, a one-time quan­tity sur­veyor who now bakes, in­ter alia, a rye-bread which sus­tained me for days. Un­usu­ally in a French baker’s, the walls bore posters of Hen­drix, Len­non and Frank Zappa. Sylvie led on, via fruit and veg, spice and cheese em­po­ria – with chat and tast­ings in all – to a char­cu­terie store where nib­bles of smoked ma­gret stuffed with foie gras came ac­com­pa­nied by a glass of sauternes. What an out­stand­ing way to spend a morn­ing.

The Cité du Vin, right; main, Mama Shel­ter res­tau­rant

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