A Taste of Bordeaux

How to Spend a Per­fect 48 Hours in the World Cap­i­tal of Wine

Where Paris - - Contents - By Alexan­der Lo­brano

Es­cape to France’s wine coun­try

The best des­ti­na­tion for a long week­end out of Paris this au­tumn may sur­prise you. It’s Bordeaux, the stun­ningly beau­ti­ful city on the Garonne river in south­west­ern France.

It may be al­most 590 kilo­me­tres from Paris, but with the com­ple­tion of the last seg­ment of ded­i­cated high-speed rail track be­tween the two cities last July, Bordeaux is now a mere two hours from Paris, and bet­ter still, this very com­fort­able train travel is be­tween two cen­tre-city rail sta­tions that are eas­ily ac­cessed. The new rail line is an im­pres­sive achieve­ment, too, since it took five years and 7.9 bil­lion eu­ros to build and in­volved con­struct­ing over 400 new ded­i­cated struc­tures, in­clud­ing twenty-four bridges.

This new ease of ac­cess is only one rea­son for the surg­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the el­e­gant town the French po­et­i­cally call “Le Port de la Lune” (the port of the moon), a ref­er­ence to the cres­cent-moon shaped bend on the Garonne where this city of 250,000 is sit­u­ated. Within the last twenty years, this city, which was a small Celtic set­tle­ment named Bur­di­gala be­fore it was con­quered by the Ro­mans in 107 B.C. (they were the ones who first planted the re­gion’s now world-renowned vine­yards, too), has un­der­gone a re­mark­able ur­ban trans­for­ma­tion that’s made it one of the most al­lur­ing cities in Europe, and this has hap­pened with­out it los­ing its es­sen­tial iden­tity as a busy port and the cap­i­tal of the world’s wine trade to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.

To put this evo­lu­tion in con­text, you need some his­tory. Con­sider the words of the writer Vic­tor Hugo who most aptly de­scribed the per­son­al­ity of the city dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, “Bordeaux is a cu­ri­ous city, orig­i­nal and per­haps unique. Take Ver­sailles and mix it with An­twerp, and you have Bordeaux.” Hugo was re­fer­ring to the con­trast be­tween the mag­nif­i­cent 18th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture in the heart of the city and the com­mer­cial traf­fic of its ad­ja­cent port dis­trict on wharves built out on to the muddy banks of the Garonne. To­day, the city’s work­ing port has moved down-river from the his­toric cen­tre, and af­ter the com­ple­tion of a fif­teen-year project that be­gan in the mid1990s to re­move the shrouds of black soot that hid the beauty of the city’s el­e­gant lime­stone ar­chi­tec­ture, in­clud­ing the spec­tac­u­lar Place de la Bourse (the former stock ex­change de­signed by Louis XV’s ar­chi­tect Ange-Jac­ques Gabriel) and sev­eral kilo­me­tres of el­e­gant river­side façades, the cen­tre of Bordeaux was des­ig­nated a World Her­itage site by UN­ESCO in 2007. A sleek new tramway sys­tem with dark green cars and grass planted me­di­ans now glides through the city and makes it very easy to get around (you def­i­nitely do not want or need a car dur­ing a visit to Bordeaux), and sev­eral ma­jor new mu­se­ums have boosted the city’s al­ready con­sid­er­able ap­peal.

Be­yond the beauty of the city it­self, the big new at­trac­tion in Bordeaux is the re­cently opened 100 mil­lion-euro Cité du Vin, a multi-me­dia cen­tre de­voted to the his­tory of wine, both in the Borde­lais re­gion and in the rest of the world, which opened in a strik­ing horn-shaped ten-story me­tal-and­glass struc­ture on the banks of the Garonne in 2016.

De­signed by ar­chi­tects Anouk Le­gen­dre and Ni­co­las Des­maz­ières, the Cité du Vin in­cludes a per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion area of twenty themed mod­ules that in­cor­po­rate new au­dio-vis­ual cre­ations around var­i­ous wine themes, three tast­ing lab­o­ra­to­ries that in­clude spe­cially de­signed multi-sen­sory spa­ces for a to­tal im­mer­sion in wine, a view­ing gallery, a dock from which to em­bark on vis­its to the wine chateaux up and down the river, a spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre, a wine bar and snack bar with an out­door pa­tio, and an ex­cel­lent panoramic restau­rant on the 7th floor where a su­perb va­ri­ety of wines by-the-glass are of­fered.

“La Cité du Vin is trans­for­ma­tional for Bordeaux,” says Sylvie Cazes, pres­i­dent of the mu­seum and the doyenne of one of the most fa­mous wine-mak­ing fam­i­lies in the Borde­lais (her com­pany the Do­maine Jean-Michel Cazes, owns a va­ri­ety of the most pres­ti­gious vine­yards in the Borde­lais, in­clud­ing Château Lynch-Bages and Château Les Ormes de Pez).

“The project orig­i­nated in 2008 when Alain Juppé [France’s former prime min­is­ter] was mayor. He recog­nised that wine tourism was vi­tally im­por­tant for Bordeaux both for eco­nomic rea­sons and also as an af­fir­ma­tion of the city’s vinif­er­ous iden­tity,” Ms Cazes ex­plains. “The guid­ing idea for the mu­seum was the de­ci­sion that the con­tent of the mu­seum would be in­ter­na­tional, or treat the wines of the world and not just the Borde­lais or other re­gions of France. The point of the mu­seum is to present the com­plex­ity of wine in an ap­peal­ingly sim­ple way.”

Just across the street from the Cité du Vin, Les Halles Ba­calan is Bordeaux’s new­est food mar­ket and de­li­cious place to shop for epi­curean sou­venirs like foie gras or maybe take a time out with some freshly shucked oys­ters and a glass of white wine, a Graves from the Borde­lais, bien sûr.

A few tramway stops from the Cité du Vin and the Les Halles Ba­calan, the CAPC,

Bordeaux’s mu­seum of con­tem­po­rary art, was cre­ated forty years ago in a hand­some stone ware­house that for­merly housed food­stuffs im­ported from France’s colonies. Ren­o­vated by ar­chi­tects De­nis Valod and Jean Pistre, the mu­seum hosts a reg­u­lar se­ries of tem­po­rary shows in ad­di­tion to hav­ing an ex­cel­lent per­ma­nent col­lec­tion that in­cludes works by ev­ery­one from Keith Har­ing to Ge­orges Rousse. Note that the in­te­rior fix­tures and fur­ni­ture of the mu­seum were de­signed by the late in­te­rior de­signer An­drée Put­man, with the idea that they should be­come part of the mu­seum’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion as well.

The great­est plea­sure of a week­end in Bordeaux is strolling its streets and ad­mir­ing its mag­nif­i­cent 18th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture, in­clud­ing the Place de la Bourse on the banks of the Garonne, and the nearby Opera House, but the other mu­seum that shouldn’t be missed is the Musée d’Aquitaine, which re­counts the his­tory of both Bordeaux and the sur­round­ing Aquitaine re­gion in one of the largest French his­tory mu­se­ums out­side of Paris. Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est here are the ex­hibits de­voted to pre­his­toric life in the re­gion, Bordeaux un­der the Ro­mans, and “Bordeaux At­lantic Trade and Slav­ery,” which ex­plains the city’s role as France’s prin­ci­pal colo­nial port dur­ing the 18th cen­tury.

The Bordeaux City Pass sold by the Bordeaux Tourism and Con­ven­tions Bureaux in­cludes ac­cess to all of these mu­se­ums, along with un­lim­ited use of the city’s tran­sit sys­tem and a city tour. The pass, an ex­cel­lent buy and a huge con­ve­nience dur­ing a visit to Bordeaux, is avail­able in 24, 48 and 72-hour ver­sions, and can be pur­chased on­line at www.bordeaux-tourisme.co.uk or at one of their three of­fices in the city (ad­dresses on­line).

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