Bordeaux’s City of Wine
A theme park for oenophiles
Awine-themed amusement park may sound like the whimsy of a bedraggled parent who just survived a trip to Orlando’s theme parks—but it exists. La Cité du Vin (translation: the city of wine) sits within the famed Bordeaux region of France. The adult attraction opened in May 2016 and has since been referred to as both a “Guggenheim for grape lovers” and a “theme park” by Condé Nast Traveler. Through the ages, Bordeaux has acted as the cultural capital of wine, historically connecting global civilizations via its port.
La Cité du Vin sits beside the Garonne River, its striking sculptural architecture reminiscent of a knotted vine stock, eddies on the Garonne or even wine swirling in a glass, as the official website suggests. The museum’s self-guided tour begins on the ground floor of the rounded wooden vault and winds upward through 20 themed spaces. Eventually, visitors reach the eighth floor in the Belvedere, offering a 360-degree view of Bordeaux. Here visitors can taste wines from around the world as they gaze over the region’s famous vineyards and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Port de la Lune, Bordeaux’s historic port city.
For more vino, the ground-floor Latitude20 Brasserie wine bar serves 50 different wines by the glass and more than 800 bottles of wines from more than 80 countries. The wine list at Restaurant Le 7 on the seventh floor has “only” 500 varieties, which are served with fine dishes made with seasonal, regional produce.
Although La Cité du Vin offers a boat-ride simulation that covers wine history from 6000 B.C. to the present and a banquet reenactment of distinguished figures discussing their regional wines, the attraction is more aptly described as a museum than a theme park. Freelance travel writer Katie Hammel explains that the ginormous wine attraction is not a grown-up version of Disneyland; instead, it is “a very interactive museum that covers just about every aspect of wine history, production and culture.” She particularly enjoys the opportunities to identify unique scents and distinguish among different wine-colored shades, from garnet to ruby. A visit to La Cité du Vin can grow your palate with special tasting sessions and food pairing workshops. Left: The museum has a multisensory space used for special workshops, and its 250-seat Thomas Jefferson auditorium holds film screenings and concerts.
In addition to hands-on activities, the museum showcases impressive technology. “Amid the Cité du Vin’s oenological delights, it’s actually the clever tech that stands out,” states travel writer Ellie Aldridge. “At the start, your interest is piqued with a virtual-meets-physical e-vine, where you can pair your audioguide with individual leaves to learn more about different varietals.” The hologram boxes in the gallery of civilizations also amuse when “toga-clad Roman partygoers turn up to swig wine and dance in what you thought was a static display.” From scent to sight, the museum brings wine to life through an immersive approach that appeals to the senses.
Those who are inspired to tour the region’s vineyards and witness the winemaking process up close can arrange such a trip through the Wine Tours desk in La Cité du Vin’s entrance hall. You can choose to travel by boat or coach to the fertile, time-honored Bordeaux vineyards.
The multilingual reading room at La Cité du Vin has a large selection of wine-focused multimedia publications. One of the 1,200 works may catch your eye, whether it’s research by leading scientists or pages of cartoon drawings.
When you need a breather from touring the vast Cité du Vin, make sure to spend time in its wild gardens with views of the river and its quaint little quays.
In addition to the permanent tour at La Cité du Vin, the museum presents temporary exhibitions and a variety of wine-themed workshops. During the spring, temporary wine exhibits focus on cultural and artistic themes, displaying artwork and artifacts from other museums and private collections; during the fall, a single global wine region is highlighted. (The Porto region of Portugal was selected as the guest vineyard for 2018, and Argentina will follow in 2019.)
The 250-seat Thomas Jefferson auditorium holds concerts and cinema screenings, while conference rooms hold seminars that will entice wine connoisseurs and novices alike. You can learn to distinguish various aromas and how best to pair food with wine. You can also grow your palate with sessions such as “Something for Every Taste!”, which is even child-friendly. Other workshops discuss the wines of writers and musicians, but be careful which ones you sign up for—some are delivered in French only.
If you feel happily drowsy afterwards, join the organized siesta with a special atmospheric vineyard soundtrack of footsteps treading across the soil and shears clipping the grapevines. As you drift off, congratulate yourself on planning an equally educational and entertaining adult trip.
Alison Roberts-Tse has been haphazardly scribbling in journals since she was a small-town small fry. She has degrees in communications and dance from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She now lives in London, spends time on Sanibel and obsessively plans getaways, both near and far.
The striking architecture of La Cité du Vin sits next to the Garonne River, which carries visitors to nearby vineyards on boat tours.
From left: Visitors enjoy enjoy 360-degree views of Bordeaux and its lush vineyards over a glass of wine from the eighth-floor Belvedere; the museum's exhibits include displays of wine-making regions from all over the world. Bordeaux’s vineyards are close to the Gironde, Dordogne and Garonne rivers, as well as the Atlantic Ocean, which act to temper the region’s climate and grape-growing environment.