Bordeaux, a perfectly preserved paradise
Nestled against the Atlantic on France's west coast, Bordeaux's reputation as one of Europe's most beautiful cities is richly deserved. The capital of the world-famous wine region is a sensory feast of neoclassical architecture, expertly blended with the urban developments that have made it such a perfect destination. Described by HM the Queen as "the very essence of elegance", Bordeaux combines the cosmopolitan delights of Paris with the timeless appeal and classic gastronomy of the French countryside - and conveniently accessible via a gentle day's drive from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle in Calais, it's ideal for anything from a long weekend to an extended break.
Whether you have a passing interest in wine or keep your own cellar, Bordeaux's unique association with viticulture is bound to prove fascinating. With wine tours available both in the city and the surrounding countryside, museums dedicated to every aspect of wine production and hundreds of bars and restaurants serving the best of the region's output, there's no better place to spark an interest in wine or build on an existing passion. But there's more to Bordeaux than just the pleasures of the vine. Museums of classic and contemporary art jostle for attention with the beautifully appointed streets in which they stand, and the inventively converted warehouses that line the Quai de Bacalan offer shopping and nightlife as exciting as anywhere in France.
The Golden Triangle
The Cours Clemenceau, Cours D'Intendance and Allée de Tourny, three elegant boulevards in the centre of Bordeaux's World Heritage old town, form the Golden Triangle. Taking the air and marvelling at the Neoclassical elegance of the 18th century buildings is a wonderful alternative to a museum on a warm day; and as well as plenty to look at, there's many things to experience such as bars and boutiques peek from between the stately townhouses; traditional bistrot
Le Mably, hidden down a side street, is perfect for an authentic and inexpensive lunch; or for something even more memorable, the
Hôtel de Sèze offers fine dining and an inimitably French brunch option.
Grand Theatre de Bordeaux
One of the great opera houses of Europe, the Grand Theatre Bordeaux's ornate façade of soaring columns and carved Muses looks more like a temple to the arts - which, of course, it is. The auditorium and attendant theatres are never empty, with a constant procession of operas, concerts, ballets and contemporary dance performances waiting to welcome you in from the hot Aquitaine sun.
Place de la Comédie
+33 (0)5 56 00 85 95
Within the last twenty years Bordeaux's riverfront has been transformed into a perfect marriage of style and substance, as it was once just a largely abandoned industrial wasteland. Punctuated by a series of imposing bridges - look out for the futuristic towers of the Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas - the clean lines of warehouses along the river are now filled with shops, cafes and beautiful open spaces, perfect for watching the world (and the boats) go by.
Located in central Bordeaux near the cathedral, this museum tracks the history of the Bordeaux region from pre-Roman times to the present day. Admission is free, and the sense of connection with this fascinating province is priceless.
The beauty of driving to Bordeaux is that it gives you access to many out-of-town experiences that are hard to reach by public transport. Many châteaux are open to visitors, and several independent guides offer bespoke tours of the region's most notable vineyards.
- The Ecole de Vin in Bordeaux itself is the perfect place to start, with courses starting at under 40 euros for a two hour introduction. Ask your teacher about which vineyards will appeal to you most - internationally renowned châteaux, tiny family businesses or somewhere in between.
- Run by the highly respected Bordeaux expert and former winemaker Bruno Delmas, BD Tours offers a bespoke service that can incorporate any number of vineyards over any number of days. The charming and incredibly knowledgeable Delmas takes each tour personally, incorporating tastings, obscure restaurants and visits to iconic châteaux including Margaux and Lafite. Tours on foot and horseback are also available.
- Another style of intimate tour is offered by DMjWineworks. Run by expatriate American oenologist Dewey Markham Jr. Markham, who is an expert on the Bordeaux region and its wine, this tour provides custom hand-outs relating to each vineyard visited – perfect for serious (or aspiring) wine buffs.
- Most of the vineyards in the region welcome guests, so it's worth thinking about what you'd like to see. Try Pindefleurs to see an original, beautifully maintained 18th century château, Clos Rol de Fombrauge for a traditional family business run by a brother and sister, or Château Le Chatelet to experience a St Emilion Grand Cru admired across the world.
Getting there and around
Located 150 miles north of Spain at the head of the Gironde estuary, Bordeaux is approximately eight hours' drive from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle at Calais - just a 35 minute journey from the UK. There are two major routes - one, the slightly quieter and quicker, takes you through Rouen, Le Mans and Normandy's picturesque Foret d'Ecouves, whilst the other curves further south to include Arras, Paris and Orleans. Whichever route you choose, you'll travel through Tours (home, allegedly, to the purest French accents in the country) and Poitiers, site of one of the key battles of the Hundred Years' War.
Once you've got to Bordeaux, your car is best saved for excursions outside the city. Although you can easily walk around the centre, Bordeaux also boasts excellent bus services and an ultra-modern tram network which provides a striking contrast to the classical buildings - a one-day pass is just €4.30. For more information about what to do and where to stay, see the
Bordeaux Tourisme website.
Book your journey