We’re not suggesting an almighty bender, even though in France’s wine capital where some 800 million bottles of wine are produced each year, it’s almost tempting. However, there are plenty of other non-alcoholic vintage experiences to taste while on a 24 hour stop-over in Bordeaux. Not that spending a mere 24 hours here, or most places for that matter, is something we recommend. Ready then? On your marks……
Catch the early morning sun as it filters through the impressively crumbling arches, passageways and tunnels of the Roman amphi-theatre, Palais Gallien.
Imagine the gladiatorial combat held there 2,000 years ago when known as Burdigala or Little Rome, Bordeaux and its 15,000 citizens were part of the far-flung Roman Empire.
Purchase a card of ten tickets, catch the C tramway from Les Quinconces and tour along the bow-shaped river Garonne. Get off at Porte de Bourgogne, walk over part of Pont de Pierre, a bridge commissioned by Napoleon, its 17 arches commemorating his great victories, and walk back along the riverbank. Pass the Place de la Bourse, formerly Place Royale dedicated to Louis XV, an impressive fountain of the Three Graces and fine 18th century civic buildings .
Bordeaux is a fashionable city so polish up the fantastique plastique and head for rue Sainte Catherine, Europe’s longest pedestrian street. Make a pit stop at any of the small cafes but take your espresso and croissant standing at the counter as sitting kerbside will double the bill. Don’t miss Galerie Bordelaise, a charming 19th century shopping arcade, sporting all the French luxury brands as well as cutting edge newcomers.
The man who put Bordeaux on the map stands on a pedestal in the center of town at Place de Tourney. Between 1740 and 1780, Bordeaux’s most important governor, the Marquis de Tourney, laid out the city’s grand avenues, beautifully crafted buildings and public gardens. Mascarons or individually carved stone heads are positioned as keystones on arched windows and together with fluid ironwork and impressive door hammers form Bordeaux’s distinctive architectural style. Along the way, stop off at 2 Allees de Tourny and visit L’Intendant, Bordeaux’s finest wine store. Peruse the shelves before buying a star-spangled vintage from Latour, Margeaux, Lafite or Mouton Rothschild.
Allees de Tourny, Cours Georges Clemenceau and Cours de l’Intendance, the broad tree-lined boulevards known locally as “The Triangle” have long been the city’s luxury district. Seriously upscale boutiques are eminently suited to the classic architecture while nearby on rue Montesquieu, the unmistakable aroma of ripe cheese oozes out of Jean d’Alos, Bordeaux’s famous fromager who in a nation of cheese lovers has icon status.
Smart Bordelaise lunch in close proximity to fashionable boutique shopping at the Marche des Grands Hommes but Café Francais opposite Cathedrale St Andre on Place Pey-Berland is a charming option.
The majestic medieval cathedral stands across the square where in 1137, Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future King Louis VII. Constructed from soft limestone, the 11th century cathedral and 15th century Renaissance interior has been superbly restored. Alongside the cathedral, don’t miss the Pey Berland Tower, a flamboyant 15th century Gothic edifice crowned with a gilded statue. Across the square, the Jean Moulin National Centre recounts the story of the French resistance during World War II from German occupation in June 1940 to the liberation of Bordeaux in 1945.
Take a break and sit in leafy Place Gambetta near Porte Dijeaux, one of the city’s three gates, and the spot where during the post-Revolution ‘ Reign of Terror’, Madame Guillotine gave ‘the French haircut’ to more than 300 Bordelais. Beyond the gateway explore rue Bouffard, a narrow street with charming antique shops and art galleries. At the end of rue Bouffard, the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, a gracious house set on a broad cobble-stone courtyard, displays carefully curated collections of porcelain, mahogany furniture, paintings, silverwork and clocks that thanks to the prosperous wine trade, provides an insight into how the wealthy Bordelaise lived in the 18th century. www.mairie-bordeaux.fr
Back on the maze of cobble-stoned laneways and squares of Saint Pierre and Saint Croix in old Bordeaux, people gather at cafes, bistrots and bars to meet and eat. Most of the bars and pubs have ‘happy hours’ from 6pm until 9pm but for a gourmet dining experience, book a table at Le Chapon Fin at 5 rue Montesquieu. Its classic three Michelin star cuisine has attracted some classic characters including Toulouse-Lautrec and Sarah Bernhardt.
Be guided by what you find in the free Clubs & Concerts guide available from the Bordeaux Tourist Office on Allees de Tourney or walk through darkened doorways into the salsa, rumba and Afro-Cuban bars along Cours de l’Argonne.
Beguiled by Bordeaux? Then why not stay another day and book a two hour English language wine course at the Bordeaux Tourist Office. Held daily at 3pm from June to September, it’s bound to ratchet-up your wine knowledge and is guaranteed to impress at the next dinner party. www.bordeaux-tourisme.com
Bordeaux which is only three hours south of Paris by TGV high speed train and Bordeaux’s Gare St-Jean is one of France’s busiest rail transit points so be extra vigilant with your luggage as tourists are an easy target. Or take a plane.