Next to Paris, Bordeaux is my favourite city in France. It was designated a world heritage site in 2007 and is a beautifully elegant city with majestic neoclassical buildings all along the waterfront, pedestrianised and tree-lined boulevards, and loads of fantastic wine bars and restaurants. It has an excellent public transport system with three tram lines serving the metropolitan area, and also has an easy to use public bike VCub scheme. We signed up and used the bikes every day. It’s a great way to explore the city. It was particularly nice cycling along the Garonne river at night and looking across to the magnificent Place de la Bourse, illuminated against the night sky.
Running along the waterfront, directly across from Place de la Bourse is the Miroir d’Eau (mirror of water). Designed by landscape artist Michel Corajoud, this installation is the world’s largest reflecting pool. It consists of over 3,400 square metres of granite slabs covered with a thin layer of water, reflecting the facades of the 18th century buildings behind. From a certain angle, the mirror effect is quite astounding. During the summer it creates an additional dramatic effect: every 15 minutes an artificial mist arises, creating a fog which envelopes those on the waterside. Kids love it and were jumping around in it at all times of day. Actually the adults seemed to too.
Where to stay:
I’m unwilling to give away Bordeaux’s best kept secret as I want to make sure to get a room there the next time I’m back. But here goes. It’s called Le Chambre chez Dupont and is run by the very charming Pierre-Jean. We found this glorious guesthouse online and knew we had to stay there. It has only eight rooms and two suites so as you can imagine it books up pretty quickly. Each room is uniquely decorated with its own theme, and with so much care, love and attention to detail. It’s located close to the groovy Chartrons area.
Our room was called Placide and we loved it. Stripped brick on one wall, amazing antique style mirrors, books, little quirky sculptures and art everywhere. As it’s a small hotel they do not serve breakfast but the hotel is a few minutes’ walk from loads of great places to eat. But we never went hungry as each room is furnished with its own proper coffee machine, with a tin of coffee capsules next to it, a kettle, a great selection of teas, bottles of water and orange juice and best of all, a little basket of cakes which are all replenished every day. And each room has a fridge to keep the water and juice cool. Not only that but each room has a corkscrew, a sharp knife and two proper wine glasses. Everything you may possibly need while staying in a hotel for a few days. It had a really powerful shower, huge new fluffy towels and l’Occitane products. The bed was super-comfy with really nice linen. He even left a little decanter of liqueur in our room for us. A very nice touch and a perfect stay.
Where to eat:
Pierre-Jean took the time to sit down with us upon arrival to find out what we were interested in doing, and what our favourite cuisines were. He recommended a host of different restaurants and bars to us and marked them on a map. None disappointed. One of our favourite spots for a casual bite and glass of wine was the aptly named Le Wine Bar. They have a terrific selection of wines by the glass (or bottle if you felt the urge), and a small menu of light bites. Their Caprese salad is to die for, and I had it more than once during our stay. They also have a nice cheeseboard. The staff were unbelievably nice here: so friendly and welcoming, which was another reason we visited here on several occasions.
Our next recommendation was Da Luigi, a traditional Italian trattoria. Again, a warm and friendly welcome, a cosy corner table, delicious wine, and a veritable Italian feast with really fresh ingredients. The Burrata was so creamy and moreish, and their risotto and ravioli was excellent. Great coffee too.
We also mentioned to Pierre-Jean that we were looking for somewhere with a good brunch for Sunday afternoon. He sent us to Plume, and told us we wouldn’t need to eat again until night-time. He wasn’t wrong. Bear in mind it’s not cheap: they have a set brunch menu of €20 per person, but it’s well worth it. It includes fresh fruit and yoghurt; a smoothie; bread and cheese; muffins and jam; coffee and eggs and ham. They have a vegetarian version too.
Also worth a mention was Le Carré, off the main square in the vibey Chartrons area. The staff were a little too cool for school and it was filled with French hipsters but the food was great, and we enjoyed dining on the square and watching the world go by. We also had a fantastic Japanese lunch in Fufu.
What to do:
There’s lots going on in Bordeaux, particularly if you’re interested in music, art or wine, or all three. We were lucky enough to have our trip coincide with the Bordeaux Jazz Festival, and we were thrilled to catch Lee Konitz on the bill on one of the evenings. Nothing quite like catching an unexpected gig outdoors on a warm evening in a beautiful city.
As I mentioned before, the public bike system is great for getting around. It’s not a huge city so everywhere is accessible within 20 minutes or so. The Botanic gardens are really nicely maintained and the trees provide some much needed shelter during the warm summer months. I’d recommend bringing a book and spending an hour.
It’s also a great city for just pottering on foot. The buildings are pretty spectacular, in particular the Grand Théâtre (pictured above at night) which houses the Opéra National Bordeaux http://www.opera-bordeaux.com/ at Place de la Comédie. What I particularly loved about this square was the juxtaposition of the stately classical buildings alongside some fine examples of contemporary public sculpture, the most dramatic of which is the huge cast-iron Jaume Plensa head, Sanna 2013, above. This was the first time I’d ever seen his work and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I kept returning to see it during our stay. Since then I've been lucky enough to see a number of other examples of his work, my favourite of which was on the coast in Antibes. But that's for another blog. As you can see from the Bordeaux piece, they are incredibly powerful works of art and what surprises me with each one is how they inhabit their space completely but yet seamlessly integrate into their environment, despite the large scale. He has become one of my favourite artists working today and I’m going to make it my mission to see one of his solo shows over the coming years, no matter how far I have to travel. You can see why here: http://jaumeplensa.com/
Speaking of art, there are a couple of great museums in Bordeaux, including the Musée des Beaux Arts. Its permanent collection includes European paintings and sculpture from the 15th to the 20th century. If your interests lie more in the contemporary, then you should check out the CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux whose temporary exhibitions in the past have included Louise Bourgeois, Anish Kapoor and Cindy Sherman.
There is one other museum to add to the list but it hadn’t opened by the time we were there so I can’t offer a first-hand recommendation. However, it looks freakin’ amazing. It’s the Cité du Vin, or City of Wine. What’s not to like eh? It’s located outside of the city on the banks of the Garonne but is accessible by tram-line B and was officially opened in 2016 in time for the 10th anniversary of the Bordeaux Wine Festival. Essentially it’s a museum dedicated to wine, housed in a very exciting contemporary building which swoops and dips ‘like wine swirling in a glass’, according to the PR blurb, and looks somewhat like one of those elaborate decanters. Apparently the mayor Alain Juppé described it as a “Guggenheim to wine.” And I can see why. It’s constructed from aluminium and glass panels and the first thing that popped into my mind was Frank Gehry and the Guggenheim Bilbao (he’s not the architect by the way. It’s the brainchild of Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières from XTU architects). It looks set to become an iconic architectural feature on the world stage, as you can see below. Clearly these are not my photos as it wasn’t complete when I was there, so thank you Google images.
It has a massive 3000 sq metres’ open exhibition space, filled with cutting-edge interactive and digital displays celebrating every aspect of wine, and has been thronged with visitors since it opened. Inside is a round wine shop with over 800 wines on sale with state-of-the-art tasting rooms. The €20 ticket gets you a Permanent Tour visit, a tasting of a world wine in the Belvedere room which offers 360° views of Bordeaux, and an interactive guide. It's top of the list for my next trip back.