Bordeaux: Jazz, wine and all things fine
Updated: Jul 17
Bordeaux is one of the coolest cities in France. Designated a world heritage site in 2007, it's 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 an easy to use public bike VCub scheme which we used every day. It’s a great way to explore the city and 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. The 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. It has just a few rooms and 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 in the groovy Chartrons district.
Our room was called Placide with stripped brick on one wall, furnished with antique style mirrors, books, quirky sculptures and art everywhere. As it’s a small hotel they don't offer breakfast but the hotel is a few minutes’ walk from loads of great places to eat. However, each room comes with its own coffee machine, kettle and fridge, with a plentiful supply of coffee and tea, as well as bottles of water and orange juice. I also need to mention the little basket of cakes which are replenished every day. It has 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 had loads of brilliant recommendations for us. 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, salads and cheeseboards. Staff were super-friendly, one of the reasons we visited more than once, and there is indoor and outdoor seating.
We also loved 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 creamy and moreish, and their risotto and ravioli was excellent. Great coffee too.
Also need to give a shout-out to Plume for an excellent brunch. Bear in mind you won't need to eat again until later that night: a set brunch menu of €20 per person includes fresh fruit and yoghurt; a smoothie; bread and cheese; muffins and jam; coffee and eggs and ham. They have a vegetarian version too.
Final mention goes to Le Carré, off the main square in the vibey Chartrons area. The staff were a little too cool for school 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.
We mainly used the public bike system 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.
It’s also a great city for pottering on foot. The buildings are pretty spectacular, in particular the Grand Théâtre which houses the Opéra National Bordeaux http://www.opera-bordeaux.com/ at Place de la Comédie. It looks stunning when illuminated at night.
I loved the juxtaposition of the stately classical buildings alongside some fine examples of contemporary public sculpture, including the wonderful (and enormous) cast-iron Jaume Plensa head, Sanna 2013. Plensa is one of the world's greatest public sculptors and this was my first introduction to this work. He creates these incredibly powerful works of art which inhabit their space completely but yet seamlessly integrate into their environment, despite the large scale. If you want to see some other examples of his work, check out his fabulous website here.
There are also 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.
Cité du Vin
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, I've been reliably informed that it's a fantastic day out. It’s the Cité du Vin, or City of Wine. What’s not to like? You'll find it 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 aluminum 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.