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Get out of town to Bordeaux

Bordeaux. Nice. City. We had a lovely time there over 5 nights. There’s a lot to see and it seems like a very liveable place. I would seriously consider it if I were planning to move. Great bikes paths which will be even better once some of the many construction sites are done, lots to do, lots of culture, a great river front walk and a really nice mixture of old/historic and new.

One of the new masterpieces is the Cité du Vin leading the gentrification of the area called “Le Quartier des bassins à flots” or wet docks.

Bordeaux
The ceiling of the Cité du Vin’s panoramic view tasting bar

The Cite du Vin is a new generation cultural center, unique in the world they say, and, obviously, focused on all aspects of wine. Wine is presented in its cultural framework, its relationship to civilization, scientifically and agriculturally, its heritage and history and the future. The Cité is a cultural facility, a tourist site and a place for outings for Bordeaux residents with regular tasting events and with 2 restaurants and a panoramic view. There’s the permanent exhibition which takes 2-3 hours to visit and changing temporary exhibitions as well. The Cité entrance fee seems pretty expensive at first glance, but it does include the audio guide with a choice of 8 languages (signage is in French, English and Spanish), a visit to the panoramic view and a wine tasting. The audio guide is essential and the exhibit can’t be properly appreciated without it. The headset gives instructions to the hands-on scientific experiments and puts sound on the many videos. The headset design feels a bit weird on your head, but because it sits outside the ears you can still talk easily with those around you, which is a pretty nice feature because there is plenty of discussion and interaction to have. There are interviews with winegrowers from all over the world, a history of Bordeaux and a rather comical, fictional, animated/acted discussion on the merits of certain wines between Alfred Hitchcock, Thomas Jefferson, Maria Callas, Collette, Louis XIV, Pierre Arditti, Napoleon, Winston Churchill, Voltaire, a 3rd century Roman and a few others. Quite a crowd in one room! The exhibit is intelligently organized. The fact that there is no set order to view it allows one to slide past a bottleneck (nice pun!) of viewers, then circle back. There are plenty of different places to sit and different postures to stand which keeps you from getting too tired. We rather enjoyed the Cité, there truly is something to interest everyone there. Newcomers or connoisseurs, amateurs or not, professionals, families and young public, will all enjoy visiting.

One of the best examples of the juxtaposition of old and new Bordeaux architecture is the now famous Water Mirror that reflects the 18th century Exchange buildings. This space is loved by tourists and locals. It is probably one of the best city planning/art spaces I’ve seen in recent years. Great for taking perfect photos, amusing for the kids, a meeting place, and cooling off spot on warm summer days. It’s so simple, just a couple millimeters of water on a granite slab, but its so cool!

Bordeaux
François Mauriac by Zadkine

Another lovely cool space, but more classic is the Public Garden. It’s kind of a Luxembourg Garden but even better, you can lounge on the grass! There’s an authentic Guignol puppet show, sculptures of local famous people such as Rosa Bonheur and a really interesting bust of François Mauriac by Zadkine, ponds with water birds and a playground. This is where we felt a certain contentedness in the Bordeaux residents as we ate our picnic lunch of salad and cannellés.

The city has vestiges of all its ages: gallo-roman, roman, English rule in the middle ages, renaissance,… And it has been through many twists and turns including the latest “invasion” of Chinese buying and renaming vineyards. The 18th century was the Golden Age where the city and wine flourished much thanks to the Dutch building polders and the English mastering mass production of the wine bottle! (The Veuve Cliquot however invented wine millésimes and the first branded wine labels). Most of what remains in the old center is from this time period. Buildings are low, many just two storeys creating a very human scale.

The Fine Art museum also spans the centuries and focuses on art produced by artists from Bordeaux (how DO you say Bordelais in English??) or of Bordeaux. You’ll find work by Rosa Bonheur a 19th century painter of animals and first woman painter to receive the Legion of Honor medal (an article about Rosa is coming soon. Her house near Fontainbleau is now open for visits.). The museum is well worth the visit, for a look at quality art without huge crowds.

Bordeaux
La foulaison du blé en Camargue by Rosa Bonheur at the Fine Art Museum

We didn’t get to the Customs museum, but it’s on the list for next time. A very intriguing idea for a museum I thought; unique in France this museum offers French history from Antiquity to today through one of the oldest administrations presenting art, artefacts, smuggling and economics (protectionism anyone?) in an authentic 18th century customs house. And another intriguing spot is the WWII submarine base that was built for Italian and German U-boats and has been turned into a contemporary art space. We’ll make a bee-line for that next time too, because we’ll be going back to Bordeaux.

Bordeaux
Rosa Bonheur in the Jardin Public

As mentioned there are bike paths all over. Bordeaux is way ahead of Paris. There are plenty of people riding bikes and few scooters. You can ride a big loop down one quai of the Garonne river, across the bridge and back on the other quai to another bridge as well as all over town. Several bike routes and paths lead out of the city for at least 60 kilometers too; ask for the Gironde carte vélo at the tourist office. Bike rentals, electric or not, are easy to find. There is no need to have a car for a visit and probably not as a resident either. Plus there are the prettiest trams I’ve ever seen and of course busses.

As for restaurants I can tell you where not to go! … a crummy sushi restaurant where they had run out of red wine (of all things you don’t expect in Bordeaux), so John dashed across to the grocery to buy a bottle! It was the closest place to eat to where we were staying, which was a factor as it was pouring rain. It was the North African server at the restaurant who told us that Notre Dame was burning. We thought it was a joke at first. What a strange night. We’ll always remember where we were the night Notre Dame burned. Don’t worry there are plenty of good restaurants too and a fabulous food hall across from the Cité du vin.

There are lots of apartment hotels, charming boutique hotels, but we opted for something quite unique: a “peniche”! Happily and stably moored on a wet dock right in the middle of the port area which is being seriously gentrified, this apartment was small but very charming decorated with cleverly used brocante furniture and fixtures. Plus it had a balcony hung over the water. It was a great place to watch the sunset, birds and manipulation of boats. Very quiet and comfortable and with a great host too.

Yup, we’ll be going back to Bordeaux.

Bordeaux
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