Set amid vine-ribboned countryside, the regional capital of Bordeaux attracts visitors with its waterfront promenade, pretty gardens and delicious local vinous offerings
Stretching from the west bank of the Garonne river to the flower-filled Place Gambetta, a pretty area nicknamed ‘little Paris’ by the locals, Bordeaux sings with opulence and was built using the ivory limestone of the surrounding vineyard-topped countryside. Feel the aristocratic, 18th-century elegance written into its buildings and sense the warmth of its café culture as you stroll down wide boulevards and shaded alleyways. Visit lively open-air markets, cavernous wine shops and copious small bakeries selling cannelés, a traditional rum-caramelised Bordeaux cake.
What to do
Start your tour at the Grand Théâtre, looking up to admire the Romanesque figurines dotting the building’s rooftop. From here, wander down the long pedestrianised shopping street of Rue Sainte Catherine towards Place de la Victoire, or head to the harbour passing through Place du Parlement (built in 1754, it centres around a delightful fountain) and the quaintly cobbled Place Saint-Pierre.
Next to the Garonne, the glorious Place de la Bourse was once the financial hub of the city; its stately facade is reflected in the waters. From here, take a leisurely stroll along the quay to the neighbourhood of Saint Michel, where you’ll find the impressive Grosse Cloche (great bell) and buzzing markets selling anything from fine antiques to weird and wonderful objets d’art. Head to the Esplanade des Quinconces; close to the Garonne this impressive public promenade covers 12 hectares – bronze-sculpted horses rear from the fountain pools and locals gather for animated games of boules.
For a dose of culture, make for the nearby CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art (7 Rue Ferrère), housed in a 19th-century warehouse that once stored prized colonial goods such as coffee, cocoa and vanilla. The Museum of Fine Arts (20 Cours d’Albret) is also worth a visit for its 17th-century Flemish, Dutch and Italian works and surrounding Jardin de la Marie.
Further along the waterfront, stop for lunch in the bustling Les Quais, before taking a tram to the baroque heart of the city – Cathédral Saint André. A World Heritage Site, the impressive landmark dates, in parts, from 1096. For unbeatable views, climb the 232 steep steps to the top of its 50-metre-tall gargoyle-studded Gothic belfry, Tour Pey-Berland. Recover from your exertions with a coffee at one of the tranquil cafés amid the antique shops and 18th-century townhouses of the Chartron neighbourhood or, to sample the region’s famed wines, head to the lively bars on Place de la Victoire.
Where to stay
All 68 rooms at the Hôtel Burdigala exude their own unique theme, from art deco to Le Corbusier’s signature modernist style. Its restaurant and the adjoining conservatory are a great place to dine. If you’re looking for five-star elegance, the Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux is truly sumptuous. Decorated by French designer Jacques Garcia, many of the suites and rooms have views of Rue Sainte Catherine and the Grand Théâtre. Alternatively, Hôtel des 4 Soeurs is a characterful option with 34 charming rooms in a central location.
Where to eat and drink
Just off Place du Parlement is Chez Jean (00 33 5 56 44 44 43; www.chezjeanbordeaux.com), try the cod with a black tea biscuit topping – it’s surprisingly tasty. Chef Jean Ramet creates consistently good French and Bordelaise cuisine at his elegant, eponymous restaurant on Place Jean Jaurès (00 33 5 56 44 12 51). Head to the sophisticated Chez Greg on the Garonne quayside (00 33 5 56 31 30 30) for regional classics (including shad, a much sought-after local fish) and quirky but delicious takes on international cuisine – such as foie gras sushi. For oysters, go to La Boite à Huîtres (00 33 5 56 81 64 97; 8 Rue de la Vieille Tour) and sample nearby Arcachon’s slippery speciality.
Time running out?
Nip to the chocolate shop, Cadiot-Badie (00 33 5 56 44 24 22; www.cadiotbadie.com) on Allées de Tourny. Try La Truffe de Bordeaux, which oozes a rich, grape-flavoured centre.
For information on shows taking place at the Grand Théâtre, visit www.opera-bordeaux.com or call 00 33 5 56 00 85 95.
Currency is the euro. Bordeaux is one hour ahead of GMT and a one-hour 30-minute flight from London.
EasyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) flies from Bristol and Luton. British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.ba.com) flies from Gatwick.
Bordeaux Tourist Board: 00 33 5 56 00 66 00 / 00 33 5 56 91 64 70; www.bordeaux-tourisme.com. Offices at the airport, in the town centre at 12 Cours du 30 Juillet and in the Gare Saint-Jean. Visit the website for opening hours. Bordeaux Monumental (28 Rue des Argentiers) is a specialist office dedicated to the city’s history.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.