Bordeaux's city centre, with its 18th-century architecture, has recently become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's also a great base for visiting the local vineyards
When I think of Bordeaux, wine comes to mind. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the city itself is an 18th-century architectural gem. The neo-classical Grand Theatre, with its 12 towering columns topped with gargoyles, is a fitting centre. In its portals, the Café Louis is very ornate, with high ceiling and chandeliers. The tourist office, rather than hidden away down some side street, is centrally positioned opposite the Wine Council, and very active.
A few doors away from the tourist office, you'll find constant queues at the non-bookable L’Entrecôte, a restaurant that has a fixed price menu for under €20, serving entrecote steak, French fries, a green salad and dessert.
The baroque architecture of the Stock Exchange buildings is reflected in the water of the city’s latest tourist attraction, a large expanse of water. From time to time fountains appear, but when they disappear both children and grown-ups alike rush in to play or have their photograph taken. This piece of art is on the promenade near to the River Garonne, where at weekends the locals come to stroll. Nearby is Bar Castan, one of the city's oldest cafes, which has retained its Art Nouveau decoration, and is somewhere to stop for a coffee or Lillet, the local aperitif.
Electric trains make getting around fairly easy. We took one of these to visit the latest development. The warehouses in the north of the city bordering the river have now been turned into trendy shops and restaurants. Young people are sunning themselves on loungers, exotic looking drinks at their side. Bordeaux is a university town so there are lots of affordable places to eat as well as the more chic eateries. The warehouse district is definitely for the hip and trendy.
Bordeaux has its fair share of museums, and admission at most of them is free for the permanent exhibitions. With so little time and so much to see, I decided to join one of the many organised tours that homes in on the regional food and wine. The CIVB or Wine Council, an imposing but rather bland-looking building opposite the tourist office, also doubles as a very modern wine bar. If it wasn’t part of my tour, I’m sure I wouldn’t have known to go there. It is well worth a visit as although it is informal, it is unique, with sommeliers to help you choose the wine. As well as running comprehensive wine courses, there are also short two-hour sessions.
It was also on the walk that I found out what makes Bordeaux-style entrecôte steak so special (it is grilled over vine-prunings) and was told about the restaurant Baud & Millet, which specialises in cheese and wine. Hidden in a back street and with very few tables, its cellar houses an enormous cold room in which are displayed over 50 different types of cheese. This is very much a neighbourhood restaurant where, while we were eating, locals popped in for a glass of wine and a chat with the owner. Apart from choosing the cheese, another delight was tasting, on the owner’s recommendation, suitable wines to go with the cheese. On the way home we passed Chez Pom Pom, which had crowds of young people standing outside on the pavement and is obviously the “in” trendy place to hang out.
There are numerous excursions available to the wine regions of Bordeaux - Médoc, St. Emilion, Sauternes - as well as itineraries for those who choose to make their own way there. A short break to Bordeaux made me eager to return for a visit to some of the vineyards.