Bordeaux is hitting the big time. Awarded Europe’s Best Destination 2015 and featured on many of this year’s ‘places to visit’ hit lists – this lovely city in France’s southwest seems to be shaking off its nickname of ‘la belle endormie’ (Sleeping Beauty) and truly making its mark as a fun, vibrant and culturally-rich destination. Our resident travel expert, Roxane, headed over to see what all the fuss was about. Whether you’re here for a weekend or just passing through – there’s plenty more to discover than just fine wine, though that’s never a bad place to start…
Arriving from the rolling countryside of Gascony, we were ready to feel overwhelmed by our return to city life. Fortunately our base for the weekend eased us in nicely. Set on a quiet residential road despite being downtown – the gorgeous, new Villa Victor Louis feels a little like staying with aristocratic friends and charming ones at that. Family-run, there’s a lovely vibe to the place and with a décor fit for royalty it’s a design-lovers dream.
There is stunning 18th century architecture in abundance thanks to which Bordeaux was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site coming up to 10 years ago. We spent the morning happily wandering the streets, meandering our way down the gorgeous Rue Notre Dame and the Chartrons neighbourhood with all its wonderful boutiques filled with fashion and brocante.
For lunch, we stopped in at sweet little delis – picking up delicious local cheeses, huge, beautifully misshapen tomatoes and salty ham, cut from the leg before us. For our bread, we made a detour to Pétrin Moissagais and picked up two unbelievable smelling baguettes fresh from their oven that dates back to 1765. We picnicked in the public gardens – seeking shade under the big ancient trees and snoozing post beers and baguette in the soft, dappled light.
Refreshed and refuelled we continued our meandering on wheels – Bordeaux is a city best explored by bike and with the popular VCub service they’re well set up for it. We headed up to the clock tower and stopped in at M&O to enjoy the sight over artisan ice-cream from the city’s best glacier.
Heading back down to the river and over to the other side we cycled into Darwin an amazing creative space, set across a collection of disused warehouses. There’s a great vibe to the place – with a popular skate park, a performance area where an orchestra were warming up for a show that evening, a carpentry workshop and a sweet little garden. My husband lost me to the Emmaus shop for a while – the abundance of second-hand clothes, chinaware and general gems to good to miss. Apparently they do a good brunch at the on-site resto Magasin Général on a Sunday but we satisfied ourselves with a cold beer (brewed on site) and some people watching.
It was then back on the bikes and further down the river to the newly opened Cité du Vin in its Guggenheim-esque building (inspired by wine swilling in a glass no-less). We just couldn’t justify the €20 to climb up to the viewing platform and didn’t dally long but it’s a pretty slick operation if you fancy learning more about the region’s wines.
After a freshen up back at the hotel we headed out for dinner at Chez Dupont one of the city’s longest-standing restaurants – and for good reason. Set down a pretty street with a rather dramatic backdrop of St Louis des Chartrons church just behind, the food here is your classically delicious French fare and, as such, it’s unfailingly popular with locals and tourists alike. The wine is unsurprisingly fantastic and we devoured a gorgeous bottle of Château d’Uza with our à point entrecôte steaks and wrapped up with a crème brulée to share. A true French feed.
If you’re looking to continue, there are some great bars and music venues in Bordeaux. On our cycling tour, we passed the fun-looking Chez Alriq La Guinguette back over the Garonne on the Right Bank – there’s a cool festival vibe to the place with some great visiting bands and DJ’s that play out in the open-air beneath festoon lights throughout the summer (May to October). If you’re visiting in the winter months – or any other time for that matter – you can’t go wrong with the sweet little spots dotted around the St Pierre district, our favourite of which was the lovely little La Comtesse Café on Rue Parlement Saint-Pierre.
The next morning we breakfasted in the sunny conservatory at Villa Victor Louis before heading off to the airport for our flight home (so easy – the bus leaves a 5-minute walk from Villa Victor Louis). Next time we’ll certainly be making it a long weekend or more – with time to hire a car and head out of town to a vineyard or two, or perhaps a jaunt to the coast. With the ski slopes only a couple of hours away, who knows? We might even move here…
Where to stay
This recently opened boutique hotel is set in a beautifully renovated 18th century building on a peaceful street in the heart of downtown. The style here is one of pure opulence – the huge shuttered windows and high ceilings of the building’s original architecture offset with rich fabrics and luxe wallpapers.
Address: 42 Rue Rodrigues-Pereire, 33000 Bordeaux, France
Bordeaux-Merignac Airport is set just to the west of the city and there are plenty of taxis and buses to ferry you into town.
If you are driving into town, it’s worth noting that parking in the city can be tricky and expensive. Though mostly in French, the Bordeaux Métropole site is very helpful for live information on traffic and car park availability or you can liaise with your hotel on what’s best.