Bordeaux, France is famous for its wine, but the city's architecture, history, and sites have made it an up and coming destination.
Bordeaux, France, automatically brings to mind wine for many people, and for good reason. The historic French city has long been a thriving epicenter for the wine culture. Beyond the obvious attraction to wine connoisseurs, the city’s many advances in recent years have earned it a spot as an up and coming destination that deserves to be on your radar.
Nicknamed “La Belle Endormie” and “The Sleeping Beauty” for its plethora of 18th century architecture, Bordeaux experienced the restoration of historic buildings and beautification of the riverfront when Alain Juppé, a former mayor of the city and Prime Minister of France, initiated an ambitious renewal program in the 1990s.
The improved downtown infrastructure and riverfront facelift created hip new micro neighborhoods where innovative chefs and entrepreneurs set up shop and brought new concepts and energy into the city. Even highly esteemed chefs like Joël Robuchon and Gordon Ramsay took notice and opened their own restaurants.
Paris-style Historic Architecture
Paris is famous for gracious boulevards, uniform neoclassical architecture, and a unique city center that gives the city a very specific ambiance, but much of the aesthetic of the City of Lights has its roots in the graceful lines and sweeping municipal plazas of Bordeaux, where Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the architect of the renovation of Paris, served as prefect before he began work on the capital.
In 2007, UNESCO added Bordeaux’s historic downtown port to its World Heritage list for being “exceptional in the unity of its urban and architectural classical and neo-classical expression, which has not undergone any stylistic rupture over more than two centuries.” The protected area is nearly five times the size of UNESCO’s listing for the banks of the Seine River in Paris.
Place de la Bourse
If you tire from the bustling downtown, find a peaceful spot at the reflecting pool and square at the Place de la Bourse. Designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, architect of the Petit Trianon chateau at Versailles and one of the predominant voices in the transition from the busy Rococo style to sleek neoclassicism, the square is among the city’s most iconic sites. Like many of Bordeaux’s historic landmarks, including the sweeping plaza at the Monument aux Girondins, it’s open to the public and available to visit for free at any time.
It isn’t a structured experience, as in a museum, and you can stroll through numerous open-air sites, including Rue Sainte-Catherine, billed as one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe. If you prefer a little guidance, take an English-language walking tour to get the most out of your visit.
In order to experience Bordeaux’s celebrated history in a less active yet decidedly cultural way, take in an opera at the Grand Théâtre. The staircase design served as the inspiration for the iconic staircase at Paris’s opera house.
World Famous Wineries
From Bordeaux’s city center, it’s easy to drive or join a tour to visit the area’s renowned wineries. Pauillac, home of some of the region’s most famous wineries, is just over an hour away. Saint-Émilion, a UNESCO site in its own right for its history in wine production that dates back to Roman times, and Sauternes, known for its exceptional sweet wines, are both about 45 minutes from the city by car.
As part of the city’s recent makeover, a new addition to the landscape means you don’t have to leave the city to enjoy the local wine culture. Bordeaux’s La Cité du Vin stands out along the waterfront like Frank Gehry’s Sydney Opera House. The shimmering metallic building seems to defy the concepts of structural stability, and the interior offers much more than simple wine tastings. Conde Nast Traveler has even called it a “wine theme park.”
A simulated boat ride down Bordeaux’s Garonne River with a medieval wine merchant is ideal for history buffs, and a 250-seat theater hosts wine-related screenings and classes. Of course, if you’re a serious wine nerd, you won’t be disappointed by the tasting experience, which challenges the senses of sight and smell with moving sets, 3D images, and olfactory whiffs.
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