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10 things to do in Bordeaux

The Independent logo The Independent 12/09/2017 Carolyn Boyd

© Provided by The Independent Sitting on the Garonne River in south west France, Bordeaux’s elegance has drawn crowds for centuries. The centre of the famous wine-producing region is full of breath-taking gothic architecture, incredible food and quirky corners.

Make a splash

Beat the city heat by heading to the Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux’s most splendid square where the Water Mirror offers a place to cool off. Set beside the River Garonne, this 2cm-deep pool on a giant slab of granite alternates between a tranquil "mirror" reflecting the facades of the 18th-century buildings and a fine mist.

Cité du vin

There are museums and then there is the Cité du Vin, an €80 million project dedicated to celebrating the global history, culture and passion for wine. Its impressive glass building is shaped like the swirl that wine makes as it’s poured into a glass, and the interactive, digital and historical displays inside are mind-boggling. Its exhibits cover everything from romance of wine to the tipples of far-flung shores. The Belvedere, meanwhile, offers tastings from all over the world. (laciteduvin.com, €20 entry).

Food, glorious food

With so much wine on offer, you’ll need something to soak up the alcohol and in Bordeaux you are spoiled for choice by the dining scene. The city’s proximity to the coast allows for fresh oysters, served with style at Le Petit Commerce (22 Rue Parlement Saint-Pierre, 0033 556 797 658). Other local specialities include beef, with a side-order of vin rouge at Brasserie Bordelais (50 rue Saint-Rémi, 0033 557 871 191, brasserie-bordelaise.fr) and the delicious rum and vanilla-infused cakes known as canelé, which can be snaffled at Baillardran’s 12 outlets (baillardran.com).

Hang out in the Chartrons district

One of Bordeaux’s hippest neighbourhoods, the Chartrons district, blends elegant mansions with former warehouses. It’s home to a number of chic boutiques offering designer homeware, bric-a-brac and antiques, particularly along Rue Notre Dame. Take a table at Paul’s Place, a charming bistrot rammed to the rafters with vintage paintings and unique objets d’arts (76 Rue Notre Dame, 0033 673 653 196, paulsplacebordeaux.com).

Admire the architecture

Two decades ago, Bordeaux was a bit on the scruffy side, but thanks to Mayor Alain Juppé, the city has spruced up its image and this year it celebrates a decade of its architecture being UNESCO listed. Head to the Places des Quinconces to visit the former Chateau Trompette, then on to the Cours du Chapeau Rouge to admire the Grand Théatre. Place de la Bourse has the most impressive view, and a leisurely stroll south will take you to the Porte Cailhau gateway and the Gross Cloche belfry (bordeaux-tourism.co.uk). 

Climb a tower

For the best views of the city, steel yourself to climb the 229 steps up the Pey-Berland bell tower, which stands separately from the Saint-André cathedral. The cathedral’s own 12th-century tower wasn’t up to the job of holding the weight of the tenor bell, so in 1440 they built this additional tower. It’s a wheeze-inducing walk up to the top, some 50m above the ground, so lay off the wine until you’ve admired the rooftops and the river beyond (pey-berland.fr/en, €6 per adult).

Go shopping

Bordeaux’s newest shopping hangout is at the Quai des Marques, a converted warehouse next to the river in the newly developed Bassins à Flot area. Here you’ll find clothes, shoes and homeware shops. Meanwhile, the lengthy Rue Saint Catherine in the old city offers department stores and affordable brands, but for something with a bit of je ne sais quoi, wander into the narrow streets of the Saint-Pierre district and you’ll find trendy boutiques and quirky little shops for clothes and homeware. Finish up the day in a wine bar terrace (try the cosy Vins Urbains, 27 rue des Bahutiers, vinsurbains.fr) and discover Bordeaux’s finest produce – du vin.

On your bike

Widely considered one of Europe’s most cycle-friendly cities, Bordeaux’s city bike share scheme V3 (vcub.fr) has 1,500 bikes available, and you can borrow one for just €1.50 a day. Despite the traffic being on the heavy side in the city centre, there are bike paths galore with one of the best routes going along the waterfront promenade. For an easy ride out of the city, follow the picturesque and perfectly paved Roger Lapébie bike path along the river, doubling back before it turns inland.

Get out of town

Bordeaux is surrounded by some of the world’s most prestigious vineyards and wine chateaux so get beyond the city limits to quaff to your heart’s content. One of the coolest ways to do it is to hail a taxi – the Wine Cab offers tours in three London Black Cabs each complete with a tasting bar inside. And instead of cheeky repartee, these drivers will regale you with the insider knowledge you need for enjoying the best bottles at each wine chateau (wine-cab.com, half-day tours from €450 for two). 

Buy some wine

Did we mention wine? Further vino-quaffing options can be found at the city’s superb wine cellars and bars, the most jaw-dropping of which is L’Intendant (2 Allées de Tourny, intendant.com) where a huge spiral staircase climbs past several floors and 15,000 bottles of the good stuff. Also try the wine bar on the ground floor of the Maison de Vin de Bordeaux (1 Cours du 30 Juillet) set in the city’s flat-iron building. Alternatively, head to the Saint-Pierre district where you’ll find vibrant bars and expert-run cellars. Santé!

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