There’s plenty to see during a few hours or days in Bordeaux
I had the good fortune to spend a few hours in the centre of Bordeaux last week, and I was reminded that it is, above all, a charming and elegant city. It was November and the weather was cold but dry. Had it been a little warmer, we would certainly have been tempted to spend half an hour sitting outside in one of the many pavement cafés enjoying a coffee and a pastry!
What strikes you most when exploring the streets of the city centre are the graceful and elegant limestone neoclassical buildings and it seems no wonder that much of the central area has been declared a World Heritage Site. However, it appears this wasn’t always the case and in fact for decades in the 20th century the city was known as the Sleeping Beauty. It was clogged up with traffic, the façades of the beautiful buildings were black with layers of pollution and empty warehouses spoiled most views of the River Garonne. This started to change in 1995 when the city’s mayor began a massive regeneration programme to open up the riverfront, pedestrianise the city centre, clean up the architecture and install a hi-tech tram system. As a result, Bordeaux is now the largest urban World Heritage Site, and in 2013, a survey ranked Bordeaux France’s second-favourite city, after Paris.
If you only have time for a whistle-stop tour of the city, as we did, you have to see the magnificent Place de la Bourse, in front of which lies the Miroir d’Eau. This reflecting pool was made in 2006 of granite slabs covered by just 2 centimetres of water. In summer people can paddle in the water, which mists up in a spectacular way every 15 minutes. This wasn’t happening in November so I’ll have to return in June! This modern work of art blends in beautifully with the 18th century façades behind it. The Miroir lies just a few metres from the River Garonne.
Also right in the centre is the Porte Cailhau, a monument which has a castle-like exterior. It dates back to 1494 and used to be the main gate to the city. Not far from here is the Grosse Cloche, one of the oldest belfries in France. It used to serve as a prison and is reputed to be haunted. The dungeons are open to the public so you can check this out for yourself. On the “must see” list is also the Grand Theatre with its magnificent neo-classical façade. Inside, the auditorium is decorated in blue and gold.
We mustn’t forget that Bordeaux regards itself as the world’s wine capital. If you’re staying in Bordeaux for a few days a visit to Cité du Vin is highly recommended. This is a high tech wine “museum” with a difference. It includes three state-of-the art tasting rooms, an incredible round shop selling 800 wines and a 250 seat auditorium for performances and concerts.
However much time you have to spend in Bordeaux, you’re sure to have had some very positive experiences and take home memories of a very beautiful city.