Fête le Fleuve on the Garonne River.
If you’re a fan of all things boating, then Bordeaux is the place to be from the 22nd of May, for running until the end of the month is the biennial Bordeaux River Festival. And what’s extra special about this year’s event is that it is launching one of the sailing community’s most prestigious races, La Solitaire du Figaro, a single-handed sailing competition departing Bordeaux on June 1st where it heads out into the Atlantic north to Dieppe in Normandy on the Channel Coast, via Roscoff.
Usually a two-day event, this year sees the Bordeaux River Festival stretch over the course of ten days as it gives visitors the opportunity to meet the 45 skippers who will anchor their ‘solitaire’ (single-manned) boats at the main landing stage, with a ‘River Village’ set up along the quays between the reflecting pool and Pont de Pierre. This is the first time ever that the race has come to Bordeaux and only the second time in its history that it will depart from the heart of a city so it’s bound to see both the Bordelais and tourists alike flock to the city to catch sight of this spectacular sight.
All 45 boats will be presented during a river parade on the Garonne in Bordeaux on May 25th before their departure on the 1st. And as well as being able to meet the yachtsmen and admire the sailing vessels, there will also be a nautical exhibition promoting the nautical expertise of the Gironde in producing pleasure craft, a photography exhibition, talks, wine tastings, artisan crafts, sailing paraphernalia for sale and other special events including the Sailor’s Ball, live concerts, dancing and fireworks.
Beyond the river festival, Bordeaux is famed for its wine and its position as gateway to the vineyards and whilst the picturesque wine regions of Saint-Émilion, Margaux, Pauillac and the Medoc offer excellent excursion and tasting potential, the city itself, voted European Best Destination in 2015, makes for a perfect short break opportunity and definitely worth taking the time to explore.
Indeed, a City of Art and History and the world’s largest urban World Heritage Site as designated by UNESCO, Bordeaux boasts more than 350 structures listed as Historic Monuments and classified buildings. Take the Cathédrale St-André, for example, once a stop-off point on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and the venue for the marriage of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1137. Climb to the top of the 231 steps of the bell tower and you’ll be rewarded with fabulous views all over the city.
And along with the cathedral, representing the heart of Vieux Bordeaux on Bordeaux’s riverfront is one of the city’s most photographed sites, the Esplanade des Quinconces, reputedly Europe’s largest square where you’ll find the Monument aux Girondins. Be sure too, to take in the Golden Triangle, the Palais de la Bourse and the Palais Rohan, today home both to the City Hall and Musée des Beaux Arts.
Yet thanks to two decades of regeneration and a lively student population, Bordeaux is now a glamorous, cosmopolitan and modern city, equally as celebrated for its architecture, culture and gastronomy as well as its wine. Described no less as “the very essence of elegance” by none other than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, there’s no better endorsement!