There is no other city in France that exudes so much luxury and elegance as Bordeaux. Walk along the river Garonne in the evening and the city looks as if it is shimmering in gold. As a matter of fact, it is. Along the water you have an incredible row of beautiful buildings, many of them gilded, at least in parts.
The city has seen a fantastic transformation over the last 20 years. It is a totally different place than when I visited it for the first time almost 25 years ago. What used to be grimy building façades, dirty alleyways, unpaved parking places, and run-down squares has been transformed into something totally different: A waterfront on the UNESCO World Heritage list, a magnificently preserved 17th century city centre, a park along the river with cafés and open air art.
Today Bordeaux is both affluent, lively and charming.
But let me take you on a walk through the city and I will make you discover some of the less well-known parts too.
We have to meet in front of the Theatre, or Opera as it is also called. It is easy to find. The best place to meet. Here they call it Le Grand Théâtre, with good reason, since grand it is.
Built in the 1770s the front is adorned with ”Greek” columns. The interior is even more impressive. Perhaps it is even just in front of your hotel, if you are lucky (and rich). The Grand Hotel de Bordeaux was for many years a dark and closed building until a few years ago it was reopened as the one thing that Bordeaux missed: a grand-style luxury hotel.
Let’s take a quick walk up the Cours de l’Intendance where you find the big-name fashion houses’ shops. We will quickly veer to the left and make a stop at one of the most amazing book shops in France, Mollat. They have more than 150,000 titles on their shelves. They have a whole room filled with wine and food books, in case you need some distraction. It is also a good place to find that map that you forgot to bring.
But now, late afternoon, I think it is time for something more serious: a glass of wine. Strangely it used to be that there were no wine bars in Bordeaux but today there are plenty. Most of them are in the old part of the city, just down towards the river from Mollat. The focal point here is the Place du Parlement where there are plenty of restaurant and café terrasses.
We will walk quickly past the Place du Parlement after having admired the beautiful square. (I am a bit allergic to places where there is only tourist. Yes, I know, I am a tourist too, but so what?) Instead let’s find something further on.
Perhaps the Bu Bar à Vin that has these fancy new press-a-button wine dispensers (great fun if you want to taste many different wines). Or we could go down towards the Basilica of Saint Michael. We are getting close to the university district of Bordeaux here and you can really feel the change in atmosphere. (And there are also not so many gilded façades.)
But let’s change the plan. Skip the wine (or save it for later). I must show you another of Bordeaux’ well kept secrets, its very own aperitif: Lillet. It is based on wine and they have added some spices and herbs. Slightly sweet (the “new” red version is even sweeter) but only enough to make you start thinking of food. Even James Bond drank it! It is what he orders in his Vesper Martini when gambling in Casino Royale. A must-try when in Bordeaux: Lillet Blanc!
Time to think of dinner? Then I know where I want to take you…
There is plenty of choice in Bordeaux. Everything from the very, very simple (university city oblige) to the super-luxurious gourmet restaurant. But that is not where we are heading tonight.
We will hop on the tram, shining new since a few years back, after three years of road work. (The Bordelais will tell you three years of traffic inferno.) It takes us up to the Chartrons district in the northern part of the centre. This is where all the wine warehouses used to be, before they were converted to restaurants and apartments.
It is a very residential part of the city, totally different from the very, very busy Old Town. It is also a good place to go looking for a nice little restaurant where the locals might go. If it is a hot night the Place du Marché Chartrons is a good place to find outside seating. But that is not where we are going tonight.
Don’t worry, I know where we’re going even though you may think that I am leading you into the darkest and most lugubrious back-alleys. Don’t worry. We are heading to one of the most curious restaurants in Bordeaux, La Cave de Bigoudy. It is rustic, not to say simple. In the middle there is a huge fireplace. Sit close if you are cold but not too close! It gets really hot. (I know…)
The menu is simple: choose your meat and choose your accompaniment. Choose how the meat should be done (saignant surely!). Voilà! What makes it special is that everything is barbecued on vine cuttings, sarments, real vine cuttings, nothing fake, like they do in the vineyards. In front of your eyes. Spectacular. You can also try some rather original things, like grilled pork fat. Hmm, interesting.
And for the wine: they also run a small wine shop so it is simple. Take your pick from the shelf and bring the bottle to the table. Makes for very affordable wines.
I told you it was not luxurious. But fun. And delicious.
Time for bed!
Read more about visiting the city and the wine region of Bordeaux here.
Bordeaux is one of the wine world’s most magnificent cities. A perfect occasion to explore it is when you come on a wine and gourmet tour to Bordeaux with BKWine!
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