One of France’s most popular cities among tourists, Bordeaux is home to more than 350 buildings registered as historical monuments, as well as to the Port de la Lune, which has been part of Unesco world heritage list since 2007.
Bordeaux was elected best European destination in 2015. This bustling, dynamic city on the South West coast of France was chosen over other famous European destinations such as Athens or Brussels – and with reason!
The epitome of French lifestyle and refinement, Bordeaux is the place to go to if you’re after culture or fine gourmet food, if you wish to explore the many vineyards and châteaux of the area, or if you simply wish to soak in the dynamic yet elegant atmosphere.
Today’s visitors to the city, with its newly acquired World Heritage Site status, can take advantage of a modern tram system and pedestrianised centre to enjoy many finely renovated historic monuments.
A trading centre – particularly for wine shipping – since Roman times, Bordeaux’s golden age is represented in the eighteenth century heart of its Quartier St Pierre with elegant arcades and facades and mansions of wealthy merchants – many of which now house antique shops.
Visit the city’s excellent museums, shop in boutiques on rue Sainte Catherine and find quality produce at the Sunday market. Night life is vibrant and good restaurants abound. Indulge in succulent seafood from riverside stalls in summer.
The Maison du Vin can help with information on the region’s wine including tours and festivals. Of Bordeaux’s 3 main churches, be sure to visit the huge St Michael Basilica close to the waterfront – its 114m free-standing Gothic belfry is the highest tower in South West France. Views from the terrace half way up are fantastic. For something extra special take a night time tour of the city’s most beautiful monuments under floodlight.
Situated on the right bank of the Gironde Estuary, Blaye was an important stronghold in Gallo-Roman times and played a significant role in wars against the English. Visit the citadel built by Vauban in the seventeenth century, and relax in this pretty, hilly, beauty spot with commanding views over the Estuary.
Maison du Vin des Premiers Cotes de Blaye is the place to learn about the local wines – less expensive than those from the newer and more famous vineyards of the Medoc across the water. March is the time Blaye’s first asparagus, “Reine Blanche du Blayais”, appears in local markets. Weekly markets at Blaye at the harbour are on Wednesday and Saturday.
Regarded by many as the prettiest town of Gironde’s principle wine districts, the Romans were planting vines around St-Emilion in 2AD. This small, fortified, medieval town, classified as a World Heritage Site, has picturesque limestone houses, imposing ruins and a wealth of religious architecture lining its steep, narrow streets.
Most impressive is the eleventh century Monolithic Church carved into a limestone cliff. Each June, the local red-robed wine council meets in the church to ceremoniously evaluate the previous season’s wine and decides on AOC status. Tombstones in the catacombs beneath the belfry include that of eighth century hermit monk St-Emilion whose followers first began commercial wine production here. Church visits daily by guided tour only.
Ask at the Maison du Vin for organised vineyard tours (May to Sept) and lists of vineyards open to the public. St-Emilion’s many wine shops will no doubt prove tempting but do leave time to seek out the town’s other speciality – tiny macaroon biscuits made to a seventeenth century recipe.
One of the Gironde’s oldest seaside towns set on the 100km coastline of the bay of the same name, Arcachon is only 40 minutes by train from Bordeaux and a firm favourite with French families
The Ville d’Ete, or “Summer Town”, has wonderful beaches for swimming, sunbathing and watersports, pretty seafront promenade, playgrounds, boutique shopping and plenty of seafood restaurants – huge fresh oysters a speciality.
Take a boat to Cap Ferret or the fabulous sandbank nature reserve of Banc d’Aguin off the coast. Arcachon’s exclusive Ville d’Hiver or “Winter Town” just south of the “Summer Town” offers a totally different vista. Set on a wooded hillside, the “Second Empire” holiday villas built at the end of the nineteenth century with the coming of the railway, provide a feast for the eye with their wealth of elaborate brickwork, flamboyant balconies and stained glass.
With something for everyone – including 2 great golf courses nearby – this resort, yacht haven and fishing port, attracts crowds in high season but becomes sleepy and relaxed as winter approaches.