I first visited Bordeaux last summer to watch Wales playing football at the Euro 2016 tournament. You can read my blogs from that trip here and here. It’s fair to say that Dan and I had a fantastic time in this south west corner of France; but to be honest, I didn’t really get much of a chance to look around the city itself. When C. and I were thinking about places to go to help celebrate a significant birthday for C. therefore, a return to Bordeaux in September 2017 seemed an ideal choice (and not only because the flights from Bristol were astonishingly cheap!).
Having stayed in what was effectively a glorified youth hostel for the football trip, our first task was to find a hotel that was more typically French and accessible to the city centre. This is where we really fell on our feet. The Hotel Au Coeur de Bordeaux is so quintessentially French that its only a bike, beret and onions away from being a pastiche. From the moment you enter the downstairs reception/dining space, to the point where you ascend the spiral stone stairs to a room dominated by ceiling to floor French doors and a Juliet balcony, there is no doubt about the country that you are staying in.
The staff at the Hotel were excellent hosts, happy to help out with restaurant recommendations and hints and tips on places to visit and things to look out for. The breakfast that was included in the room rate was excellent – a choice of cereals, yoghurt and fresh fruit, cold meats and cheese, and (of course) croissant, pain au chocolat and baguette – all washed down with coffee or hot chocolate.
Bordeaux itself is at the heart of the great claret vineyards. Incidentally, ‘claret’ derives from a period in the 17th Century when wines exported from the region were much lighter (clearer) than those from other regions. Marking this heritage, La Cite du Vin is a modern, fully interactive and (frankly) enormous celebration of all things wine and wine-related, drawing inspiration from all four corners of the globe, and across the past 3,000 years of history. The building itself is unashamedly modern in appearance, and whilst the entrance area and ticket hall are perhaps a little austere, don’t let that put you off. This is a place that is well worth a visit, and devoting some proper time to. Included in the admission price is a complimentary glass of wine from a wide selection, served in the top floor viewing gallery of the building. Sommeliers will guide you through the choices on offer, helping you to select the perfect choice for you, before you wander around the building taking in the panoramic views of the city.
Bordeaux owes its city status to its strategically important location on the river Garonne, with excellent access to the sea. Historically, ties between the region and England and Scotland in particular have been strong, and even at times of ‘official’ war between France and England, claret was still available via the merchants in London and English provincial cities. This trade generated significant wealth for Aquitaine families, which was invested in impressive buildings around the city.
One of the paradoxes of Bordeaux as a city (similar to both Cardiff and Bristol in many ways) is that it is small enough to easily walk around, but big enough to offer all manner of museums, galleries, shops, bars, theatres and places of interest. The problem with walking everywhere, though, is that you inevitably end up finding delightful places to stop for coffee or (after 11.30am of course) a glass of wine! Thus it was, that on several occasions we set off with the clear intent of visiting such and such a church or museum, and then ended up whiling away a very pleasant hour in a pavement café watching the world go by.
One place we did make it to, however, was the roof-top spa at the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux. This was undoubtedly the most luxurious and relaxing part of the whole trip. There is nothing quite so satisfying as sitting in a hot tub on the roof of a 5* hotel overlooking the main square of a busy city on a working day. Especially as the sun was shining and the sky was a near cloudless, azure blue. It was very nearly heaven.
I could write many more words about the excellent food and wines that we enjoyed from an ecelectic mix of traditional and modern restaurants around the city; the wonderful range of shops (from outlets of Paris boutiques to local independents), and the beautiful gardens and squares that bring space, colour and nature right into the heart of the city. However, what I will say is simply this : if you get the chance to visit this wonderful place, don’t think twice. You won’t regret it.