Explore Poitou-Charentes and the Atlantic coast
The city of Bordeaux cuts a fine figure, towering above the west bank of the River Garonne, a blend of neoclassical grandeur and modern innovation. The Romans set up a lively trading centre here, and the city still functions as the transport hub for Aquitaine. First-rate museums, excellent shopping, fine restaurants and lively nightlife make Bordeaux an absorbing place to spend a long weekend.
At the heart of the old town centre is place de la Bourse. Smart streets radiate out from here: the city’s main shopping streets, rue Ste-Catherine and the cours de l’Intendance to the south and west, and the sandy, tree-lined allées de Tourny to the northwest. The narrow streets around place du Parlement and place St-Pierre – lined with ancient townhouses doubling up as bistros, boutiques and vintage shops – make for a pleasant stroll.
Crossing the river just south of the fifteenth-century Porte Cailhau is the impressive Pont de Pierre – “Stone Bridge”. It was built on Napoleon’s orders during the Spanish campaigns, with seventeen arches in honour of his victories. The views of the river and quays from here are stunning, especially at dusk.
Bordeaux’s best museums are scattered in the streets around the cathedral. Directly behind the classical Hôtel de Ville is the Musée des Beaux-Arts. It has a small star-studded European art collection, featuring Titian and Rubens, and good temporary exhibitions.
To the northwest of the city centre is the beautiful formal park, the Jardin Public, containing the city’s botanical gardens. To the east of the Jardin Public, close to the river, is the Musée d’Art Contemporain on rue Ferrère, occupying a converted nineteenth-century warehouse. The vast, arcaded hall is magnificent in its own right, and provides an ideal setting for the post-1960 sculpture and installations by artists like Richard Long and Sol LeWitt. Following the curve of the river north from the Musée d’Art Contemporain, you reach the down-at-heel but historic Chartrons, once the wine district. It’s becoming increasingly cool, sprouting artists’ studios, vintage shops and restaurants monthly. Every Sunday the quayside plays host to a bustling farmers’ market.
It’s better to lodge in the centre than venture out to rue Charles-Domercq and cours de la Marne, rife with grimy one- and two-star hotels. Rooms aren’t hard to come by except during the week of the Vinexpo trade fair (in odd-numbered years) and Fête du Vin (in even-numbered years) in June, when Bordeaux is packed to the gunnels.
Eating and drinking
Eating and drinking
Bordeaux is packed with good restaurants to suit any budget, and because it’s close to the coast there’s excellent seafood. The streets around rue du Parlement St Pierre and rue St Remi are full of eateries, and upmarket options crowd around place de Parlement and towards Chartrons. For picnic supplies, head to the market on place des Grands-Hommes. At rue de Montesquieu (just off place des Grands-Hommes), Jean d’Alos runs the city’s best fromagerie. Bordeaux’s sweet speciality is the canelés – made from custard-like batter flavoured with rum and vanilla. The best place to buy them is Baillardran, on 55 cours de l’Intendance. The student population ensures a collection of young, lively bars, especially around place de la Victoire, and the city has a strong gay scene. Live music is ten a penny, and the weekend generally begins on Thursday.