Bordeaux

Bordeaux is always a good idea

Bordeaux is always a good idea. Audrey Hepburn would have certainly said so in that famous movie, had she visited the current version of what was once an elegant but austere French city in need of an overhaul. Paris got her remodel in the second half of the 19th century thanks to Napoleon III and his wingman, Baron Haussmann. Bordeaux, on the other hand, had to wait until the 21st century to get her much needed facelift. She has since established herself as one of the most dynamic, attractive cities in Europe. Ask Parisians and foreign investors, who are flocking there en masse, attracted by the weather, food and wine, historical sites, and southwestern joie de vivre. I was lucky to return recently and have already written a story about a favorite neighborhood of mine, les Chartrons.

Bordeaux
Place de la Bourse, Miroir d’Eau (the world’s largest reflecting pool)

Bordeaux is now a short (2-hour) TGV ride away from Paris. Let’s stray away from the crowded French capital and visit this elegant Southern Belle, shall we?

Grandiose and scenic Bordeaux

From the stately Place de la Bourse to the chic Triangle D’or (Golden Triangle,) its fancy boutiques, brasseries, caves à vinGrand Théâtre (Opera House,) the expansive Esplanade des Quinconces and its fountains reminiscent of Versailles gardens, Bordeaux lives up to her reputation as one of the most elegant French cities. Illustration:

Bordeaux
Place de la Bourse

Bordeaux
Shopping arcade: Galerie Bordelaise (1833,) rue Sainte Catherine
Bordeaux
Le Grand Théâtre, (Opera,) place de la Comédie
Bordeaux
Esplanade des Quinconces
Bordeaux
Monument aux Girondins
Bordeaux
Monument aux Girondins

La vie en terrasse

Bordeaux is a flâneur’s paradise, and wherever you walk in the old town, you end up on a square (place,) large or small. Each has a different feel and personality; yet all offer ample seating at cafés and restaurants sprawling on the sidewalks. La vie est belle, à Bordeaux, and it is clearly best enjoyed en terrasse.

Bordeaux
Place Camille Jullian
Bordeaux
rue Condillac
Bordeaux
Place Saint-Pierre
Bordeaux
Place du Parlement

Finding a homebase

When I travel to big cities, I try to stay in the historical center, la vieille ville (the old town.) There, old medieval streets are for pedestrians only, and daily flâneries turn into into a rare treat. For visits five days or longer, I rent an apartment (usually via vrbo.com) In Bordeaux, I lucked out. My one-bedroom rental (*) offered the charm and authenticity of an old building, with all the amenities of an upgraded unit. Best of all, I was within 5 or 10 minutes of major attractions and the Garonne riverbanks. As soon as I stepped outside, I was immediately immersed in history and surrounded by quaint streets offering shopping, cafés, and plenty of people-watching opportunities. Did I mention the efficient local transportation system, the Tram, stopped right outside my front door?

Bordeaux
Chez Moi
Bordeaux
An apartment with a view
Bordeaux
La Grosse Cloche, rue St James
Bordeaux
My favorite breakfast/lunch/apéritif place: la place du Palais

Enjoying the bounties of Bordeaux

In Bordeaux, culture and history are everywhere. Plan at least three days to visit the main sites, from museums to historical buildings, public gardens, or just to stroll in the city’s many distinct neighborhoods. Of course, visitors also flock here for the wine and the food. Bordeaux’s wines are renowned around the world. Restaurants and troquets (bistros, bars) offer local specialties or international fare, oysters from le Bassin d’Arcachon, or dishes (meat or fish,) served with sauce à la bordelaise (sauce made with wine.) As for desserts, two sweet stars reign supreme: le cannelé and le macaron, originating in nearby Saint-Emilion. To save time and money, I was quite happy enjoying picnic lunches in my kitchen after picking up fresh produce at a market.

“Toto, this isn’t Baskin-Robbins anymore!”
Bordeaux
50 flavors of ice cream
Bordeaux
Macarons
Bordeaux
Pique-nique chez moi
Bordeaux
Favorite apéritif (Lillet,) at my favorite café (chez Fred,) at my favorite spot (place du Palais.)

Wrapping up…

It’s time to head to the train station to catch that TGV back to Paris, you say? Are you sure? What’s the rush? We have not even strolled by the Garonne river yet, or explored Bordeaux‘s up-and-coming section of the Right Bank. You have not met the new friend I made in this fantastic city, either. Stick around a bit longer: I guarantee you will not miss the French capital! Until next time,

A bientôt.

All photos by French Girl in Seattle.

Please do not use text or images without permission. 

Additional information:

(*) Bordeaux Rental Apartment on vrbo.com.
The link is here. Tell the charming owner, Géraldine, I sent you.

Bordeaux, a city of neighborhoods. Find out more here.

Dear readers:

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What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

30 Comments

  • After my first visit in the 1980s, I might quibble about its “much needed facelift”–perhaps I was young and impressionable but I found it to be pretty fine that half-a-lifetime ago–however I won’t quibble that the facelift is excellent. I can’t quite remember from my earlier visit how much of the old town was infested with traffic (“lots” I suspect) but today’s large pedestrian zone, the rejuvenated riverside (including the to-die-for Chartrons old wine warehouse district) and the sleek new trams, are a model of how to improve a city. (The only cars in your photos are in front of the reflecting pool.)

    It has more heritage buildings than any French city other than Paris. And Wiki tells us:
    ” Victor Hugo found the town so beautiful he once said: “Take Versailles, add Antwerp, and you have Bordeaux”. Baron Haussmann, a long-time prefect of Bordeaux, used Bordeaux’s 18th-century large-scale rebuilding as a model when he was asked by Emperor Napoleon III to transform a then still quasi-medieval Paris into a “modern” capital that would make France proud.”

    For urbanists of the trainspotter variety: My last visit was in 2007 and the city was the in the final stages of installing new parts of the tramway–with some of the roads on the edge of the UNESCO area being work-sites. It is worth mentioning because Bordeaux was the first site for the new wire-free tramway system, designed so as to avoid ugly overhead wires desecrating this zone that was planned to achieve UNESCO listing (and succeeding in 2007 IIRC). The system is “Alimentation par le Sol (APS)”, ie. electric power is from a clever system concealed in the ground, (ie. essentially a third-rail but only live while the tram is above it). It has now spread to many other French cities (eg. the “new” system in Nice, Angers, Reims etc) and around the world (Sydney, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing, Dubai etc.)

    One wouldn’t necessarily believe a modern tram would be compatible with ancient heritage areas but it is so sleek and silent, gliding thru the ancient Places seemingly on its own magic carpet, it works brilliantly, and seems to compliment the beauty of the old buildings. Also it means you can get off the sleek new TGV l’Ocean (2h from Paris) at Gare St Jean and board a sleek new tram and ride into the heart of the old town. The French really know how to do some things sans pareil!

    • Merci Dear “Aussie-on-IleStLouis” for yet another informative comment. I learned quite a bit about Bordeaux’ state of the art Tram system thanks to you and can only agree: It blends in perfectly with the old, stately buildings and beautiful streets and avenues. As such, it allows the Present and the Past to meet seamlessly. Interesting info as well about Haussmann’s finding his inspiration in Bordeaux before he remodeled Paris! Thank you for following, FGIS, as always. I took good note of your remarks about the new website’s future tagline in my other post this week. A bientôt.

  • Another well done essay and excellent pictures! We stayed in Bordeaux just for one night (on our way to Arcachon) last September – lots of great walking around the old streets and market (which included sampling a few different flavors of cannales). Merci!

  • Bonjour FGIS, another great post. Last fall I visited Lyon, but was torn between Lyon and Bordeaux. I loved Lyon, but now really feel I have to make it to Bordeaux this year. Thanks for sharing your adventures and great photos!

  • I wish I could take French classes from you but I live in Port Townsend.
    It seems like you are now working downtown. Are you teaching there. It would be a BIT closer…

    • Bonjour Sheila. My teaching days are behind me, for now at least. I run an ESL (English as a Second Language) school downtown, and another one in Seattle’s suburbs, actually. Had a bit of a career change three years ago… I don’t suppose you need English classes? {Insert smile}

  • Bonjour Madame Veronique,

    Happy Valentines Day!
    i just wanted to tell you that towards the end of the year, I made it back to France again. I wanted to spend the holidays there with my only sister. It was like a dream!

    From Paris, we took the TGV to Saint-Raphaël, and once there in a taxi to Les Issambres, where my sister has a summer home. Next day, when she asked me where I wanted to go sightseeing I said: Nice, of course! And once there I could totally understand your rhapsodizing about the place. It was a very cold but very beautiful day! And the strong light of the sun gave the city the most dazzling aspect possible…

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post!

    Maria

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