So, where to start with Bordeaux. Lets start with the traffic shall we? We started the day in Jarnac, just outside Cognac, where we completed the Courvoisier distillery tour, so the journey was around an hour and 40 minutes to Bordeaux from there. Another picturesque drive, sunflower fields and vineyards and loveliness, until however you get to about 15 minutes out of the city centre of Bordeaux. It’s a hellish melange of impossible junctions, seas of lanes converging into wherever they’ll fit, and very very stressful indeed. Thank goodness Hubs was driving, I’d still be there now, weeping on a random grass verge. This wasn’t helped by my choice of hotel being not quite in the thick of things, but right at the side of a long section of dual carriageway, and with on site parking tucked underneath, was pretty difficult to locate the correct entrance. We turned too early and if it wasn’t for a very kind Sushi delivery bike courier moving out of the way for us, there would have been nowhere at all for us to turn around. Once arrived though, and crammed into the tiny, but pristine hotel car-park of the Radisson Blu, it was clear this was by far, the best hotel of the entire trip. (Well done me!)
Lovely large spacious lobby, and we had a huge room, with a great view of the river, bathrobes, slippers, Nespresso machine, lovely bathroom. Yes please! No time to enjoy it just yet though, lots to see!
On recommendation, we headed for the Office de Tourisme, and purchased a 48 hour city pass. This came with a number of benefits including, one guided tour, a whole host of free museum admissions, and water taxi and tram transportation all included, plus many other discounted admissions. We knew that our time here was short and we wanted to see as much as possible so, we opted immediately for the red bus city tour as a mean to get our bearings, plus it was after the heatwave but temps still in the early thirties, seemed like a cooler way to get around.
The next tour began in 15 minutes from right outside the door, so after stocking up on water, we climbed aboard our bus, selected English for our audio guide, and listed to La Vie En Rose on a loop for 10 minutes until we got on our way.
Our first photo op, was the Esplanade Des Quinconces, et le Monument Aux Girodins. The 12 hectare square is the largest in Europe, and the monument is emblematic of Bordeaux’s role in the French Revolution, and is dedicated to the Girondins, a prominent political faction of the time.
Next the Place de la Bourse and it’s famous Miroir D’eau fountains, that are either like a mirror pool of glass, or can produce a 2 mtr high fine mist. It’s a place for young and old to come and cool off in the heat of summer. You can get a spectacular photo here when the fountains are quiet, as it reflects the building in mirror image in the shallow pool, but sadly had no time to come back.
There’s a huge amount of stunning architecture, history and places of interest here, it was apparent very early on , that 48 hours was barely going to scratch the surface.
The Grosse Cloche (Big Bell) is a particularly majestic sight. Medieval in origin, it has changed alongside it’s city over the centuries, but remains a symbol of Bordelaise pride. I fact it was so beloved that is was used as a form of punishment in times of revolt, Henry II, would either take it down or break it, as a lesson to the people that their behaviour would not be tolerated.
Inscribed on it’s bronze corolla you can read (translated from the French), “I call to arms, I announce the days, I indicate the hours, I chase away the clouds, I celebrate the festivities, I mourn the dead.”
The Cite Du Vin, is a state of the art multimedia Museum, taking you through the history of wine making in a number of innovative ways. The building itself is a testimony to modern design, although I firmly prefer my architecture UNESCO certified, it is still, quite a thing. I’ll talk about this in more detail in my next post.
We did manage to get a good feel for the city in a relatively short space of time, so a guided tour is definitely worth doing.
Once we were back on foot again, we had a little wander around the centre, past the imposing Grand Theatre, where there was various live entertainment throughout our time there, including parcour on the roof at one point.
There was a troupe of male singers and flag bearers in one of the main squares, and the sounds of music all over the city. Everywhere had a nice buzz to it, a lovely, vibrant, European city.
We were pretty hungry, and many restaurants didn’t open until 7.30pm, so we had to rough it by eating macarons from this wonderful chocolaterie to tide us over. I mean, poor us…..
The highlight of our first day though, was definitely the meal we had in the evening, at a small, unassuming restaurant called Le Troquet that my husband had found. Despite confusion with the menu translation that led to me ordering Gravelax thinking it was fish, and a beautiful beef dish arriving, which I couldn’t then eat, they took it away, replaced it super fast with the risotto of dreams, and wouldn’t allow us to pay for it. The best risotto of my absolute life, and worth walking around Bordeaux with squid ink teeth, resembling a member of the ensemble cast of Les Miserables.
If you enjoyed this, part 2 of Bordeaux will follow, but please check out La Rochelle and Cognac, plus Sarlat-Le-Canada coming soon.