Bordeaux: Wine Capital of the World
Bordeaux is a wine lovers dream. The wine capital of the world, life here is sleepy, historic and full of wine and some of the best food in all of France. The city centre is now a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to it’s very intact 18th-century architecture. But hiring a car and getting out into the vineyards is where the region comes to life with rolling-hills filled with rows of vines and grand châteaux’s dotted all over just waiting to be explored.
A city centre with unmatched 18th-century grandeur, classified in 2007 as a World Heritage Site and gaining the 2015 title of Europe’s Best Destination, just 2 hours from Paris on the new high-speed train, there’s never been a better time to visit Bordeaux. Home to one of the finest city riverscapes in all of Europe, a recent city renovation has transformed many of the worn-down areas back to the fine levels of Bordeaux’s past, making it France’s greatest city.
Bordeaux’s monumental heart forms the Triangle d’Or, a harmony of honey-coloured stone and classic architecture mixed with top-end shops and the busy hum of city-life. The focal point is taken by the Plaçe de la Comédie, home to the Grand Theatre with its impressive neo-classical façade.
The finest part of the riverfront is the Plaçe de la Bourse which is covered in on 3 sides by the Palais de la Bourse and has the grandeur of some of the finest of French palaces. In front, the Miroir d’Eau, a huge expanse of shallow water, reflects the palace behind giving it a whole new dimension with a mesmerising effect both during the day and night.
The St Pierre District is Bordeaux’s liveliest area, filled with treasures of Bordeaux’s medieval past. Fine old churches are surrounded by a maze of narrow streets leading to small squares. The ancient warren of narrow streets has more bars and restaurants than it would ever be possible to visit, making it a very popular nighttime spot. While the pedestrian Rue St Catherine running through the heart of the town is filled with enough shops to wear out the legs of even the most dedicated of shoppers.
With a strong wine connection dating back to Roman times, Saint-Émilion is my favourite of all the wine towns, full of quaint cobbled streets perched high up above the rows of vineyards that are also Unesco-listed. The main attraction here is just wandering around the town and taking in its beauty. if you are looking for something to do, the view from the top of the tower of the Monolithic Church is very impressive. And if you’re more for the wandering, make sure that you look out for the shops of macarons that come in every colour and flavour imaginable and taste delicious.
The town retains its focus on wines. Maison Galhaud, located in the heart of the city is a manor that allows you to visit their monolithic cellar and explore the barrels of wine ageing peacefully. There is also a small pretty chapel, and after all of that wandering, you get to taste some of their delicious wines.
Some vineyards require pre-booking while most are ready and waiting for passing visitors to come in and taste the fruits of their labour. The Médoc area is packed with great vineyards producing some of the best wines in Bordeaux, notably Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour and Château Margaux which can all be visited by booking ahead. Château Smith Haut Lafitte is also home to the 5-star luxury hotel & spa Les Sources de Caudalie where treatments involve wine grapes. Driving around the area, you will stumble over stunning Château after stunning Château as we did with Château Pichon-Longueville which was perfectly set up with a parade of vintage cars lining up outside.
Well known for its oysters, Arcachon makes a great day trip being just 45mins from Bordeaux. A cute little seaside town filled with oyster restaurants and hotels along its waterfront, it was designed to cater for the Victorian holidaymakers visiting from Bordeaux and you can still feel this today in its lavish façades. Take a boat to get out and explore the Basin d'Arcachon and see the oyster-beds, a huge family-run business with beds being passed down through the generations long continuing the traditions of the area.
Dune du Pilat
The highest sand dune in Europe is an impressive sight, stretching 2.7km southwards and extending by 1.5m each year. It offers a fantastic view from the top at 115m above sea level where you can see right across the Bassin d'Arcachon to Cap Ferret. And you get a great workout climbing up and down for free!