1 May 2010

48 hours in Bordeaux

{Relaxing: cafés in the Place du Parlement}

Many of our guests visit Bordeaux during the course of their stay at Maison No. 20 or Maison de Poitiers so I thought that this article is a handy one to print and take with you..


Exceptional wine, dramatic architecture and cultural treasures await you in this sublime riverside city

By Harriet O’Brien

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Why go now?

At any time of year, there is a magical quality to this city of elegant limestone buildings, wrought-iron balconies and wonderful mascarons – carved stone faces above windows and doors. But, bathed in spring sunshine, the capital of Aquitaine is currently looking its very best. Come now to take in an evocative production of West Side Story at the opulent Opera House (1) (00 33 5 56 00 85 95; opera-bordeaux.com) on place de la Comédie, which runs during April. And enjoy Bordeaux’s ongoing spirit of enterprise. Over the past decade, the city has been wonderfully revived – so much so that it won Unesco world heritage status in 2007.

The renewal projects continue, particularly in the St-Michel district just south of the centre, while new projects are also being undertaken. In November, work started on a hi-tech bridge that will span the Garonne river 2km north of the centre and a major wine museum is in the pipeline.

Touch down

Bordeaux’s Mérignac Airport is 10km west of the city centre. City bus 1 (00 33 5 57 57 88 88; infotbc.com) runs from outside Terminal B to place des Quinconces (2) in the centre, linking with the city’s tram system. The journey takes about 45 minutes, with departures every 45 minutes from the airport between 7.45am and 10.45pm. As with all the city’s trams and buses, a ticket, valid for an hour, costs €1.40.

The city’s St-Jean railway station (3) is about 1km south of the centre and is served by tram C. This is also the destination for the Jet’ Bus service from the airport, which also runs every 45 minutes but has a one-way fare of €7.

Get your bearings

The Romans first established Bordeaux, developing a settlement on the left bank of the river Garonne, which curves here in the shape of a crescent moon. This sweep of water later gave the city’s harbour its name, Port de la Lune.

In the 18th century, Bordeaux was radically redeveloped – and it became an architectural gem. But by the late 20th century its glorious streets and buildings had become grimy and downtrodden. These have since been revived, along with the old quayside. The city centre is set in the Roman and medieval heart of Bordeaux, between place des Quinconces (2) and the remnants of the ancient walls at the Grosse Cloche bell tower (4). To the south is the up-and-coming St-Michel district, an appealingly bohemian area with a lively student vibe. To the north is the newly restored, newly cool Chartrons area, traditionally the haunt of merchants and wine traders.

The largely car-free city centre is very walkable and also served by three ultra-modern tram lines whose wires are buried underground. The main tourist office (5) is at 12 cours du XXX Juillet (00 33 5 56 00 66 00; bordeaux-tourisme.com) and is open 9am-6.30pm Monday to Saturday and 9.45am-4.30pm Sunday. A second is at St-Jean railway station (2) (9.30am-12pm and 2-5.30pm Monday to Friday; Saturday and Sunday in summer); and a third tourist office (6) is at 28 rue des Argentiers (10am-1pm and 2-6pm daily, but not Sunday mornings).

Check in

The iconic Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux (7) opposite the Opera House (1) at Place de la Comédie (00 33 5 57 30 44 44; theregentbordeaux.com) has recently been given a sparkling refit, reaffirming its status as the smartest place to stay in town. Doubles from €290 without breakfast. In the Chartrons district, L’Avant Scène (8) at 36 rue de Borie (00 33 5 57 29 25 39; lavantscene.fr) is a boutique chambre d’hôtes offering nine individually treated rooms in a former merchant’s house. Doubles from €95 without breakfast. The two-star Hotel Continental (9), is centrally located at 10 rue Montesquieu (00 33 5 56 52 66 00; hotel-le-continental.com), has 47 comfortable rooms from €89 for a double with breakfast included.


Take a view

Get a magnificent view of Bordeaux by climbing the 231 steps to the top of the cathedral’s belltower, Tour Pey-Berland (10) (00 33 5 56 81 26 25; monuments-nationaux.fr; open 10am-12.30pm and 2-5.30pm daily, except Monday; €5). It was built in the mid 15th century separated from the Cathedral of St-Andre (11) so the vibrations of the bells would not disturb the ecclesiastical building. Afterwards, visit the cathedral opposite (10am-noon and 2-6pm daily, except Mondays when it opens 2-7pm; free), which effectively comprises two glorious Gothic buildings in one, with the nave built in the 12th and 13th centuries and the choir and transepts constructed in the 14th century.

Take a hike

Opposite the west end of the cathedral is the gracious Palais Rohan (12), built in 1774 for the bishop of Bordeaux and now the city hall. Guided tours are conducted every Wednesday at 2.30pm; €3. Head south between the city hall and the cathedral (11) and turn right into rue des Frères-Bonie and Bordeaux’s judicial district. The complex at number 30 is Richard Rogers’ striking Law Courts (13), a creation of glass and thatch with the courts themselves housed in huge cones modelled on wine vats. Turn right into cours d’Albert. On the left, at number 20, is the wonderful Musée des Beaux Arts (14) (00 33 5 56 10 20 56; bordeaux.fr; daily except Tuesday 11am-6pm; free to the permanent collection, which includes works by Titian and Rubens). Turn right again into rue Montbazon, whose name changes to rue des Trois-Conils. Carry straight on into the heart of old Bordeaux. At place St-Projet (15) turn right down rue Sainte-Catherine, a Roman road from the third century. Cross cours d’Alsace et Lorraine and turn left along rue des Ayres, passing the Baroque St-Paul des Dominicains (16) (10am-noon and 2.30-7pm except during church services; free). Continue to place Fernand Lafargue (17). Turn sharp right into rue St-James, marked with scallop shells that show it is part of the pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela. At the end of this cobbled street stands the 13th century Grosse Cloche (4) belltower and gate. Just before the gateway, turn left into an area of 18th-century houses, winding along rue Teulere and then turning left into rue Neuve. Turn right down cours d’Alsace et Lorraine to reach the waterfront. Then stroll left, passing the 15th-century gate of Porte Cailhau (18) before reaching Bordeaux’s grandest sight: place de la Bourse (19), built by architect Jacques Gabriel in the 1730s.

Lunch on the run

Once the seat of Bordeaux’s medieval government, place du Parlement (20), behind place de la Bourse (19), was turned into an elegant market square in 1754. Today it is fringed with cafés. Karl at number 6 (00 33 5 56 81 01 00; karlbordeaux.fr) is a stylishly laid-back outfit serving salads from €8.50.

Cultural afternoon

To explore Bordeaux’s newest museum, head to the Chartrons district. Set in an 18th-century merchant’s house, Musée du Vin et du Négoce (21) at 41 rue Borie (00 33 5 56 90 19 13; karlbordeaux.fr) tells the story of the city’s wine and its traders. The ground floor and basement traditionally served as a warehouse and it is here that you take in the displays about how wine was aged and mixed, how bottles were developed and more, while the floors above are still neatly occupied by a vintner. Open 10am-6pm daily, Thursday to 10pm. The €7 entrance charge includes a choice of two wines for you to sample.

An apéritif

Make that a taste of the finest of Bordeaux wine. Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery (22) at 14 cours de l’Intendance (00 33 5 57 29 23 81; maxbordeaux.com; 11am-8pm daily except Sunday) opened last October with the aim of both promoting the vineyards of the area and changing the elitist image that they have acquired. This is a sleek and serious tasting centre where, as yet uniquely, you can sample grands crus by the glass. Invest in a tasting card (from €25 and valid for a year), then select the wines you would like to taste, with prices starting at €2 for a 25ml measure.

Dining with the locals

Since it opened last spring, pretty Brasserie Bordelaise (23) at 50 rue St Remi (00 33 5 57 87 11 91; basseriebordelaise.fr; closed Sunday) has become a firm favourite in the city centre. Mains include magret de canard at €17 and grenier médocain, a local type of pork charcuterie, at €14, with an extensive choice of wine.


Sunday morning:go to church

The huge church of St-Michel (24) is a fine example of Flamboyant Gothic architecture – albeit with striking, modern stained-glass windows replacing historic glass destroyed in 1940. The windows were replaced in the Sixties by poignant and jewel-like works by Jean-Henri Couturat and Pierre Gaudin. Sunday mass is at 11.30am. To fully explore the church, return in the afternoon – it opens 2-6pm daily, admission free.

Window shopping

Every Sunday from about 7.30am until roughly 2pm, an antiques and flea market spreads around the church of St-Michel (24) and its tall bell tower.

Out to brunch

Adjacent to St-Michel church (24), Passage St-Michel (25) at 14 place Canteloup is an Aladdin’s cave of antique and bric-a-brac stores housed in a 19th-century banana warehouse (open daily, noon-6pm or later). On its ground floor is Le Passage St-Michel Brasserie (00 33 5 56 91 20 30), furnished a la Belle Epoque. It opens noon-2.30pm and 7.30-11pm, and serves baked salmon medallions at €12.80.

Take a ride

North of place Bir Hakeim (26), catch an A tram heading east in the direction of Floirac Dravemont. This will take you over the Garonne on the elegant Pont de Pierre (27), offering a great panorama of the city. The Garonne’s width and strong currents defied bridge building until this stone crossing with 17 arches was finished in 1822.

A walk in the park

Leave the tram at the stop called Jardin Botanique (28), the second stop beyond the bridge, in La Bastide, a developing district of Bordeaux. The eponymous Botanic Garden (29) (00 33 5 56 52 18 77; bordeaux.fr) is just to the north-west. Completed in 2003, it is a long, thin strip of land echoing the shape of the apartment blocks around it. Careful planting shows 11 different eco-systems in Aquitaine, along with a aquatic and vertical gardens. An impressive greenhouse contains aloes, palms, carnivorous plants and more, with binocular stands offering close-up inspection of the vegetation. Open 8am-6pm daily (until 8pm in summer), admission free. The city has an older botanic garden (30) on the left bank of the Garonne south-west of the Chartrons district (open 7am- 9pm in summer, free).

The icing on the cake

The Musée d’Art Contemporain (31) at 7 rue Ferrère (00 33 5 56 00 81 50; bordeaux.fr) is housed in a 19th-century warehouse once storing sugar and spice. Its now a stunning gallery of modern art and dynamic exhibitions on painters, sculptors and architects who have made a significant contribution to the art world within the past 30 years. Open 11am-6pm daily except Monday, Wednesday until 8pm; €5.

Traveller's Guide To: Wine journeys in Aquitaine

{Chateau de Monbazillac which is a 20 minute drive away}

Here is a fabulous that receently appeared in "The Independant" newspaper............

Traveller's Guide To: Wine journeys in Aquitaine

To get the full flavour of Aquitaine, explore the region’s vineyards – a chance to see the sites and pick up a few bottles along the way

By Cathy Packe

Saturday 27th March 2010

Give me a taste for the landscape

The most exciting way to get an overview of the region is by floating above it. This can be arranged with Aquitaine’s flying wine-maker, Michel Fonvielhe, who combines managing an organic vineyard with his passion for hot-air ballooning. Flights take-off from the field beside his property, the Domaine de Durand (00 33 5 53 89 02 23; domainededurand.com) in St-Jean de Duras.

Exactly what course you take will depend upon the vagaries of the wind: you could find yourself floating above Bordeaux, or heading in the opposite direction towards Bergerac. Either way, the scenery can be spectacular, especially in spring, when the white plum blossoms take on the appearance of snowdrifts.

This aerial perspective reveals why the wine from some vineyards is more highly prized than others. “I flew recently over Château d’Yquem,” remembers Fonvielhe, referring to one of the region’s most famous vineyards, “and you could see quite clearly that the vines there were growing much better than those of the neighbouring château where the terrain isn’t so favourable.”

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In theory, flights can take place all year round, but the season tends to last from Easter until the end of October. Trips cost €200 for each of four people and last for up to 90 minutes. Flights take-off in the early morning and two hours before sunset, and should be booked in advance.

What makes this region so special?

Aquitaine produces more high-quality wine than any other French region, thanks to its terroir: a combination of factors that include micro-climates and soil composition. The region is divided into districts that include well-known names such as Médoc and Entre-Deux-Mers, and lesser-known ones such as Irouleguy, a tiny area in the Basque country around St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. These are then sub-divided into smaller communes such as Monbazillac, in the Bergerac district, which has a 16th-century castle (00 33 5 53 61 52 52; chateau-monbazillac.com) whose vineyards still produce a renowned sweet white wine. Tastings are available at the château, and also at the nearby Cave de Monbazillac, on the road between Eymet and Mont-de-Marsan (opens 10am-12.30pm and 1.30-7pm Tuesday to Sunday).

The communes are made up of individual châteaux, such as Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte (00 33 5 57 83 11 22; smith-haut-lafitte.com) in the village of Martillac, in the Graves district. Like a number of the region’s larger wineries, it offers daily tours. Pre-booking is advisable, particularly as not all are in English. Many of the region’s vineyards welcome visitors, and offer both tasting sessions and the opportunity to buy.

Most wine districts can be explored by following the local route des vins, usually a scenic road through the vineyards. The route des châteaux, for example, follows the D2 road from the outskirts of Bordeaux along the west bank of the Gironde river, taking in many of the major wine estates in the area.

The best way to find out about a region and its wines is to visit the wine centre or maison du vin, which tends to offer an exhibition on vine-growing and wine-making in the region, and a small shop selling local vintages. One of the best of these is on the outskirts of Duras, a pretty little town dominated by a castle with medieval origins. The Maison des Vins de Duras (00 33 5 53 94 13 48; cotesdeduras.com) is designed to appeal to visitors who may know little or nothing about wine when they arrive in the region.

“We want to train people so they can leave us and set off on a journey of discovery of our wines,” explains Corinne Lacombe.

Among the displays is an interactive exhibit with different items to smell; there are daily free tastings of local wines; quizzes for adults and children; information about local wineries open to the public; and a vine garden with shady picnic areas.

The Maison opens 10am-noon and 2pm-5.30pm Monday to Friday throughout the year, 10am-1pm and 2pm-6.30pm Monday to Saturday from mid-June to mid-September.

Where can I learn more about wine?

Among the courses on offer in the region, French Wine Adventures (00 33 5 53 22 72 71; frenchwineadventures.com) offers two-hour introductory sessions every Tuesday afternoon at 2pm during the season for €15. They are run by Caroline Feely, who, with her husband Sean, makes wine at the Château Haut Garrigue in Saussignac. The sessions begin with a tour of the château’s organic vineyard before moving inside for a more formal explanation of the appellation system, followed by a tasting. Feely also runs classes specialising in the grand cru classe wines, and a food and wine matching class takes place every Thursday afternoon at 3pm during the season; the cost is €25.

There are several other wine schools in Aquitaine. These include the CIVB, based at 1 Cours du 30 Juillet (00 33 5 56 00 22 66; bordeaux.com), which offers a range of training from intensive courses to two-hour sessions for those wanting to find out about wine as part of a holiday.

What about something high-tech?

Try La Winery, a modern complex on the Rond-Point des Vendangeurs in Arsac en Médoc (00 33 5 56 39 04 90; winery.fr), just outside Bordeaux. The contemporary building is a striking contrast to the traditional style of the region. In the words of one local wine-maker: “This is where you’ll see the future.”

Part wine supermarket – with a selection of over 1,000 different wines – part wine bar and restaurant, with sculpture garden attached, La Winery also can divine the “wine sign” of its visitors, indicating the wines they might prefer to drink. Small groups are given an hour-long blind tasting, in which they are asked to rate each wine according to how much they like it. A computer analyses the results and allocates a wine sign from a selection of eight, ranging from “muscular” to “aesthete”. This is accompanied by a booklet containing suggestions of appropriate wines – which are all, unsurprisingly, stocked in the supermarket.

While this resembles a clever marketing ploy, the tutored tasting is still interesting and informative. La Winery opens 10am-7pm Tuesday to Sunday, with wine sign sessions taking place at 11am and 3pm, and also at 5pm during the summer. Sessions cost €16.

Can I join in?

In recent years, many of Aquitaine’s wine makers have begun to realise the advantages of opening up their châteaux, and have devised ways to involve their visitors.

Alongside wine classes, Feely of Château Haut Garrigue (00 33 5 53 22 72 71; wildearthvineyards.com/vineshare) also runs a vine-share scheme. Rent a row of vines for a year for €99, and you will be invited to make two visits to the château: in spring, to help with general maintenance; and during the harvest, when there is a chance to join in with the picking and to collect a case of wine.

The Médocaines (lesmedocaines.com), a group of four wine-making women from the Médoc, also enlist visitors to help with the harvest – usually between mid-September and mid-October, and on four days they run harvest workshops. Dates will be available from the tourist office in Bordeaux (12 cours du XXX Juillet; 00 33 5 56 00 66 00; bordeaux-tourisme.com).

Participants helping with the harvest at the Château Paloumey (00 33 5 57 88 00 66; chateaupaloumey.com) join the other pickers for lunch, followed by a tasting of previous vintages at the Château du Taillan (00 33 5 56 57 47 00; chateaudutaillan.com). At other times of year, the Médocaines run blending workshops, a kind of “mix your own” session, which combines fun with a serious lesson in how great wines are made.

I want to immerse myself

Book in at the Sources de Caudalie (00 33 5 57 83 83 83; sources-caudalie.com), the world’s first wine therapy spa. Located in Martillac just outside Bordeaux, and in the middle of the Château Smith Haut Lafitte vineyards – its an ideal place to relax.

The idea for the treatments came from a university professor who watched the wine-making process and remarked that what was being thrown away – the grape skins and pips – could be put to good use as skin treatments whose added attraction is their anti-ageing properties. This idea, conveniently combined with a patch of land in the middle of the vineyard that was too muddy to grow grapes, led to the construction 11 years ago of a luxury hotel and spa. A variety of treatments are on offer, ranging from merlot wraps and cabernet massages to facials using vine flower mousse. Prices start at €60.

How do I get around?

Among the many ways to tour the region’s vineyards are cycle paths and walking trails, with maps available from the local tourist offices. At the Château Lanessan (00 33 5 56 58 94 80; lanessan.com), near Cussac-Fort-Médoc, visits to the winery, with its ancient hall where the barrels are stored, can be followed by a tour of the estate in a horse-drawn carriage; the total cost is €125 for up to five people.

The nearby Château Maucaillou in Moulis-en-Médoc (00 33 5 56 58 01 23; chateau-maucaillou.com) has its own helipad, and can provide helicopter tours of the Médoc, flying over the vineyards of St-Julien and St-Estèphe, before looping round over the Gironde river and the Margaux vines.

In St-Emilion, the Train des Grands Vignobles (00 335 57 51 30 71; visite-saint-emilion.com) makes up to 10 departures a day from outside the Église Collégiale, taking around half an hour to trundle through the countryside past 18 of the nearby vineyards. The train operates from Easter until mid-November, and tickets cost €6.

Where should I stay?

Accommodation in Aquitaine is as varied as the wine that the region produces. Rooms at the top end of the scale, such as those at the Château Cordeillan-Bages (00 33 5 56 59 24 24; cordeillanbages.com) in Pauillac, may be associated with a wine château – in this case Château Lynch-Bages. Double rooms here start at €203, with an extra €28 for breakfast. The hotel and wine château are located nearby the village of Bages (villagedebages.com), a reconstructed wine village with a bakery, upmarket store and bistro.

Other luxury accommodation is linked to some of the region’s numerous golf courses. These include the Château des Vigiers in Monestier (00 33 5 53 61 50 00; vigiers.com), an attractive and secluded location that includes a 27-hole golf course, and where rooms are available next to the first tee from €180, with an extra €17 for breakfast.

There are also several spa hotels in the region, among them the Hotel Château Grand Barrail (00 33 5 57 55 37 00; grand-barrail.com), a 19th-century château set in an attractive three-acre park in the heart of the Saint-Emilion vineyards a mile or so from the village itself. Completely renovated in 2008, it has 41 luxurious and individually-decorated rooms, and an attractive spa, where treatments are available from €55. Rooms at the château start at €290.

With more modest stays in mind, some 15 years ago the Gites de France organisation began expanding its collection of rental properties in the Gironde to include gites bacchus, properties located among the vines, run by wine growers or wine makers, and intended to appeal to wine-enthusiasts. Prices vary according to size and time of year, but gites are available from €250 per week.

The scheme has now expanded, and includes properties in other parts of the region, a mixture of gites, usually rented by the week, and chambres d’hôtes, where rooms are available on a nightly basis.

Among the properties on offer are the Ferme Etxeberria (00 33 5 59 37 06 23; domainemourguy.com), a lovely family house in Ispoure, which has double rooms available from €50.


In 1855, the Emperor Napoleon III asked for the wines of Bordeaux to be ranked, in preparation for the Paris Exposition of that year. The resulting classification system is a list of chateaux, the so-called “Grands Crus Classés”, which are sub-divided into five groups. In the most prestigious, the First Growths were – and remain – the châteaux of Lafite Rothschild (lafite.com) and Latour (00 33 5 56 73 19 80; chateau-latour.com) in Pauillac; Margaux (chateau-margaux.com), also in the Médoc; and Haut-Brion (00 33 5 56 00 23 30; haut-brion.com), from the Graves region. Mouton Rothschild (00 33 5 56 73 21 29) was added in 1973.

A separate list, with Château d’Yquem at the top, ranked the sweet wines of Bordeaux in the same year, and during the 1950s, the Graves and St-Émilion regions – which were omitted from the official classification – drew up their own lists. Pomerol has no classification, despite its bestknown wine, Petrus, being one of the most expensive in the world.

* The biennial Bordeaux Wine Festival (bordeauxfete-le-vin.com) takes place this year from 24-27 June. Among the attractions will be a “wine road”, lined with pavilions offering the wines of the region, many of which will be available for tasting. Tasting passes, including 12 vouchers and a glass, are available for €15. There will also be master classes and vineyard visits, music, fireworks and a son et lumière show.