As the centre of the world’s most famous winemaking region, Bordeaux is synonymous with fine wine, but I can’t help but feel that this reputation, while well-deserved, does its eponymous city a great disservice. For within minutes of arriving in this stunning place, I was inclined to agree with Stendhal that ‘Bordeaux is, without question, the most beautiful city in France’, and more, that it is worthy of separate renown. Of course, the fact that it is the centre for the magnificent wine, produced from some 120,000ha of surrounding vineyards, makes it all the more special.
Bordeaux is made up of a series of interlinking neighbourhoods, each unique in character, each with its own beauty. There’s the cosmopolitan St Michel, which plays host to the city’s weekly markets and bric-a-brac stalls and old Bordeaux – or St Pierre – with its medieval narrow, winding streets. Along the quais lies Chartrons, traditional home of the wine trade, which maintains a village-like feel with artists and antique shops occupying the lower levels of its more modest terraces. The Triangle is the place to see and be seen, where elegant townhouses house Bordeaux’s wealthier residents and the luxury boutiques that they patronise, while the intelligentsia congregate to the south of the city, in an area made colourful by its immigrant population. At night, the quais come alive, with renovated hangers housing nightclubs and restaurants, such as the superb Café de Port restaurant, with magnificent views over the river and city beyond. These neighbourhoods are, however, bought together as one by the city’s overriding architectural harmony.
Tourism is Bordeaux’s second most important source of income, with a turnover of one billion euros per year. The newly pedestrianised centre, with its many parks and gardens is a relaxing place for a stroll and, thanks to the restoration of its prized architecture, Bordeaux was recently awarded UNESCO status. Meanwhile, Bordeaux has gained a TGV connection, to add to its already bustling airport, attracting Parisians who have either tired of, or been priced out of their traditional playgrounds, Deauville et al, and bringing a stream of tourist dollars into the city’s coffers. This year will be the real test of Bordeaux’s pull, however, as the city’s tourist trade has been given an unfair advantage in the last two years; first by the rugby and then by the weather, which has driven people from the beaches towards the city. The city’s 230,000 inhabitants share 4,455 hectares, with 20m2 of parkland per inhabitant, while the Bordeaux area houses 750,000 residents in 55,188 hectares. Bordeaux can always rely on the draw of its world-famous wine. Surrounding the city are swathes of vineyards, divided into 57 appellations and spread over 12,000 estates, making Bordeaux the largest fine winegrowing area in the world. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes are blended together to produce Bordeaux’s great red wines, while both dry and sweet white wines are made from Sauvignon, Sémillon and Muscadelle varieties. So vast and complex is Bordeaux’s wine trade, that a visit to the city’s école du vin for a crash course on Bordeaux’s wines is a must for any Bordeaux virgin – though that’s not to say that those already in the know would be wasting their time