City on a Plate
What you need to know to drink in the pleasures of Bordeaux, France
The HQ of French wine is enjoying a new lease of life. Anthony Peregrine has tips on where to eat, sleep, shop and more in France's most elegant city
Alain Juppé - the former French prime minister - quit as mayor of Bordeaux last month. He'd done great things during his 22 years in office, waking the port city and wine HQ from its 20th-century slumbers. Juppé put it back in touch with its Latin side, fostering festivals, culture and redevelopment, threading trams through it, and reclaiming the banks of the Garonne from prostitutes and addicts.
This was enhanced in 2017 by the arrival of the TGV, putting Bordeaux two hours from Paris. This summer, the Museum of the Sea opens. Before that, on June 20-23, the city's biennial River Festival brings sailing ships, concerts and wine to the Garonne. It also kicks off a summer-long roster of cultural events on the theme of Liberty.
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STAY HEREOf the rash of new hotels, the poshest is the five-star Palais Gallien in 19th-century surroundings on Rue Abbé-de-l'épée (doubles from €230/R3,600). Among an earlier crop of newcomers, I rate the slightly off-centre Seeko'o on Quai Bacalan, with its all-white exterior and bright interior full of young staff who seem to like customers (doubles from €150/R2,400) or ultra-central, playful Mama Shelter (doubles from €99/R1,600).
Start at the tourist office at 18 Cours du 30 juillet, crossing to the Place des Quinconces, vast enough to welcome a small war and embellished by the delirious Girondin monument of half-naked men, bare-breasted women and fishtailed horses.
Now stroll up river. Once gloomy and menacing, the banks are now bright with life, populated by families and kids who scream with delight as they kick through the huge water mirror before the Palais de la Bourse, the 18th-century stock-exchange building.
Plunge into the old centre, around the St Pierre church and plunge out again to the Golden Triangle, where, the city's medieval heart was ripped out using colonial loot and replaced with stately open spaces and neoclassical declarations of unshakeable self-belief.
The Cité du Vin is Europe's greatest wine museum and exhibition centre. As it should be. This is Bordeaux, for heaven's sake. The shiny swirl of a building contains a six-storey interactive romp through the world of wine and attendant subjects: art, culture, sensuality, transport and more. Tastings proliferate (€20/R320).
TRY THISContact Sylvie Berteaux at Miam-Bordeaux for a two-hour gastronomic-cum-historical walk through Bordeaux's medieval innards, with food tasting along the way (from €29/R463).In the afternoon, cross the river to the Darwin Eco-System - a former barracks now hosting an urban farm, eco-shops and a restaurant, an al fresco bar with terrific views over the Garonne, exhibitions, a skate-park, an organic grocery, and everything else that's on-trend.SHOP HEREThe most reasonable retail clusters along and around the 1.2km Rue Sainte-Catherine, the longest pedestrianised street in France.DRINK HEREMake for Le Wine Bar at 19 Rue des Bahutiers; Frida and its interior garden on Rue Buhan; and/or Aux Quatre Coins Du Vin, with its card-operated wall dispensers, in the old town maze on Rue de la Devise.
Tanguy Laviale's Garopapilles combines a wine shop with a Michelin-starred restaurant (lunch €39/R625, dinner €90/R1,400).
Scot Daniel Gallacher offers top-end value for money with a weekly-changing menu at Racines (lunch from €19/R300, dinner from €29/R463).
New this year is Fabien Beaufour's Cent 33 with its well-worked sharing plates (dinner from €50/R800).
OFF THE MAP
You're in Bordeaux - so the see vineyards and taste the wine. Bordovino half-day trips have never let me down (from €72/R1,150). - © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)