Bordeaux, situated in the south western part of France, is probably most famous for its wine and surrounding vineyards, however the city itself has a lot to offer on a city break too. Bordeaux city is characterised by large elegant squares, posh boulevards and a warren of tiny back streets. The city is split by the wide Garonne River and joined by several graceful bridges; however you will find most attractions in the main part of the city on one side of the river.
Begin your time in Bordeaux by heading to the large central square, which is home to the impressive Hotel de Ville (town hall) and the elegant Bordeaux Cathedral. Stop for breakfast (a cafe au lait and a croissant of course!) at one of the many cafes lining the edge of the square and sit back to admire the view. The cathedral is open in the morning and afternoon for viewings, but closes at lunch time. Inside are some beautifully ornate stained glass windows and a magnificent grand organ, which takes up one whole end of the cathedral.
After breakfast why not do a spot of shopping down Rue Sainte-Catherine, Europe’s longest pedestrianised shopping street, where you can find all the big chains, French fashion shops as well as patisseries and many delicious looking chocolatiers.
If the weather is nice a great place to spend the afternoon is the Jardin Public, with its mini botanical gardens. It’s also a good place to take the kids and has a lovely playground as well as a small outdoor puppet show theatre. In the grounds of the gardens is the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle, which is one of the oldest in France and a well known Bordeaux attraction. It features a massive display of animal skeletons and fossils and is great for all ages.
Also worth visiting is the Musée d’Aquitaine, a fascinating local historical and maritime museum which features some excellent exhibitions on the slave trade, ancient history and an impressive collection of artefacts. And if you’re into art then head to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which showcases work by Magnasco, Matisse, Chardin, Delacroix and Redon among others. The museum is currently closed for renovations but will open again in 2012.
In the evening make your way to the small warren of streets around Place Sainte Pierre where you can find an excellent array of eateries and restaurants set in small narrow streets, pretty squares with fountains or around the outside of an old church. Choose from typical French places serving duck and escargot, to Moroccan, Indian or Swiss fondue and raclette places. This is also the place to go out at night and has many bars, from elegant wine bars, to international pubs, shabby chic hideaways and Cuban clubs.
On your second day in Bordeaux head down to the river, it’s a great place for walking or cycling. You can hire bicycles from the rent a bike type schemes around the city. Stop to take some photos at the Miroir d’Eau, a shimmering expanse of water which perfectly reflects the city buildings. Every half an hour or so, steam and spray rise up from underground, which produces the mirror effect, and water bubbles to the surface.
Walk along the river until you reach the main bridge where you can turn back in towards the city through the old Arab quarter, where you’ll find many Moroccan and Middle Eastern cafes and restaurants, and people selling old nick-nacks and antiques. There is also an interesting central market where you can buy pots of olives, French cheeses and Spanish chorizo as well as other delicacies. It’s a good cheap place to stop for lunch, especially on a Sunday as it features many authentic cafes, serving up fresh market produce.
The city has plenty to keep you occupied for a few days, but if you’re here for longer then you may want to head into the countryside to do some wine tasting. This can only really be done on organised tours which can be booked from Tourist Information or if you have your own transportation, however you must book your wine visit in advance.