A Long Weekend in Bordeaux

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

Bordeaux, the honey-coloured port city reflecting its neoclassical majesty along the west bank of the Garonne, is an exemplary example of French elegance. Photogenic, chic and endlessly explorable (particularly when factoring in the wine regions), Bordeaux boasts enough restaurants, museums and exquisite little quarters to fill a month-long itinerary, and it’s an ideal destination for a classic European city break with all the charming cliches one expects: beguiling architecture, eclectic culture and incredible food and wine. From tipsy cobbles and riverside museums to the wines of Saint Emilion and a hotel in a former Cognac distillery, these are our top picks for a perfectly curated weekend in Bordeaux.

A Stroll in Vieux Bordeaux

It is entirely possible to restrict a trip to Bordeaux to its stunning UNESCO-recognised old town (Vieux Bordeaux) as here, between Cours de l’Intendance and rue Peyronnet, is where much of the beauty lies. From the river at Pont de Pierre, enter through the gorgeous Porte Cailhau, one of the five fairytale-like gates, rising as ornamental castles from dusty medieval walls, creating distinctly beautiful entry points to the city. Stroll the Golden Triangle for a spot of boutique shopping amongst its grand golden-hued architecture, before strolling to the 18th-century Opera House as the sun sets to see its amber lights illuminating the portico and the 12 statues reaching towards the heavens from the roof, representing Goddesses and Muses.

A City of Spices, Produce and Wine

With more restaurants per capita than Paris, Bordeaux often feels fine-tuned for food lovers. As such, a walk around the old town can become a tease, resulting in choice paralysis and a lip wet with saliva. Walk into atmospheric back alleys to escape a crowd and it’s likely to be filled with plumes of steam scented with exotic spices. Turn onto busy boulevards, and evocative scents of freshly broken pepper sprinkled atop plates of L'entrecôte bordelaise take centre stage along with the applause of cutlery and clinking wine glasses. Michelin restaurants are scattered across the city, but equally, this is a fine place for independent eateries showcasing cuisine from every part of the world. And while there are plenty of good cocktail bars (including un bar avec des formes: a new venture from London’s Bar With Shapes for a Name), food only has one real rival in Bordeaux: wine. Try Le Bar à Vin for a Bordeaux institution with a modern design, or take a sip of a Bordeaux cocktail made of Gentiane Suze, honey, Champagne and pure gold flakes in the antique cellars of Point Rouge. For a leafier setting than the centre embark on a stroll around the antique stores and old wine shops of Chartrons, refuelling with a bistro lunch in Place du Marché.

Modern Museums, Riverside Art and City Views

Skip along the riverside to the Miroir des Quais, the world’s largest reflecting pool, stunning in the evening when it shimmers with reflections of the Place de la Bourse and the trams that zip around the city. From here, a riverside, view-laden stroll brings one to the carafe-shaped Wine Museum for wine courses and hi-tech exhibitions on the history of the wine trade above 18th-century vaulted cellars. For views, visit MECA, a futuristic-looking geometric loop of a building, on the Quai de Paludate, and climb to the open-air terrace for stunning citywide panoramas. For a local view, cross to the right bank of the Garonne to the Darwin Eco-système, a former military barracks turned into an energetic collection of shops, shared workspaces, restaurants and food courts, created as a space for social entrepreneurship and sustainable development. It’s a good option for modern art lovers as the area is covered in street art and installations, and it enjoys an eclectic crowd, particularly in warmer months when the outdoor spaces sizzle to life.

Stay in A former Cognac Distillery

When the inevitable attraction of just a few more days takes hold, extend your stay with a couple of nights in Cognac on the banks of the Charente River. The Hotel Chais Monnet & Spa renewed and revived the site of a converted distillery and boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, a modern spa, a rooftop bar and a refreshingly modern collection of rooms inspired by the hues reflected from a glass of Cognac. Much of the hotel retains original features from its time as a distillery, and the entire site has been modernised to include two new glass buildings with a dramatic metal art piece inspired by the movement of grape vines. The rooms, suites and apartments are divine, mirroring the charming locale with chic furnishings that effortlessly marry the traditional to the modern with original oak beams and muted natural decor punctuated by chic arts, large bathrooms and bright outdoor spaces.

Touring the Chateaux and Sipping the Grapes

Mention Bordeaux and the mind is as likely to drink up a memory of a Château Margaux laced with silky tannins as it is to think of the city, so where time permits, take a journey along the two banks of the Gironde Estuary to explore the grapes of one of the world’s most renowned wine regions. Start with the beautiful wines at Château Guiraud in Graves, before taking a sip of the blends of Merlot, Cabernet France and Cabernet Sauvignon that grace the antique chateaux of Saint Emilion.

The smallest of Bordeaux’s wine regions, Pomerol has some excellent tasting options in exceptionally scenic settings. Of particular note is the attractive Château de Sales, owned by the same family since the 16th century.

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