The sun had been out in full force this past week of autumn in early October. For the renowned wineries of Bordeaux, such warm weather helps their grapes achieve phenological ripeness right before harvest and is much welcomed. Over in the city, meanwhile, both holidaymakers and locals are revelling in the sun, using this warmth as an excuse to spend more time at the Miroir d’eau (Water Mirror), a popular attraction.
Located between the Garonne river and the beautiful 18th-century facades of the Place de la Bourse, the world’s largest reflecting pool spans 3,450sq m and is crafted with granite slabs that are covered by water that is 2cm-high. Every 15 minutes, an artificial mist arises spectacularly across the entire pool. This makes not only for great fun for the children who run through it, but also a magical photo opportunity. When the mist is at its fullest, the historical structures of the Place de la Bourse look as if they had been built on clouds.
Built just 10 years ago, Miroir d’eau reflects the gradual rejuvenation of Bordeaux. Instead of juxtaposing its modernity against the three centuries-old history of its neighbour, the pool gives the old-world charm of Place de la Bourse a much-needed update.
Long has Bordeaux been laden with the nickname “La Belle Endormie”, or Sleeping Beauty, as travellers head to more trendy destinations like Paris. A massive regeneration effort is taking place in the wine city to help it find its place in the 21st century: downtown buildings darkened by pollution were cleaned up; tram lines were installed to increase accessibility to nearby regions, while old estates have been spruced up and new neighbourhoods developed out of under-utilised or abandoned quarters. Later this year, a high-speed train will cut travelling time between Paris and Bordeaux by up to 2 hours, no doubt attracting more travellers and wine-loving folks to the city.
Home to more than 116,000ha of vineyards, 57 appellations, and 10,000 wine-producing chateaux, and with an annual production of approximately 960 million bottles, Bordeaux has stayed the capital of the world’s wine industry for more than several centuries. Its excellent environment for growing vines — soil structure heavy in calcium, oceanic climate and proximity to the Gironde estuary and its tributaries — has produced some of the most iconic wines in history.
While wine tourism is a major pull factor for visitors to Bordeaux, many also use the city as a pit stop before moving on to the region beyond. That might change with La Cité du Vin. Opened in June last year, this high-tech museum features all things wine and highlights global wine cultures, promising to entertain and excite everyone from noobs to connoisseurs.
The futuristic building, which rises 55m over the bank of the Garonne, comes with an amalgamation of wine-inspired shapes and images — from the gnarled vine stock to the eddies on the Garonne. Every detail of its architecture is meant to evoke the soul and liquid nature of wine.
Inside, different multimedia and multi-sensorial installations seek to tell the story of wine, using expertise from scientists, historians, oenologists and various specialists. Guests get an immersive experience, be it learning about the terroir through video interviews with winemakers, or awakening their senses with a profusion of colours, images, flavours and aromas.
Set aside at least two to three hours to explore the 13,350-sq-m premises with the help of a personal handheld guide. Save some time for the impressive wine shop on the ground floor, which stocks 800 different wines, 200 from France and 600 the rest of the world, including remote regions such as Uzbekistan.
If you enjoy discovering a city by foot, know that most of Bordeaux’s city centre has been designated “pedestrian area”. At every turn, expect to be greeted with grand boulevards, open spaces and neoclassical buildings.
Not to be missed is the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose historical significance dates back to the 12th century, during which it was part of the Way of the Saint James pilgrimage trail. The cathedral is often compared to the Notre-Dame in Paris for its extraordinary beauty, in particular an impressive facade with sculptures of the Last Supper, the Ascension, and Christ in Majesty.
The Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, meanwhile, is a fine testament to neoclassical architecture. Its exterior features 12 colossal Corinthian columns topped with statues of nine muses and three goddesses. Built in 1780, it was designed by Victor Louis, the architect behind Paris’s Théâtre du Palais-Royal and Théâtre Français.
Bordeaux’s endeavours in reinvention have reached the old docklands to its north, with sustainability as the mission. The Bassins à flot estate in the Bacalan district is being constructed as an eco-neighbourhood, where apartments will be equipped with hot water and heating systems that are powered by renewable energy. An old barracks is also being transformed into an ecologically-minded co-operative called Projet Darwin. Tourists can also check out Le Garage Moderne, a non-profit association that is part car repair shop, part bike maintenance hub, and part exhibition space and party venue.
Where there is good wine, good food is definitely not far behind. Bordeaux’s upmarket restaurant scene has also been renewing itself. At wine magnate Bernard Magrez’s ultra-luxurious La Grande Maison, top Parisian chef Pierre Gagnaire whips up an elaborate menu with the region’s best produce.
There is also Gordon Ramsay, who set up gastronomic operations at the terribly swish Intercontinental Bordeaux Le Grand Hotel in 2015. Combining British produce with French culinary style, his Le Pressoir d’Argen landed a Michelin star within four months of opening and recently garnered its second in the Michelin Guide 2017.
Stop by La Tupina, which is located in the centre of the city. This is where locally sourced ingredients are prepared over an open fire to turn out rustic, hearty fare. That said, the star at this Bordeaux institution is undoubtedly the roaring hearth that welcomes everyone who passes the entrance. Its owner Jean-Pierre Xiradakis has essentially colonised the street — he also owns a cafe, produce shop and hotel here.