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Wine Not? Uncorking Beautiful Bordeaux

by Kelsy Chauvin
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jul 30, 2018
La Bourse Square, Bordeaux, France.
La Bourse Square, Bordeaux, France.  (Source:Getty Images/ Ross Helen)

France is hot right now. Its soccer team just won the World Cup, its president is a proudly progressive world leader, and travelers can enjoy the world's finest food, wine, and culture. But many visitors focus their vacation time on Paris -- missing out on other cities with incredible restaurants, architecture, museums, and, of course, wine.

Bordeaux is one of France's most alluring cities for all of those reasons and more. Top among them is the high-speed train, new in 2017, that delivers travelers from Paris in just over two hours (about half the time of the old train).

The ancient city dates back 2,500 years, first settled for its prime harbor location just east of the Atlantic Ocean on the Garonne River. Romans likely planted its first vineyard around 60 A.D., making wine a driving force for the city's maritime trading through the centuries. Its rich history also has earned the city UNESCO World Heritage status, thanks to landmark protections on 350 buildings spanning nearly seven square miles.


Wine Culture
Cité du Vin  (Source:Kelsy Chauvin)

Wine Culture

Wine remains synonymous with Bordeaux, so it's fitting that the city is home to Europe's leading wine-tourism event, the biennial Bordeaux Wine Festival. But no matter when they visit, oenophiles will love all the magical ways to savor the region's exquisite vintages. The city's tourism bureau is a great resource, including finding wine tours in the city, on day trips, or by boat.

Bordeaux's major wine attraction, however, is La Cité du Vin. The building opened in 2016 and became an instant icon for its curvy architecture that evokes a decanter or swirling wine as it's poured into a glass. More than 80 global wine-growing regions are explored in the museum, along with enlightening interactive exhibits, winemaker video interviews, ancient and modern wine history, and a fascinating olfactory exhibit. There's an expansive wine store with around 14,000 bottles in stock, plus the seventh-floor Le 7 restaurant, with panoramic views, fine dining, and a wine list of more than 500 labels.


The 18th century is considered Bordeaux's "golden age." Visitors can learn more about how wine led the way (plus tastings, bien sur) at the Wine and Trade Museum, which opened in 2008 in a wine-storage house. The museum is modest compared to the nouveau Cité du Vin, but delves into fascinating local history in a preserved space, with an emphasis on regional winemaking.


Decanting the City
Bordeaux city views.  (Source:Getty Images/Ross Helen)

Decanting the City

The Wine and Trade Museum takes you to the cool neighborhood of Chartrons where busy merchants once dwelled. It's a great place to wander, breaking to snack at sidewalk cafés like Sister or La Pelle Café. Or perhaps just people watch from the charming 1869 Halles des Chartrons, a shady hub with lots of outdoor tables.

Head down Rue Notre Dame to browse adorable boutiques and antique stores, or for a spot of tea at Juliena, which also offers cooking classes. Don't miss the enormous CAPC, Bordeaux's Museum of Contemporary Art that's housed in an 1820s customs warehouse, which also has a killer gift shop.

If you're in Bordeaux on a Sunday, be sure to catch the weekly oyster and farmers market on the Chartons pier. But any day of the week is perfect for a riverfront stroll along the Garonne. While the city's tram system is cheap and frequent, a walk or bikeshare ride (called V3) is even better for soaking up the city.

While Bordeaux is relatively compact, it's home to many spectacular sights, from botanical gardens and public plazas to architectural landmarks -- such as the Bordeaux Cathedral, ancient Roman amphitheater, Bourse Palace, and the Grand Theatre. For easy and affordable access to the city's most popular attractions, buy a City Pass for a two-hour overview bus tour, plus entry to 20 museums and monuments; discounts at local businesses; and unlimited tram and bus rides.


Bordeaux's Rainbows
Bordeaux Pride  (Source:Jean-Sébastien Dufourg)

Bordeaux's Rainbows

Since 1996, Bordeaux has celebrated its LGBTQ culture with Pride each June. The city is naturally gay-friendly, and its queer community stays active with events and nightlife mainly in and around Saint-Paul, just south of the city center.

The neighborhood's small, winding streets are lined with cute shops and some of Bordeaux's best restaurants, like the seafood-centric Le Petit Commerce and gay go-to Les Voutes. Just down the street, sip a well-made cocktail at La Comtesse, a colorful bar with vintage flair.


One block from the impressive Aquitaine Museum of history, Coco Loko is a friendly neighborhood hangout with fun bartenders and Sunday karaoke (a musical way to practice your French). Le Trou Duck is a sweet spot for daytime snacks and nighttime flirtations inside or on the outdoor patio. Buster is known as a cruising bar, while the old-school lounge vibe draws a more mature crowd to Le QG de Monbadon.

Hotels are abundant in Bordeaux, and it's easy to find one that's centrally located. Don't be dissuaded from Best Western or Quality hotels, which tend to be well located, affordable, and consistently higher quality than their North American counterparts. If you're looking for something hip, try Mama Shelter, which also has an uber-cool bar and restaurant.

Bordeaux is often called the "Port of the Moon" because of the city's crescent (croissant?) shape along the Garonne River. Perhaps that nickname reveals something even more romantic about Bordeaux. Because when this lovely metropolis is enjoyed in tandem with the region's heavenly wine, it feels nothing short of magical.


Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBT interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.


Summer 2018

This story is part of our special report titled "Summer 2018." Want to read more? Here's the full list.


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