Bordeaux may be called the Paris of the south, but it is absolutely unclear to me why this is the case. It certainly has many of the advantages that Paris has; beautiful architecture, cultural diversion and diversity, a rich history and cuisine. But many of the less-pleasant aspects that come along with any mega-city like Paris are absent from the scene down south. And that’s probably what makes Bordeaux so trÃ?Â¨s formidable – that and another hundred reasons to boot.
Built upon an arc of the Garrone River, and just a stone’s throw away from the Atlantic, Bordeaux is the capital of France’s Aquitaine region. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains, forests and (you guessed it) vineyards and, due to its crescent moon-like shape, it is also often referred to as “Port de la Lune” (Port of the Moon).
Wandering through the streets of Bordeaux, you will soon be struck by the city’s predominant 18th century architecture. Most of the buildings were constructed between the 16th and the 19th centuries, although a smaller section of town called the Quartier St Pierre is even older. The city has been here since the Roman days, however, and even before: A Celtic tribe called the Biturige Vivisci founded their Burdigala here in 300 BC.
Try to begin your tour at the Bordeaux Cathedral. This beautiful building dates back to the 11th century, but like most old cathedrals in Europe, you can easily follow its architectural progression through time by observing the subtle differences upon its faÃ?Â§ade – the sculptures from the 13th and 14th centuries, for instance, and the 47 meter high belfry which wasn’t constructed a full hundred years after that.
Just to the north of here you will find the Place Gambetta. This 18th century square surrounds a beautiful English garden and is packed with interesting cafÃ?Â©s and shops. It lends itself to being the perfect place for relaxing when the sightseeing and shopping gets to be too much. By the way, the Place Gambetta was where Bordeaux’s guillotine stood during the dark days of terror during the French Revolution.
From here, take your pick between two major avenues; St. Catherine and Porte Dijeaux. They run perpendicular through town and provide good orientation – and even better shopping opportunities.
St. Catherine in particular is one of the longest streets designated for pedestrians in Europe. If you take a long, leisurely walk from the Place de la Victoire to Cours de L’Intendance you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to stop and get a look at the beautiful Grand ThÃ?Â©Ã?Â¢tre and the AllÃ?Â©es de Tourny.
And from here it’s not far to the Esplanade des Quinconces, one of the largest squares in Europe. From here you have a beautiful view out to the Garonne. You will also find an interesting monument in honor of the Girondins (the natives of Bordeaux) who attended the 1789 Revolutionary Assembly.
And speaking of the Garonne, just upstream from here is another interesting sight, if you prefer more modern history, that is: The Colbert, a 10,000-ton French cruiser built in 1959 is docked along the Garonne and serving its country today as a museum. This stately ship is well worth a visit – and you can take a look at everything from the engine room to the Admiral’s quarters.
But I digressÃ¢Â?Â¦ Other interesting places of interest not far from the Esplanade des Quinconces are:
The Jardin Public. This 10 acre public garden, originally laid out in 1756, completely destroyed during the Revolution and then replanted in 1856, offers you the opportunity for a peaceful interlude between your busy comings and goings. The Botanical Garden and the Museum of Natural History are right next door.
The MusÃ?Â©e d’Aquitaine is filled with information about the region’s maritime, agricultural and commercial development throughout the ages. There is a particularly large collection of 18th century drawings and sketches, mostly of Bordeaux itself, as well as a large section which is devoted entirely to local wine history.
And speaking of wine, The Maison du Vin is a must. It is the headquarters of the Bordeaux Wine Council and a valuable source of abundant information about the surrounding wine region.
And what would be a visit to Bordeaux without a good look at that wine region? The friendly personnel at the Maison du Vin will gladly help you organize a quick trip to one of the countless nearby wineries. Why not take the short 35 minute train ride to St Emilion? This medieval gem has a lot of history to offer – and a lot of wine tasting too, if you prefer.
So, as you can see, there’s more here to see than you might have imagined. And who needs that big Paris in the north when you’ve got one down south instead?