When I first visited Bordeaux nearly 40 years ago, this forlorn city had little to offer visitors. Many sections of the town were derelict….in fact, most of its waterfront was ramshackle with dilapidated piers and crumbling wine warehouses. There was only a handful of decent hotels. The world’s most famous wine city was a wasteland for gourmet dining. Buildings, while beautiful, couldn’t be appreciated as they had decades of grime and grit. Thankfully, there have been sweeping changes and Bordeaux is now thriving.
Twenty years ago Bordeaux's leadership (with backing from wealthy wineries and the United Nations' World Heritage arm) instituted sweeping upgrades. The rundown and abandoned waterfront has now become home to upmarket apartments with breathtaking water-views. A massive public transport effort was undertaken: traffic-snarled streets in the decaying old town have been replaced with a sleek people-moving-tram through the heart of the glammed-up downtown. The historic center has many city streets that are now pedestrianized. The entire “feel” of the city has drastically changed.
Bordeaux has become a spot finally worthy of being the gateway to one of the most famous wine districts of the world. The city is now a food lover’s paradise with a plethora of Michelin star restaurants, food-trucks, a cooking school for professional gourmet chefs, organic food stores, wine bars, craft beer pubs, and a full complement of fusion foods.
Here are my suggestions for what not to miss:
This is the city’s biggest daily market. You could spend hours strolling through the aisles of local just-plucked-from-the-sea oysters, the splendor of Southwest France’s gastronomic produce, or a plethora of duck products from the nearby Dordogne. If you are here at lunch-time, there are several spots to snag a bite to eat.
Bordeaux's best wine shop has floors of liquid treasures
L’Intendant Grands Vins de Bordeaux:
This wine store located near the Opera House is nothing short of mind-blowing. Looking for hard to find vintages or special bottles? Look no further.
Cheese Shop Jean d’Alos
A few minutes’ walk from the above wine store is the premier fromagerie in Bordeaux. Below the retail store is several floors of aging rooms. This guy knows his cheese!
Walks along the River and/or Over the Bridge:
There’s nothing better to counteract jet lag than a walk along the Garonne River. If you can possibly drum up the energy to cross the bridge Pont de Pierre, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous panoramas from the other side of looking back at the city.
Cite du Vin:
It’s a very long walk from the downtown along the waterfront, so I suggest you take a tram. "The City of Wine” is the Guggenheim of wine. Designed by Frank Gehry, it’s worth going if nothing more than viewing its dazzling architecture up close. There are inside exhibitions, a cafeteria, and a wonderful view of Bordeaux from its top floor. I found the wine tasting lame, but sometimes it's not about the wine.
Don't leave Bordeaux without a taste of a Canelé
This is Bordeaux’s hallmark sweet, a carmelized treat like no other you’ll ever find. They come in small sizes (about the size of a wine cork) so that you can have a taste without feeling guilty.