TRAVEL GUIDE: Bordeaux
You may be committing a huge tourist sin by turning up in Bordeaux and failing to drink barrels of the region’s renowned red wine. But if you spend all your time solely amongst the vines you miss out on a heavenly area of France.
The beautiful old city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and the 350 historic monuments make it as pretty as Prague.
There is a nice mix of old cobbled streets and stone arches as well as a modern shopping arcade where you can pick up plenty of bargains – just as the English did during their 300 years rule that started in 1154.#
Bordeaux’s position on the banks of the river Garonne ensured it became a major trading port, bringing wealth that has turned the city into France’s fifth biggest.
And it’s along that waterfront that you can see the true majesty of the classical facades that gives Bordeaux its real beauty.
The grey slate roofs and elegant tall windows make the buildings on Place de la Bourse a stunning photo opportunity, especially when lit up at night, but is it the Grand Theatre that really catches the eye.
Acknowledged as one of France’s greatest classical buildings, catch a show to hear the stunning acoustics or simply marvel at the striking main staircase.
If the theatre has triggered a thirst for the arts, head to the Musee des Beaux-Arts to see masterpieces from the likes of Rubens, Matisse and Renoir.
Or for more architectural feats, visit the Basilique St-Michel and gaze up in awe at the freestanding belfry which soars 114 metres into the sky, making it the tallest in southern France.
But it’s away from the tourist trappings that Bordeaux really lets it hair down and invites you to sample a true taste of local life.
There is none of the snobbery of Paris here as locals pull you into their world that includes a lovely selection of bars in the old town.
But nowhere is the tradition and welcome warmer than at Bordeaux’s most interesting restaurant La Tupina.
Situated a short tram ride from the centre of the city and tucked behind one of the medieval gates, you walk back in time as you approach this gem.
And there is an immediate feeling of homeliness as you are met by an original fireplace where the chef is literally cooking on the hearth.
A selection of pots and pans sizzle as succulent duck and chicken dishes are prepared in an atmosphere that smacks of old time France – all washed down with some of the finest wines in the world.
I had the local Cassoulet and marvelled at the flavours but my girlfriend's chicken fried in duck fat in the fireplace was a showstopper.
Unsurprisingly for a city that owes its wealth to the wine it has exported from the docks for centuries, it is hard to avoid mention of the grape in these parts. And it’s well worth a short drive north to the Medoc region to gaze at the picture book Chateaux normally only spotted on wine labels.
Many of them are open for tastings and tours with the local tourist board happy to set up trips for you.
We were lucky enough to meet a local who rang round some of her friends and set up a couple of private tours - including a trip around the famed Lynch-Bages vineyard. The wine on sale was pricey but worth paying for a little treat.
Or a more scenic view take the slightly longer journey to the beautiful village of St Emilion. Also famous for its wine, the countryside around St Emilion is full of tiny chateaux and the pleasant main square is the perfect venue to sit and sample some of the proud local wine.
But come back at night to enjoy a meal sat under a vine-covered terrace at the Logis de la Cadene for French cuisine at its best.
My veal stake was so tender it melted in the mouth before being chased down by a glass of a fabulous Pomerol.
Dotted around the countryside surrounding Bordeaux are several chateaux which host guests at reasonable prices.
We spent several nights in pretty historic chateaux listening to self-appointed experts discuss wine. It’s worth spending a night out amongst the vineyards if time allows, although for the weekend tourists there is plenty to keep you busy in the heart of the city.
And if you fear all that fine dining and wining will take it’s toll, try the Medoc Marathon in September that runs through vineyards allowing you to taste on the run.