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A French connection: Bordeaux will blow you away with fine wines, food and stunning architecture

Hotel Konti
Ciaran Barnes

By Ciaran Barnes

With return flights from Belfast available for less than £40, there is no reason not to visit Bordeaux - the wine capital of the world.

A port city, sliced in two by the Garrone river, it is the epicentre of south-west France.

I spent three wonderful days there last month as a guest of the city's Tourism and Conventions board and was amazed at its splendour.

The city centre, marked by its beautifully symmetrical 18th century blonde-stone buildings, is surprisingly compact.

Visitors are never more than a 20-minute walk away from the nearest attraction, which Bordeaux - a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2007 - has by the bucketful.

For architecture, see the stunning Grand Theatre and Cathedral Saint Andre, or if it is the arts that get your juices flowing, check out the CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art.

But for me the most important aspect of my visit was food and drink - two things that Bordeaux arguably does better than anywhere else on Earth.

My entire break was based around this and where better to eat and be merry than in the late summer warmth of the south west of France.

To kick things off, we were given a gastronomic walking tour around the city by Benjamin, a guide from the Insol'eat tour group.

As well as being charming and funny, this rugby-mad Frenchman has an in-depth knowledge of Bordeaux's past.

Capucins Market
Capucins Market

He took us through the old town, telling the stories behind the historic buildings and the city's often fraught relationship with the old kings of Paris.

It was eye-opening and informative and like all good walks, it ended with some brilliant food and wine at the Pierre Oteiza artisan farm shop.

Owner Cathy supplies some of the best meats and cheeses in Bordeaux and was only too happy to bring us what seemed like an endless supply of hams, chorizo and dried sausage. She followed this up with local duck pate, foies gras, creamy sheep cheese, cheddars and jams, all washed down with copious amounts of red and white wine.

Cathy's generosity and the quality of her products are the embodiment of Bordeaux - confident and classy.

Clued-up food guide Benjamin was also able to recommend several bars and restaurants, some off the beaten track, to visit during our stay.

This made taking the Insol'eat tour on the first day really worthwhile, as it gave us a great knowledge of where to go and what to do for the remainder of our stay.

What it also reinforced is how wine is at the heart of Bordeaux. It dominates its economy, tourism and social sectors and in honour of its role, la Cite du Vin (City of Wine) opened in 2016.

An impressive 10-storey structure, it gazes over the river Garrone, offering panoramic 360-degree views of the city from its bar at the top.

It's there that the wonderful five-sensory tour ends with a free glass of wine from a selection of more than 50 bottles.

Benjamin and Cathy from Bordeaux
Benjamin and Cathy from Bordeaux

I cannot recommend Cite du Vin highly enough.

The interactive tour involves you putting on headphones and being given a smartphone that links via Bluetooth with multiple screens, each explaining the wine-making process in different regions across the world.

For me, the most interesting aspect was the smelling chamber, where dozens of aromas that make up the scent of wine are encased in glass bowls.

These fragrances like leather, berries and spices, can all be sniffed individually and then together in the finished product.

Cite du Vin is immersive and hugely impressive, and its location towering over the Garrone is just a short distance away from Bordeaux River Cruises, which provide great value meals and wine tasting.

I spent a fantastic Friday evening sipping a merlot and tucking into freshly-caught fish on the top deck of the boat as it sailed beneath the city lights.

Capucins Market
Capucins Market

Another restaurant worth checking out is the wonderful Pastel on the banks of the river that has a top-notch three course menu of the day for €20.

But the real beating heart of the Bordeaux food scene is the historic Capucins market in the university district.

It's here that the city's top restaurateurs make a daily pilgrimage to fight with grandmothers to get their hands on the best produce.

Fish, meats, cheeses, coffee, vegetables - Capucins has it all. What took me by surprise was a stall dedicated to selling only fresh herbs, with what was the equivalent of a large bush of parsley spilling over a box. This shows the vendor's absolute belief in his product and that it will sell in its entirety on the day.

Home for my three-day trip to Bordeaux was the stylish art-deco Hotel Konti right at the heart of the old town.

The location cannot be faulted, just a 15-minute walk from the river and an even shorter trip to the main Rue Saint Catherine shopping area. This mile-long street is filled with designer stores and thronged throughout the day.

Hotel Konti
Hotel Konti

Thankfully, the four-star Hotel Konti is down a quiet side-street, away from the crowds. This made sleeping easy in one of the busiest parts of Bordeaux. My room was modern with a comfortable bed and powerful shower.

Hotel Konti

The management also laid on a series of treats for me on arrival, including a selection of canale - a local caramelised cake delicacy flavoured with rum and vanilla.

I really cannot recommend Bordeaux highly enough, especially with flights from Belfast and Dublin being so cheap. It's a beautiful city filled with history, culture, great shopping and some of the best restaurants in the world.

Like all of France's major cities, it can be expensive in tourist areas, but meander down a side street or get the tram into a different part of town and you will find fantastic food at affordable prices.

I've made a promise to myself to return as my recent stay there was entirely city-based. Next time, I will be exploring the vineyards outside Bordeaux that have made the region so famous and, of course, I will be having a glass or three.

Travel factfile

I was a guest of the Bordeaux Tourism and Convention group, who offer tailored holiday ideas to visitors. For more information, visit the website:

Accommodation for the three nights was at the superb boutique four-star Hotel Konti at the heart of Bordeaux's 'Golden Triangle' area. Rooms start from around €130 per night.

For more information, visit the website:

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