Thursday, May 19, 2022

Fans of Great Art, Architecture & Wine Head to Bordeaux, France

By Jacquelin Carnegie

Port de la Lune (photo: Cyril Cosson)

Bordeaux is beautiful. So magnificent, in fact, that you must experience it for yourself. It’s the capital of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and long-known as the wine “capital.” But, there’s so much more to explore from the stunning 18th-century architecture to the striking, contemporary art on display.

In the 1700s, about a hundred years before Haussmann transformed Paris, the Marquis de Tourny—under the direction of King Louis XV—spruced up Bordeaux. The Medieval town was updated with:
Le Grand Hotel (photo: JCarnegie)
stunning 18th-century mansions, tree-lined boulevards, public gardens & paved streets. But, by the 20th century, due to pollution, the beautiful buildings were covered in black grime. Then, in 1995, Bordeaux’s former mayor, Alain Juppé, spearheaded another stunning urban renewal project. The soot was removed from buildings, revealing the sandstone-colored, architectural masterpieces. Pedestrian-only areas were created to make the city center more inviting and, to further reduce car traffic pollution, a state-of-the-art, electric tram system was built. 
Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne river, but dilapidated warehouses blocked the riverfront. These were torn down to create a beautiful Promenade along the quays and docks. In 2007, Bordeaux’s historic center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hence, Bordeaux, once so dull it was referred to as “Sleeping Beauty,” has become a cool, hip place. So much so that Parisians started moving here (much to the consternation of locals). After a visit, you might be enchanted enough to move here yourself!

Porte Dijeaux (photo: Nicolas Duffaure)
Bordeaux, now known as the “Ville d’art et d’histoire” (Town of Art & History), has several neighborhood “districts.” With its architectural gems, 347 UNESCO World Heritage listed buildings, throughout the city, you can find a beautiful area to explore at every turn. While easy to reach by tramway, and explored on foot, it’s also informative to take a Guided Tour.
City Pass: This could be useful as it offers unlimited public transportation & visits to monuments & 20+ museums.
TBM Tram: You can also just get a 10-ride ticket for the easy-to-use Tram (Lines: A/B/C/D).
Some Not-To-Be-Missed Highlights: The 15th-century Grosse Cloche (belfry) & Porte Cailhau (main stone gate); Miroir d’eau (reflecting pool), and Cathédrale Saint-André. Take a cruise on Bordeaux’s crescent-shaped harbor, Port de la Lune (Port of The Moon). 
Cathédrale Saint-André (photo: Nicolas Duffaure)

Grand Théâtre (Place de la Comédie; - Attend opera, ballet & concert recitals in this magnificent venue designed by renowned architect Victor Louis in 1780. Or, just take a guided tour.
Rue Saint Catherine is said to be Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street, going from the Place de la Comedie to the Place de la Victoire. Along the way, there are major retail chains and tiny boutiques, restaurants, along with gourmet food and wine shops to explore.

In this 18th-century architectural setting, you might not expect to find some of the most cutting-edge art on display. Prepare to be surprised:
CAPC Contemporary Art Museum
7 Rue Ferrere (Tram B: CAPC) 
This way-cool, art venue is in a building as (or even more) impressive than the artwork displayed. Entrepôt Lainé, a former food commodities warehouse built in 1824, has grand naves resembling a Roman basilica, prefect for huge art installations. CAPC presents exhibits of its funky permanent collection as well as temporary exhibits showcasing local and international artists. There are also permanent, site-specific works by artists such as Christian Boltanski, Keith Haring, Richard Long, Max Neuhaus & Niele Toroni. The museum offers workshops for kids & adults and presents cultural events such as concerts, films, and talks about literature and architecture & design. There’s also more art and a nice café on the rooftop.
Tip: The museum is in the newly-hip, Chartrons district. Walk along Rue Notre Dame, behind the CAPC building, to check out the lovely little shops, bistros & boutiques as well as the magnificent church, Église Saint-Louis.

54 Quai de Paludate;
MECA (photo: Loïc Graniczny)

(Trams C/D: Gare Saint-Jean, then walk past the train station towards the river.)
This needs a little explaining: MÉCA (Maison de l’Économie Créative et de la Culture en Nouvelle-Aquitaine) is a creative hub housing three artistic organizations in a new, super-cool building. One of them, FRAC (Regional Contemporary Art Fund), is a reserve of artworks--a collection by current artists that is shared with the whole Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and, in fact, all of France and beyond. Therefore, its dynamic and ever-changing exhibits reflect the great diversity and creativity of today’s artists. When viewing FRAC’s exhibits here, be sure to connect with one of their extremely-knowledgeable “Médiation” Guides to get the most out of your visit. (The MÉCA building was designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group.)
Tip: The FRAC exhibit space doesn’t open until 1pm, so have lunch beforehand (&/or a drink afterwards) in the terrific bistro, Le CREM, in the spacious lobby.

Unique Venues
Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez
16 Rue de Tivoli,
(Open only on weekends with a guided tour; request one with Omphale.
Tram D: Barrière du Médoc)
Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez, JonOne (photo: JCarnegie)

Entrepreneur and vintner extraordinaire Bernard Magrez, owner of 42 wine estates, also has a passion for contemporary art—especially street art—and he believes in sharing this passion with the public as well as supporting emerging artists. The institute is housed within the 18th-century Château Labottière and its garden-park; it’s Magrez’s idea to mix heritage with cutting-edge art. In addition to the fantastic exhibits, there are wonderful workshops for kids, residencies for artists, concerts, readings & other cultural events.
Tip: You can also do wine tastings at several of the Magrez wineries &/or stay at one of their château-hotels.

Bakery Art Gallery
Bakery: 24 Rue du Mirail; Gallery: 44 Rue Saint-François; (Tram B: Musée d’Aquitaine)
This marvelous place is an off-the-beaten-path discovery run by husband-&-wife team, Sylvie & Christian Pallatier. Christian curates the cutting-edge art shows & events in the adjacent gallery. Sylvie, a former nurse turned baker, manages the organic/gluten-free bakery, creating breads & pastries that are works of art in themselves. Additionally, there’s a carefully-curated Snacking & Brunch menu. BAG is located in the magnificent, 18th-century Hôtel de la Perle building, so there’s room for dining indoors and on the pretty patio.
Tip: Art historian Christian Pallatier also runs tours around the world for art collectors thru: Connaissance de l’Art Contemporain

Bassins de Lumières
Impasse Colstoun;
Bassins de Lumières

Located inside an enormous WWII submarine bunker, this installation is a massive, immersive digital art exhibit of sound and light projections. You’ll either love it or be overwhelmed, but definitely impressed. In addition to the changing shows, the history of the bunker is detailed.
Tip: This is in the new Bassins à Flot/Bacalan neighborhood and you can make a day out of it by combining it with a visit to La Cité du Vin that’s in the same area, just a 15-minute bus ride away (Bus#32, Blvd Alfred Daney, across from McDonald’s).

Wine production in Bordeaux dates back to Roman times, but when Eleanor of Aquitaine married English King Henry II in 1152, wine exports to Britain turned it into a booming trade. There are many enjoyable ways to experience Bordeaux’s centuries of viticulture including:
La Cité du Vin
Esplanade de Pontac/134 Quai de Bacalan;
(Tram B: La Cité du Vin)
In a very modern building (supposed to evoke wine being swirled in a glass), every aspect of viticulture is explored from the long history of the beverage to various wine-growing regions to the cultural significance of wine throughout time and around the world. In addition to the interactive displays and sophisticated exhibits, this unique venue offers Tastings (Dégustations) and wine seminars. At the end of your visit, enjoy a free glass of wine—or plain-old, delicious grape juice—and the chance to step out on the Belvédère balcony at the top of the building to soak in the view.
Tip: While La Cité du Vin has a snack bar & restaurant, another great option is the restaurant right across the street on the ground floor of Les Halles: Familia (149 Quai de Bacalan). Combine this with a visit to Bassins de Lumières (Bus#32, Rue Lucien Faure, across from Monoprix). 

La Maison du Vin de Bordeaux
3 Cours du 30 Juliet (Trams B/C/D: Quinconces)
La Maison du Vin (photo:

The Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB) meets in the stunning Maison Gobineau. There’s an elegant “Bar à Vin” (Wine Bar) open to the public for tastings of a marvelous selection of Bordeaux wines. And, a Wine School, if you’d like to expand your knowledge with seminars.

Bordeaux Fête le Vin (June) - Taste wines from 80+ appellations in the Bordeaux/Nouvelle–Aquitaine region and chat with wine makers from the various domains. (Free admission, but purchase a “Pass Dégustation” to taste the wines. It’s valid for the entire event & includes additional goodies such as an actual wine glass!) Plus, there are many other wine-related & cultural events that take place during the festival.

Dine on Regional Delicacies:
Porte Caihau (photo: Deepix)

Bordeaux, close to the sea, rivers, and mountains in the Gironde area, means that, in addition to great wines, you can also get terrific regional specialties including: oysters (Huîtres du Bassin d'Arcachon/Cap Ferret), Lamprey eel-fish (Lamproie à la Bordelaise), beef (Boeuf de Bazas), duck (Magret de Canard), white asparagus (Asperges du Blayais), Foie Gras and Aquitaine caviar. Bordeaux is also known for certain sweets such as Canelés (tiny cakes flavored with vanilla & rum), Dunes Blanches (cream puffs) & Macarons de Saint-Émilion. There’s a ton of great restaurants where you can try them all.

Where To Stay: There’s an enormous choice of places to stay from the newly-opened - La Zoologie (151 Cours de la Marne) a cool, 4-star hotel, that’s five minutes from the train station – to the tried-&-true, 5-star InterContinental Bordeaux-Le Grand Hotel (2-5 Place de la Comédie).
Getting There: Take the fast train (TGV) from Paris to Bordeaux, Gare Saint-Jean (2hrs).
Nearby Jaunts:
Visit Vineyards: Around Bordeaux, and in the entire Gironde region, there’s a wealth of terrific vineyards. Go, not just for the Tastings, but because some have beautiful properties, a great restaurant, and even guest rooms.
Château d’Yquem (photo: Brochard, CRTNA)

Explore the Region: Discover all the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in Southwest France has to offer from the beaches of the Côte Atlantique (Atlantic Coast) to the forests of the Dordogne to the pretty hilltop towns such as Angoulême.

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