A trip to Bordeaux, the French city known as the “little Paris”

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Pleasant, young, full of bistros and captivating for its balance between tradition and modernity. There are more than 350 buildings identified as historic monuments in a city known as the world wine capital.

so it is Bordeaux, na França. There are several attributes of the French port city on the Garonne River which is known as the “little Paris”, but none of them really captures the charming and elegant essence that the place conveys to us.

Registered as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Bordeaux won me over in every detail. Be it for the well-preserved buildings, for the sweets in the typical little stores (Hello, canelé!), for the appetizing cuisine and, of course, for the best wines in the world, it’s hard not to feel infected by the joy of living that the city passes by. In addition to admirable, I define Bordeaux as a happy place.

The city was the program’s first international destination. CNN Travel & Gastronomy. All content would never fit in a short time: what was supposed to be a program ended up becoming a series of episodes in a true immersion in history, in restaurants, museums, vineyards and even in the waters of the region.

I’ve been to Bordeaux before, but always with the common sense thought that this was just a crossing point for the renowned vineyards. I was wrong. Bordeaux is a historical city but it goes far beyond that. But it is important to emphasize that the land where the grapes grow is located in districts within the city itself, which may be on the left or right bank of the confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.

With a little help from high-speed trains, you can reach Bordeaux via Paris in just 2 hours – ideal for those who want to make the famous hit and come back. However, as I myself had the opportunity to try it, I suggest a slower route: Bordeaux is a city to be, literally, tasted.

The best way to experience the French city is to join the slow travel: take a leisurely walk, sip wine in a brasserie calmly, eat a good fries and try to roam the city like a local. If you manage to fit your trip in this mold, I guarantee you great surprises.

Brief history

Now full of avenues and squares, the region has attracted settlements since the Bronze Age due to its dry soil. Since Roman times, Bordeaux has been a great city and a thriving port – with an outlet to the Atlantic Ocean and a link to the Spain and Great Britain.

The city was the capital of the Aquitaine region and became a territory of the English crown in 1154 on account of the marriage between Eleanor, the Duchess of Aquitaine, and the King Henry II of England. Under the command of the British, Bordeaux developed a promising trade with the ports of England. The Battle of Castillon was the last battle between the French and the English, during the Hundred Years’ War, in which the city was united with France in 1453. The burghers of Bordeaux, however, long resisted the limitation of their municipal liberties.

The Château Trompette, where the great square now stands Place des Quinconces, was then built as a fortress both to defend the city and to guard the Bordeaux. It was destroyed and rebuilt a few times until it was demolished in 1818 to make way for the square we can see today.

In the 19th century, Bordeaux saw some prosperity following the arrival of railroads and port improvements. There were several periods when the French government was transferred to the city between the 19th and 20th centuries due to the threat established by wars. After the end of World War II, Bordeaux continued to expand: new suburbs were built and many of the small villages that once surrounded the city were incorporated into it, forming a continuous area.

What to see and do in the city: basic guide

The first tip, and perhaps the most fundamental, is to take a leisurely stroll along the city streets, contemplating its historic buildings. In fact, there are more than 350 buildings listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Do you know that city that has great surprises in store for us around every corner? Bordeaux definitely tops the list.

Cars are not allowed in most of the avenues, that is, here there is a confluence of pedestrians, modern trams and bicycles – Bordeaux, in fact, has one of the largest bike fleets in the Europe. Thus, the city itself encourages us to explore it on foot or aboard two wheels.

Squares, museums, cathedrals, shopping streets and all around the Garonne River are some of the must-see attractions in Bordeaux that exude history, art, architecture and a legacy of preservation that catches your eye.

Grande Theater – National Opera

As I stayed at the Intercontinental Bordeaux Le Grand Hotel, I started to explore the city through the square just in front, Place de la Comédie.

It is the address of the Grande Teatro, stage of the National Opera, which has one of the most beautiful theaters in the world. Built in the 18th century, the elegant building is decorated in royal tones with blues, whites and golds, and hosts international performances such as operas, ballets and symphonic concerts.

Inside the theater there is even Le Quatrième Mur, a restaurant that combines the principles of a French bistro with a relaxed atmosphere with haute cuisine ingredients at affordable prices.

Sainte-Catherine Street

Place de la Comédie flows into Rue Sainte-Catherine, one of the most emblematic places in the city. Packed with shops, it is the longest shopping street in all of Europe, measuring 1.2 kilometers – cars are not welcome here.

But perhaps one of its best kept treasures is the canelés, typical Bordeaux sweets. The street houses one of the units of the The Copper Toque, Bordeaux canelé specialist. The sweet can be defined as a small dough flavored with rum and vanilla, with a soft cream center and a thick, dark caramelized crust. It’s shaped like a small cylinder – and it’s delicious.

Catedral de Bordeaux

The Cathedral of Bordeaux, also known as the Cathedral of Saint-André, is super old and special: it dates back to the 12th century and has a style that could be described as Gothic, but today it contains a more heterogeneous appearance. The two towers that form the cathedral reach 80 meters in height. If it already draws attention from the outside, the inside gives you goosebumps.

It is a very serene place, with very high ceilings, large vaults and where you can hear the sounds of the bells perfectly. There is a majestic organ, whose sounds thrill even the most resistant, as well as red gates inside that were opened for royal weddings – traditionally they are closed.

Speaking of royal weddings, the imposing cathedral witnessed the marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII, then future King of France, in 1137. Five centuries later, the union between Anne of Austria and Louis XIII was also carried out in the cathedral.

Fun fact: the cathedral’s original tower, from the 12th century, was insufficiently low to support the weight of the bell. It was then decided to build an independent tower next door in 1440, the Pey-Berland Tower. Today, we can climb the 229 steps to the top of about 50 meters, which has a breathtaking view of Bordeaux and its monuments.

Place de la Bourse

It is a complex of emblematic historic buildings in Bordeaux that contributed to the city’s heyday, reputation and commerce. Place de la Bourse is also one of the most photogenic spots in Bordeaux, being recognized even by those who have never been here, and lies between the river Garonne and the 18th century facades.

It is symbolic because it was the kick-off for the disappearance of the medieval city: the creation of the royal square, in short, would open the then fortress-city. In its center, the Fonte das Três Graças, from 1869, is one of the attributes of the place.

A modern marvel, however, is what also brings so many tourists to this corner of the city – and what makes it a photo champion. Since 2006, the square has had the biggest water mirror in the world, which alternates between water and fog effects. At times, the square floods and perfectly reflects the 18th century buildings just in front of it. It’s amazing!

Place des Quinconces

And the biggest square in France and one of the largest in all of Europe, covering around 120 thousand square meters and served by a range of tram and bus lines. As the story goes, it was built from 1818 on the site of the former fortress of the Château de Trompette.

It is a must-visit place in Bordeaux. In addition to a lot of history – as well as practically the entire city -, the Place des Quinconces has an amusement park with a Ferris wheel and fairs. Obelisks, monuments and an esplanade that descends towards the Garonne framed by plants make up the place.

But one monument in particular stands out: it’s the Monument to the Girondins, famous column about 43 meters high, erected between 1894 and 1902 in honor of Girond deputies. Decorated with horses and bronze groups, there is a Statue of Liberty on its top breaking handcuffs.

Boat trip on the Garonne river

It’s a poetic and beautiful way to see Bordeaux: boat trips along the waters of the river Garonne give us another perspective of the city. Through the waters, it is possible to see different details of the buildings along the river and pass under several bridges.

There are several options for companies that make trips on the river around the city, from the fastest ones, which take you from one place to another – as I did to arrive at the imposing wine museum, La Cité du Vin -, to those that offer gastronomic experiences such as snacks at sunset and dinner.

On land, the Garonne River also assures us other tours, such as its bustling shore, which has music, cafes and food trucks on weekends. Walking along the pier, picnicking in the green Parc aux Angéliques riverside park, or crossing the Pont de Pierre – the first bridge over the river in Bordeaux that connects the left bank to the right in the Le Bastide quartier – are all programs pleasant in the elegant city. Tip: the Pont de Pierre is beautiful at night, with its iron lamps lit.

The City of Wine – Museu do Vinho

At one time or another, everything in Bordeaux ends up taking us to the wine. I joke that the city is all about drinking wine, breathing wine and visiting the wine museum. With a futuristic air, La Cité du Vin, literally the “City of Wine”, is a cultural space dedicated to the drink that, from the outside, resembles a large decanter.

The project is daring and contrasts with the city’s classic architecture, having more than 13 thousand m², ten floors and 20 themed areas. Therefore, he deserves an afternoon dedicated to him alone in the script.

More than a museum, it speaks of a history of more than 2,000 years and a tradition that sustains the economy of many countries. La Cité du Vin represents wine and winemaking from around the world. It can be said that it is the largest museum dedicated to the subject that exists, not in terms of the number of bottles, but in terms of representation of countries.

For me, the most seductive thing is its cultural part, which touches our senses and touches our taste for good wines – the tasting at the end of the tour, of course, is also the icing on the cake.

Reference: CNN Brasil

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