Time Well Spent in Bordeaux

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This post, submitted by Pascale Bernasse, was a finalist in the 2015 Guest Bloggers' program sponsored by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.

Bordeaux could—not too long ago—be likened to an unnoticed little sister of the famously glamorous capital city, Paris. Indeed, Bordeaux carries the moniker Petit Paris and it has been said that parts of Paris were modeled after Bordeaux.

But Bordeaux, for a long time, was lacking in the charm that so defines Paris. Her old city’s center was covered in grime and blackened by pollution and the docks along the Garonne River were crumbling. Yet the new millennium has been kind to the ancient city of Bordeaux and, thanks to hearty rejuvenation efforts that began in the mid 90s, she has reclaimed her former glory. Bordeaux’s rise from obscurity back to its rightful place as one of Europe’s top destinations was complete when it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

For me, time well spent in Bordeaux would include eating in the heart of the city—where you can feel the buzz of Bordeaux life—tasting some of Bordeaux’s most exclusive (and expensive) wines at one of the many chic new wine bars, touring at top châteaux in the region, and taking time to enjoy the city’s great culture.

Here are some highlights from my time spent in Bordeaux:

Restaurants

When I am in the city I like to go to Le Bordeaux at the Grand Hotel and Spa de Bordeaux for lunch. It has a bistro theme and you can eat outside when the weather is good. It is in the center of the historic district and it is a wonderful place to sit and marvel at the neoclassical architecture. There is an excellent champagne list and a nice list of wines by the glass. The champagne I found there I love is the 2005 Amaur de Deutz Blanc de Blanc. My favorite wine to drink at Le Bordeaux in the summer is a Bordeaux Rosé, one of their by the glass options.

When I am traveling just outside the city, I always eat at La Grande Vigne at Château Smith Haut Lafitte. This is a Michelin two-starred restaurant with an excellent sommelier and wine list. It is situated right in the middle of the vineyard overlooking a large pond where swans flutter about, adding a whimsical element to the already enchanting environment. Once, while I was enjoying one of their older vintage reds, the owner came out, introduced herself and began discussing the estate and her love of wine. It was an honor to speak with her.

 

The author with the owner of Château Smith Haut Laffite (Photo credit French Wine Explorers)

 

No visit to Bordeaux is complete without a visit to Saint-Émilion. I like to eat at Belles Les Pedrix, located on the estate of Château Troplong Mondot, situated right next to their cellars. This is a lovely place to eat because you can sit outside and drink in the spectacular view of their vineyards. They pair their meals expertly with their wines and my favorite detail about this particular vineyard is that they have chandeliers in the cellars. It’s an unusual lighting choice, but it shows their adept attention to detail.

Château Troplong Mondot (Photo credit:  French Wine Explorers)

Wine Bars

Before I make any large investment in a Bordeaux wine I head to Max Bordeaux, a wine bar that has mastered the enomatic (by the glass) wine dispenser. They are known for offering first growths by the glass, so you can try some otherwise unattainable wines before deciding to add them to your cellar.

I also enjoy a stop at L'Ecole du Vin. Not only does it have spectacular décor, it has an extremely knowledgeable staff and a wide selection. This is a place I recommend people start if they want to brush up on their tasting skills, as they also offer wine tasting classes.

L’Envers de Décor is one of my favorite places to taste Bordeaux wines in Saint-Émilion. If the weather permits, sit outside in their courtyard. It is a place that connects you to the past, with its short cobblestone path and sand-colored walls rising up to meet a canopy of trees.

Châteaux

Châteaux Pichon-Longueville in the Médoc is always on the top of my list to visit while I am in Bordeaux. Its fairy-tale like castle—complete with turrets—is mirrored beautifully in its stunning reflective pool, and it is one of the most photographed châteaux of the region. I always recommend their first wine.

Where Château Pichon-Longueville is an example of a grand estate on a grand scale Château Paloumey is an estate that is more intimate, contemporary, and boasts fantastic, Cru Bourgeois wines. I particularly enjoy their first wine.

In Saint-Émilion I enjoy visiting Canon La Gaffeliere. What makes this château stand out is that the representative takes the time to take you out to the vineyards and explain their philosophy on wine making and vineyard management. They feel very strongly about terroir and their dedication to the soil and the vine comes through in the quality of their wines.

Cultural

Getting to know a city beyond the typical tourist attractions is one of my goals while traveling. One of the best ways I found to get to know Bordeaux on a more granular level is to take a walking or bike tour of the city.

The Tourist Office has a fantastic walking tour that will lead you to the Grand-Théâtre, along the riverbank—allowing you to soak in the sights of the Garonne, through the heart of the Saint Pierre district, ending at the Place de la Bourse.

I love riding my bike and tasting good wine, so when I discovered that a bike tour company called Bordeaux à Velo combined both of these loves in an urban vineyards tour, I was sold! The tour takes you around Bordeaux and to one of the most prestigious wineries of the Pessac Léognan AOC for a tasting.

Bordeaux is a city that has amazing culture and gastronomy without being boastful. It is no longer living in Paris’ shadow, and it endures as one of my favorite cities to visit.