Forget everything you might have heard about Bordeaux being grimy and run down. Since several years ago, that image is a thing of the past. On my latest visit to the city on the banks of the Garonne, I could see for myself what a bit (or rather a lot) of sandblasting and tons of fresh paint can do to turn Cinderella into a shining beauty. Add to this miles of pedestrian shopping streets, a cable and noise free tram, green zones and parks, not to mention delightful river cruises and you have a city worth visiting for more than just a few hours, mostly spent at wine tastings.
With over 300 historical 17th and 18th century buildings (only Paris has more) Bordeaux is a paradise for history and architecture fans like myself.
Sadly, I only had half a day but it was enough to get am impression of the highlights which now make Bordeaux so attractive to locals and tourists alike.
Rather than exploring on my own, as I usually like to do and due to the limited time, I went with a tour guide. Great choice! The delightful Bruno Beurrier who likes to be addressed as Mr. Butterdish ( www.bcommebordeaux.com) was full of details and stories and certainly knew how to show as around.
Starting point was the elegant Grand Theatre on Place de la Comedie. Opened in 1780 the building was designed as a temple to art by Victor Louis.
Prevailing performances are and have always been ballet, but it also served as an opera house. In 1991, the interior was restored to its original colors of gold and blue and the result is breath taking. Thanks to Bruno, we had the chance to sneak into one of the balconies and get a glimpse of the rehearsal to a very modern ballet version of The Tempest. I would have loved to see the performance but, sadly, there was no time.
Opposite is the equally grandiose and restored Grand Hotel with a restaurant run by Gordon Ramsey on the ground floor.
Place de la Comedie marks one end of the mile long Rue Saint Catherine, a pedestrian shopping street lined by countless shops from designer to economic. I could escape for a moment to look at librairie mollat, a 120 year old massive bookshop where I could habr browsed for hours.
Meandering through the historical center in the direction of the river, Bruno stopped at one remaining black wall to point out to us the before and after of Bordeaux’s face lift.
We passed the huge Cathedral of St. Andre dating from the 11th century although the majority of the construction and looming towers are from the 14th and 15th century. In the setting sun of the afternoon, the sandstone just glowed.
Bordeaux also features some striking examples of modern architecture which of course didn’t need any sandblasting. One is Europe’s longest vertical lift bridge, Pont Chaban-Delmas which spans the Garonne.
Another, surprisingly, the Court of 1st Instance, a cone shaped courthouse with courtroom located in pods.
And, finally, Bordeaux’s latest attraction: La Cite du Vin, a museum cum amusement park which only opened this year.
Bruno timed his tour perfectly, because as night fell, we came to the highlight of highlights: Place de la Bourse and the water mirror in front.
Seeing the beautifully illuminated historical buildings arranged in a semi circle reflected in the water is pure magic.
What I missed out on are the several river cruises available, starting from Bordeaux. From just a short pleasure trip to longer ones into the vineyards of surrounding Acquitaine and further afield, they would be another highlight to add to the list.
For further information please consult: http://bordeaux-river-cruise.com/
One thing is for sure: I’ll return with more time to enjoy the things I had to miss and certainly to attend a ballet performance in the Grand Theatre.