Bordeaux is not just a wine region, it is a bustling commercial city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since receiving UNESCO status in 2007, tourism is up 40%. If you are travelling from abroad, you may find yourself staying in the town of Bordeaux for one or two days before hiring a car and driving to the major wine areas. I like to stay in the city center, or centre ville, because there are many things to do within walking distance such as attending wine classes, discovering the rich history of the city, enjoying long walks and getting a taste of Bordelaise cuisine. From the airport, you can take a cab or rent a car – the city parking rates are equivalent to other international city rates. Or, you can take the “Jet Bus” which is easy to find at the small airport which will take you to select locations in the city center such as Plaza Gambetta or 1/3 Allees de Tourney – the main tourism office – or the train station, Gare St. Jean. Hotels are easy walks from the bus stop. The shuttle leaves every 45 minutes and most recent cost was EUR7.50. If you take the train from Charles de Gaulle airport, the high-speed TGV train takes a little over 4 hours (if staying in Paris first, it’s about 3 hours).
L’Ecole du Vin (The Wine School of the Bordeaux Wine Council) is centrally located in the city center. During the summer they give two-hour “express” introductory courses on Bordeaux wines. Check out www.bordeaux.com, and link to Wine School. Their wine bar is open year-round for wine tastings.
If you like or need to walk, the Quai des Chartrons is a very pleasant walk alongside the river. The developed route is about three miles so you will see joggers, walkers, skateboarders and cyclists on this wide path. On Sunday mornings, there is also a vibrant farmer’s market here.
Due to its location by the ocean and major rivers, Bordeaux has always been a major port of entry and was the largest port in the world in the 17th century. It has an ancient history from Gallo-Roman times and remnants from Bordeaux’s commercial past throughout the centuries is evident in the architecture and monuments. There is a self-guided Heritage Walking Tour which marks out historically significant monuments, churches and plazas which is available through the Bordeaux Tourism Office if you follow the link to “Prepare your stay”.
On a recent stay in Bordeaux, a woman came up to me beginning to ask for directions and I started to raise my hand to say I was also from out-of-town. But as the words Rue St. Catherine flowed, I relaxed and happily pointed it out – and we laughed. Rue St. Catherine is the longest pedestrian street in Euope and the main shopping area in Bordeaux where you will find most chain stores and casual cafes. The luxury shopping area is the “Triangle” or Grands Hommes bordered by Cours Clemenceau, Cours de l’Intendance and Allees de Tourny. Here you will also find excellent wine shops and the best cheese shop Fromages Jean d’Alos. If you want to pick-up quick snacks or fruit, Carrefour – France’s major supermarket chain – has a store in the mini-mall Marche des Grands Hommes – a round black building in the center of the Triangle. There is a parking garage underneath.
If you are planning your own travel around the larger Bordeaux wine region, you may want to check out www.bordeaux.com and the Discover Bordeaux link to Wine Routes. It recommends great routes to begin building your itinerary.