LOVE BORDEAUX The City and the Wine

About Bordeaux, France

LOVE BORDEAUX The City and the Wine

Bordeaux has been wowing visitors since the Garonne River made it a thriving market and port 2,000 years ago. In 2007 UNESCO declared Bordeaux to be a World Heritage Site and in 2015 it was voted “European Best Destination.” And we most certainly cannot visit Bordeaux without tasting the fruits of its prestigious vines.

Since 1995, when Alain Juppe was elected mayor, Bordeaux has experienced a renaissance. A modern noiseless electric tramway system provides state-of the-art transportation. The Port of the Moon (named for the crescent-shaped bend of the Garonne) that had become rather sordid, received a remarkable facelift. Blackened facades of 18th century limestone buildings were scrubbed clean. Warehouses came down and were replaced with parks, gardens, bicycle and pedestrian paths. This year Bordeaux will become capital of a huge region in France stretching from the Basque country to Poitiers and the borders of the Limousin. When I visited last fall, I felt an energetic pulse to the city. It has the grand architecture of Paris (in fact its Opera House inspired the one in France’s capital), fabulous restaurants and shops, but on a smaller, more user-friendly scale. After his first visit, famous French writer, Victor Hugo, remarked, “Take Paris, add Antwerp and you will have Bordeaux.

THE “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” SPLURGE LIST 

Bad Boy Ramsay and His Michelin Star My visit last September coincided with the opening of Gordon Ramsay’s Pressoir d’Argent restaurant in the five-star Intercontinental Bordeaux, Le Grand Hotel. Mr. Ramsay mingled convivially with the crowd as we consumed buckets of Champagne, vintage Bordeaux wines and an exquisite array of canapés made with foie gras, caviar, truffles, oysters and lobster. The restaurant takes its name from the solid silver lobster press made by the house of Christoffle in the dining room – one of only five in the world. Only one month after opening, Ramsay’s restaurant was awarded a Michelin star. The aptly named Grand Hotel is of the best places in Bordeaux for a luxurious stay.  www.ghbordeaux.com

Wine 101 to 1001 Bordeaux is the largest wine-producing region in the world with 57 appellations and 10,000 estates. No wonder a wine list here can be intimidating. At the Ecole du Vin in the centre of town, you can enroll in a number of wine courses. Everyday from July until the end of September (except Sundays) the two-hour Summer Course, €39, includes an overview of the grape varieties, production, aging and blending and a tutored tasting or a dry and a sweet white and two reds. If you’re really serious about your wines, consider the Grand Crus Level, €690, which includes three days travelling through the Bordeaux vineyards to discover four prestigious regions: Medoc, Sauternes, Graves and Saint-Emilion. www.bordeaux.com Grape Expectations The term French Paradox was coined in 1992 by Dr. Serge Renaud, a scientist from Bordeaux University. The paradox? The French consume one of the world’s richest diets, including gobs of butter and cream, unpasteurized cheeses and let’s not forget French pastries, yet they tend to be less obese, live longer and have lower rates of coronary heart disease than folks in other industrialized countries. The key to this phenomenon, postulated by Dr. Renaud, is their daily consumption of a glass or two of wine, preferably red, which contains powerful antioxidants that control blood pressure and reduce clots.

So, if those grapes work their magic internally, what about externally? In 1993 at the Château Smith Haut-Lafitte vineyards where Mathilde Cathiard-Thomas and her husband were taking part in the family grape harvest, they discovered that grape skins and pips are rich in polyphenols that fight free radicals that are responsible for wear and tear on the body and aging skin. Mathilde was intrigued. When she discovered a natural mineral spring under some of the vines, she decided to mix the therapeutic water with the grape extracts. Et voilà, the world’s first Vinothérapie Spa and a line of Caudalie skin care products was born. At Les Source des Caudalie visitors can enjoy total wine immersion: spa treatments that include a Crushed Cabernet Scrub and Pulp Friction Sculpting Massage, award-winning wines from the estate and hospitality at one of France’s most charming country establishments. www.sources-caudalie.com

Driving Through a Wine List Just 26 km from Bordeaux, the fabled D2 Medoc Wine Route, also know as the Châteaux Road, is feels a bit like driving through a prestigious wine list as you pass such estates as Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Pichon Longueville. Near Château Lynch-Bages, owner Jean-Michel Cazes has built a village where vintners and tourists converge. It was at Café Lavinal, his unpretentious brasserie serving bistro-style dishes, that I enjoyed the finest glass of red wine in my life (O.K.I confess: two glasses.) It was a 1998 Château Lynch-Bages.  

THE “CHEAP THRILLS” SAVE LIST 

Sunday Markets Most shops in Bordeaux are closed on Sundays so join the locals at the Marche des Quais or Marche des Capucins, known as the “belly of Bordeaux.” Take a quick oyster break at bar Chez Jean-Mi. Take a Hike…or a Bike Next year will see the opening of La Cité du Vin, an ambitious institution along the coast of the river Garonne dedicated to the history of French viticulture. It’s part of a huge greening and revitalization effort along Bordeaux’s waterways, which also includes the 2013 opening of the Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas, Europe’s largest lift bridge, and the transformation of over 7,500,000 square feet of former docklands into more than 5,000 new apartments and public waterside attractions. Bordeaux being flat is a terrific cycling city. Get your bike at one of the 160 VCub stations scattered around town. It costs €2 per hour and the first half hour is free. Utopia Housed in the former church of St. Simeon, the Utopia art house cinema offers the possibility of taking in a movie or sitting on the terrace with a nice glass of you know what. Meet a Bordeaux Greeter An association of volunteers, Bordeaux Greeters are passionate about their city and keen to share their knowledge. They offer free personalized walking tours for up to six people and English is spoken. Fill out the application form on-line. www.bordeaux-greeters.fr Location, Location Smack dab in the centre of town, the Best Western Bayonne Etche Ona Hotel has modern rooms, a helpful staff and a terrific breakfast that includes flaky croissants, boiled eggs, fresh fruit, cheeses and cold cuts. www.bordeaux-hotel.com Mirror, Mirror on the Water Located across from Place de la Bourse, between Quai de la Douane and Quai Louis XVIII, the spectacular Mirroir d’Eau, designed by landscape artist Michel Corajoud, alternates a mirror effect and artificial misting in an extraordinary way. Children adore playing here and it is a meeting place for lovers as well as for folks who enjoy putting their feet into the cool water in summer! It’s the most-photographed site in Bordeaux.

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