Explore Bordeaux – from the city to the vineyards by boat, it’s a great way to see not just the main sites, but off the beaten track places…
Bordeaux is a truly great city – rich in history, architecture, culture and gastronomy. Beyond the city, the region is famous for its wines and vineyards, many of which lie along the rivers which made Bordeaux great. The half-moon sweep of the river Garonne in the city made for an ideal port and the Romans build a great trading centre here. Centuries later, the English made it a central trading port, shipping out vast quantities of wood, wool and local wines.
In the mid 1700s, the governor of Bordeaux, the Marquis de Tourny did for Bordeaux what Haussmann was later to do for Paris – he regenerated the city. He knocked down the crumbling medieval houses and commissioned elegant buildings that faced the river and that area is now the largest urban UNESCO-listed world heritage site, encompassing some 1810 hectares. The Port of the Moon has been regenerated and the former warehouses transformed into shops, bars and restaurants. The quaysides are busy with runners, cyclists and walkers drawn to admire the Miroir d’Eau, a water sculpture in front of the impressive Place de la Bourse.
Bordeaux has continued to evolve and develop. The city is a mix of old and new, glamour and avant-garde, wine and water. There are futuristic trams, stellar restaurants, wine bars and an ever growing number of museums and art venues. For visitors to Bordeaux there is so much to see and do, it’s hard to know where to turn.
Bordeaux for wine lovers
Push the boat out and take a river cruise to see more of Bordeaux and discover some of the finest vineyards in existence.
CroisiEurope are a French family-owned cruise company who run 5, 6 and 7 day river cruises from Bordeaux’s beautifully named Port of the Moon, and back. Cruise along the Garonne, the Dordogne and the Gironde, Europe’s largest estuary. You’ll pass fishing huts on stilts, birds of prey floating on the breeze, castles and vineyards that sweep down to the water. The ship docks at riverside towns where you can explore the best of the region.
You’ll enjoy wine tastings on board and in renowned wine domaines (and no worries about being a designated driver). You’ll visit castles and some of the region’s most historic and beautiful towns. And you’ll be spoiled rotten with fabulous 3 and 4-course meals created by expert chefs using the best local and seasonal produce.
I joined the 5-day cruise to get to know some of the highlights of the city and the region…
Highlights of a Bordeaux cruise
In the mornings the ship sails. In the afternoons there are excellent excursions (all guides speak English and French, as do all staff on the ship). It’s a laidback cruise at a relaxed pace. And you’ll get to visit some of the most exquisite parts of Bordeaux, many of them off the beaten track, which most visitors miss.
You’re taken on a tour the vineyards of Bordeaux. It’s a superb way to explore the stunning landscape punctuated by chateaux, mansions, and pretty villages. You’ll enjoy wine tastings at a famous domaine in the Medoc. And there’s a stop at the chateau de Beychevelle where rumour has it they cut the grass with scissors. It’s certainly pristine in a sort of Zen meets French parterre way. Ogling the gorgeous 18th century mansion and snooping in the garden is very satisfying! It was once the home of the Duc d’Eperon, Grand admiral of France. Ships passing the estate would dip their sails in salute: “baisse-voile”, which became Beychevelle.
The UNESCO-listed Vauban built Citadel of Blaye is a big surprise. It’s almost a secret and yet this mini-Carcassonne is extraordinarily beautiful and well-preserved. It dominates the pretty town below and has its own vineyards, shops and restaurants. But it’s the gorgeous historic buildings that steal the show. The guided tour is a show stopper.
In Bourg, wine is stored beneath the city in a maze of caves. It was once a busy port town but is now a sleepy place with wonderful views from the top of the town. If you’re feeling fit you can climb the 500 steps of the King’s staircase. It was named for Louis XIV who stayed in the upper town as a child. Apparently he liked to sneak down the stairs to the old town below says the guide. It’s one of the things that makes the cruise so good, the expertise of local guides telling anecdotes and snippets of history that make the past come to life.
Saint-Émilion is also on the itinerary. When you go to this most famous wine village, you have to do a wine tasting – it’s practically the law! First at a chateau and then in the picturesque, cobbled village of Saint-Émilion. The vineyards (as well as 8 municipalities of Saint-Émilion) were the first to be listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site as ‘a remarkable example of a historic wine-growing landscape which has survived intact’
You’ll also spend a whole day Bordeaux, with a guided tour or free time. It’s a really fabulous way to get to know both the city and the surrounding area. Find out more about CroisiEurope’s Bordeaux cruises: Croisieuroperivercruises.co.uk There’s also a 5-day Christmas and a 5-day New Year cruise of Bordeaux
Bordeaux for culture lovers
CroisiEurope’s Bordeaux cruise includes a guided tour or free day in Bordeaux. There are some 21 museums and art galleries with themes including history, architecture and fine arts. One of the most well-known is the extraordinary Cité du Vin – dedicated to wine and housed in swirly topped building that resembles wine being poured in a glass.
The latest venue to open is the absolutely stunning Bassins des Lumières. This is the largest digital art centre in the world. It’s housed in a Former German submarine base built from 1940-1943 to house multiple U-boats and submersibles. This vast concrete space, constructed from 600,000 cubic metres of concrete, now hosts extraordinary and spectacular immersive exhibitions.
More on what to see in Bordeaux
This is a city for walking and admiring. Explore the old town with its many wonderful sites including the Grosse Cloche, 13th century gate and the stunnning Place du Parlement created in 1754 by Tourny. Don’t miss the Porte Cailhau constructed in the late 1490s. And of course the masterpiece of the neo-classic rebuild, the Grand-Theatre. The grand staircase was the model for the Opera Garnier in Paris. I highly recommend you add on a couple of days to see more of the city!
Bordeaux for food lovers
Darwin: Cross to the right bank to experience Darwin. A former military barracks turned eco-rehabilitated area with street art, performances and great places to eat.
Locals love: Le Bordeaux restaurant is popular not just with visitors but with locals, it’s part of the city’s history in its oh-so-memorable location opposite the Grand-Theatre. The Bordelais (people of Bordeaux) grow up knowing this restaurant, celebrating good times with dishes made to perfection…
More on where to eat out in Bordeaux
Find details of all Croisieurope’s brilliant cruises in France: croisieurope.co.uk
Bucket list Hotel Bordeaux
InterContinental Bordeaux – Le Grand Hotel Presides over Place de la Comedie. It’s plush and luxurious with a big dollop of old school glamour and a glorious, theatrical tearoom. Indulge in the spa which has one of the most unusual and stunning pools I’ve ever seen. Like swimming in your front room – complete with curtains and paintings! There’s a Michelin Starred Gordon Ramsay restaurant, Le Pressoir d’Argent, named after a pure silver lobster press created by renowned Maison Christofle. They actually use it in the restaurant if you order lobster. And you can enjoy a glass of Bordeaux’s finest wines on the stunning roof top bar overlooking the famous opera house. bordeaux.intercontinental.com
Combined with a cruise on the river to tour the best of Bordeaux – it’s an unbeatable visit to this sunny, historic city.