Bordeaux in 48 Hours

Spending only two days in Bordeaux is practically an an insult to this beautiful city, with its proud history, glorious architecture, fascinating little streets and squares, hundreds of restaurants, extraordinary wine culture, courteous and charming inhabitants, and magnificent river. However the Solo Lady Traveller was in just this situation a few days ago, and managed to find interest and loveliness everywhere. I arrived by train at Bordeaux St Jean in the early afternoon of a lovely sunny early autumn day, and straightaway made my first mistake. I took a taxi from immediately in front of the station, which took me 10 minutes and €24 to my hotel. Had I been smarter I would have known to walk 50 metres to the left and board the tram, which for €1.50 would have delivered me pretty anywhere in the centre of town in 10 minutes. The taxi ride took me (as would have done the tram!) along a great parkway, flanked on the right by wide flower beds and an enormous esplanade running for several kilometres where people stroll, ride bikes, roller skate, or take the sun. Facing the river is a great glamorous curve of mainly 18th Century buildings in golden stone, ornate, gilded, and towered, which served as the model for Baron Hausmann when he designed modern Paris. Bordeaux-garonneThat was a wonderful welcome to Bordeaux, but the first really exceptional thing of my visit was arriving at my hotel, the Ecolodge des Chartrons. It was in an unprepossessing little street running straight off the riverfront and esplanade, and there was little hint that it was a hotel, as the sign was faded and the huge door looked more like a warehouse. I entered along a very narrow stone-flagged and stone-walled tunnel of a corridor, up some creamy pink stone steps, and stepped, like Alice emerging from the rabbit hole, into Wonderland. bordeaux-ecolodge-des-chartronsA pretty stone-floored and sun-filled loggia full of chairs and plants led through to a really charming set of sitting rooms with comfortable armchairs in front of a fireplace, pretty floor rugs on ancient timber plank floors, plump couches, coffee tables covered with magazines, a bowl of walnuts with nutcrackers conveniently placed, a very space-age CD player with a large stack of CDs, shelves of books in several languages, and walls covered with interesting pictures. Ecolodge-des-chartronsEven more joy awaited when the proprietaire, Veronique, showed me into my room, a very large chamber looking out into the loggia, with a vast bed, antique wardrobe, desk, bookcase, and chest of drawers, padded silk curtains, an inviting armchair, and every modern comfort that I could hope for including a sleek dark grey and chrome bathroom. After settling in I walked about 10 minutes along the esplanade to the Bourse which is effectively the centre of town along the river, and entered a warren of tiny twisting cobbled streets interrupted by irregularly shaped 'squares', every inch of footpath given over to restaurants and cafés. I had a pina colada ice-cream in the Place du Parlement and walked for several hours in a warren of streets around Église St Pierre, Rue Phillipart, and the wide pedestrian Rue Sainte Catherine (which houses Galerie Lafayette, Sephora, Zara, and a host of high-end shops) until a lack of lunch drove to find an early dinner. bordeaux-place-du-parlement The business of this busy district was clearly about eating, but I found a pleasant table in the window of Le Petit Commerce in rue Parlement St Pierre, where I had a rather ordinary fish soup and a glass of wine. There is a real emphasis on seafood in Bordeaux, so I was disappointed; I have had much better fish soup in villages in the Hérault. I wandered back along the river in the evening and found the hotel welcomingly lamp-lit and profoundly peaceful within its thick stone walls. I curled up cosily in the lounge and read books and drank tea, until going up the stairs to my quiet room where I slept very well. Next morning I met the other guests at breakfast in the loggia, a young American couple just leaving, then a quartet of New Zealanders (the hotel has only 5 rooms). Breakfast was amongst the best of its kind, with freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh nectarines and black figs, coffee, cheese, and the usual wonderful breads and jams. I wanted to see the river, and on the advice of Veronique I decided to take the BATCUB, the public ferry rather than a tourist cruise. The stops are not at all obviously marked - I walked north to the Les Hangars stop, north from Rue Raze along the river past the big river cruise boats, for about 10 minutes, until just before the start of a sweep of cafes about 500 metres in length. I had to ask to find it but on the balustrading below waist height there is a blue and white sign. The ferries run frequently in 2 directions, upriver towards Lormont, and south past Quinconces to Stalingrad. A timetable and map is available at the Office de Tourisme, or online at www.batcub.fr. The ticket, which you can buy onboard, costs $1.50 and is good for an hour. I took the ferry to Lormont, not a particularly interesting trip, but about 20 minutes against a strong current through fairly industrial scenery, then straight back again and on past the gorgeous architecture of central Bordeaux to Quinconces, a nice walk from the lovely Pont de Pierre. image  

bordeaux-bourseI passed some time admiring the Miroir d'Eau, the largest reflecting pool in the world at 3,500m2 and only 2cm deep, where next day I saw brides were coming to be photographed against the reflections (Saturday is the day for weddings in France). It is quite spectacular, and every 15 minutes the water drains away and great vapours of mist rise to head height. Children and adults alike were frolicking a good deal in the clouds.

  I spent the rest of the morning in the Musée d'Aquitaine, which has a great collection including artefacts from prehistoric times, exhibitions from the Lascaux caves with their paintings which are both more detailed artistically and much better preserved than I had expected, through Roman times, slavery and more.   musee-d'aquitaine Note well, on leaving the museum I got lost for a little while and wasted some of my brief 48 hours in Bordeaux, because the tourism map shows a prominent red shape marked Musée dAquitaine. That is NOT the museum, it is I think a tram stop, and you need to turn RIGHT not left to go towards the Tour Pey-Berland. I had barely time to eat my entree (a superb gazpacho) and a third of my (not very thrilling) main course from my 3-course "menu" at L'Arbousier in rue Phillipart; despite their assurance that I could be served in time, it took 25 minutes for my entree to arrive and another 25 for my main course. I abandoned the dessert and coffee and practically ran to the Office of Tourism (just past the Grand-Théâtre in rue 30 juillet) and just made my wine tour to the Sauternes and Graves districts. The tour was 5 1/2 hours long, with about 30 people on the bus with a very charming guide. I chose the Sauternes and Graves tour because it was the same duration, €38 instead of €74, and sauternes are a wine that we do not see so much of in Australia. In addition, the invaluable Veronique had said (if I understood properly) that the countryside is prettier than the Médoc. bordeaux-guiraudIt turned out well, although we only visited 2 wineries, the Chateau Guiraud which is one of the only dozen or so Premier Grand Cru classified sauternes, and another whose name I forget! The countryside was glorious, the weather was glorious, we saw numerous chateaux, we listened to people talk earnestly about wine, and frankly I did not care too much about the technicalities. I was in the Bordeaux countryside! There were 2 other Solo Lady Travellers in our small group, one a Canadian who had also had a new knee, and the other a merchant banker of some sort originally from New Zealand but living for 22 years now in London and who is utterly passionate about wine, lives and breathes it. I was staggered to find that each vine produces only one one glass of sauterne per year, no wonder it is an expensive wine. The wine enthusiast SLT and I had a very rich fondue dinner and a bottle of good red wine in a cosy little restaurant near St Pierre Eglise after the tour and talked of life and wine, then I walked the 15 minutes home along the dark river front, which all combined to a very pleasant end to a delightful day. Next day I dawdled in the lovely hotel for a while, then walked the riverfront a last time and had a coffee in the Place de La Comedie. If you want to sit in the shade and have a leisurely coffee while watching young families slowly walking their children or pushing prams, or children riding on the pretty merry-go-round, or people walking dogs, or gorgeous young men on skateboards, or lovely women of all ages sitting very straight on their bikes, while a peaceful Saturday morning rolls by in golden tranquillity, then Le Regent is the place tor you. The Grand-Théâtre, opened in 1790, soars in ornate-columned cream-stone splendour on your right; the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux on your left is equally cream and golden in the sun with dozens of window boxes dripping red geraniums across its elegant balconies. However if what you want is a quick caffeine hit, you may wish to go elsewhere where a coffee (possibly inferior and certainly smaller) will be €2.80, not €5.10. I loved it. Grand-theatre-bordeauxAt 11am the Grand-Théâtre opened and I went in (entry €4) to be amazed and annoyed. Amazed because it is the most beautiful theatre I have ever seen, and annoyed because Don Carlo is on in 2 weeks and Susan Graham is also appearing, and I will not be here! The actual theatre is quite small in area but tall, and there is a row of almost completely hidden boxes for 4 to 6 people along the base. One imagines the intrigue, scandal, seduction, that went on in those boxes. The theatre houses a really extraordinary collection of costumes, the attention to detail being what you would expect if the costumes were to be worn to a ball where they would be seen close-up. Then a short walk past the theatre to the Office de Tourisme, which is beside the tram stop from which you can catch the B tram to the Bordeaux St Jean railway station. I expected to miss lunch, but found  a quite pleasant caesar salad in a surprisingly elegant restaurant inside the railway station. So Bordeaux delivered right to the end of my visit! There is so much more that I did NOT see, than I did see, but  to spend 48 hours in Bordeaux is still a wonderful thing.    
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