Elegant Bordeaux, capital of Aquitaine and the fifth-largest city in France, is the hub for the legendary wine châteaux of St-Emilion and Médoc. They welcome you to their vineyards all year round. Away from the trestles, Bordeaux gives generously, too. Its wide Quays curve graciously around the Garonne River to the reconverted Bassins à Flot docks, past Gothic churches, 19th-century factories, tree-shaded thoroughfares and 18th-century merchants mansions so beautiful, the city has been hailed the great urban aesthetic triumph of western France.
Let the neo-classical masks of Bacchus and Mercury on Place de la Bourse lead you to Quartier Saint Pierre’s stately old merchants’ houses. Or cross tree-lined Place des Quinconces, with its statues of Montaigne and Montesquieu, to antique shops and markets in the Chartrons district. From here the CAPC (contemporary art museum) displays offbeat 1960s art. Standing 374 feet tall, Basilique St-Martin provides sweeping panoramas over the River Garonne, whose ships are like jewels glistening in the silvery water.
Sensible by day, Bordeaux rocks by night. Bars and bistros line the Garonne’s Quays, leading well-dressed crews to the chic clubs at Bassins à Flot, while students guzzle cheap wine in grungy bars round Place de la Victoire. For something more sophisticated, the Grand Théâtre is a sumptuous neo-classical venue used for top-notch opera. In the trendy Bastide district, just across the Pont de Pierre, lights from Bordeaux’s rows of mansions twinkle seductively.
Sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and fertile land, Bordeaux gets the best of both worlds. Tantalize your taste buds with melt-in-your-mouth Arcachon oysters, tender Pauillac lamb, Aquitaine beef, Périgord truffles, prunes from Agen, and St-Emilion macaroons. The elegant quays are freckled with contemporary eateries, or take your pick along Rue St-Rémi and place du Parlement where French, Chinese and Italian restaurants fight for space. For a Michelin-starred treat, Le Chapon Fin has been serving gourmet French cuisine since 1825.
Nothing loosens muscles like Bacchus’s old finest, and around Bordeaux, you’re spoiled for choice. Escape the city to the verdant vineyards encircling St-Emilion, where gently trestled vines have grown since the 12th century and the village’s postcard-perfect cobbles conceal an eerie troglodyte church. When the rolling hills beckon again, the great vineyards of Médoc produce some of the world’s finest wines.