Bordeaux: The Wine Capitol of the World

Bordeaux, the capitol of the Aquitaine Region in South Western France, has the largest area of any city in the country, but is only ninth in population with about 230,000 people within the city limits, and about a million in the metropolitan area. The city sits on the port of the Gironde Estuary along the Garrone River which leads out to the Atlantic Ocean. This sprawling city is made up of primarily 18th century architecture and doesn’t have one skyscraper to blemish its skyline. Historically, both shipping and wine production have been central to the city’s development, but it is also known for its university which hosts about 100,000 students every year. Bordeaux is easy to reach by plane with the International Aéroport de Bordeaux just 8km out of the city in the nearby suburb of Mérignac. It is also easy to take the train to Bordeaux with connections from all the major French and European cities, including Geneva, Brussels, Amsterdam and London. Once in the city, the public transportation system works well, and is complete with trams, ferries, and buses. Bordeaux is a relatively flat city, making it an ideal place to bike around with over 17km of bike paths in town. The old city is easy to visit by foot, with a good part of it reserved as pedestrian zones.


Like much of France, the area of Bordeaux was inhabited first by prehistoric man, then Celtic tribes, and after that the Romans. Bordeaux was the capitol of the Gallo-Roman Region of Aquitaine from 60 BC until it fell in 276. It was then held by different tribes and families until it was taken by the Dukes of Gascony in the late 10th century. As a result of the marriage of the Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine to Count Henri Plantagenet of Le Mans, soon to become King Henry II of England, Bordeaux became part of the Kingdom England in 1137. English rule continued until 1453, and the Battle of Castillion when French rulers once again took the city, although the area was not officially part of the Kingdom of France until Louis XIV annexed it in 1653. Bordeaux gained new wealth in the 16th century when its port was filled with imported slaves and sugar from the West Indies, but the city’s true Golden Age is considered the 18th century. With foreign visitors such as Victor Hugo living in the city and enormous new wealth, much of the old Medieval city was destroyed at this time to make way for more than 5,000 new buildings, giving the city a more modern and grandiose image. Even today, the 18th century architecture is what defines the landscape of Bordeaux, and it is worth seeing.

 Wine has been produced in Bordeaux since the Roman times, and today it continues to be the world’s capitol of wine production, with over 700 million bottles of wine produced annually here at the over 9,000 wine producing châteaux in the area. Visitors can enjoy the many opportunities to taste and learn about the importance and history of wine at the many festivals, museums and wineries in the area. Bordeaux is also a lively city filled with art, culture, and music, and it offers countless things to do. There are museums to visit as well as historic monuments to see. With the Grand Théâtre and the Casino de Bordeaux, not to mention the many great restaurants, bars and discos, Bordeaux boasts a lively night life. In addition, boat trips along the river can offer a relaxing way to see not only the port, but up the river to the surrounding countryside. Get out and explore the city and its neighborhoods, and be sure to enjoy the local cuisine as well.

Main Attractions

 Cathedral Saint-André

This cathedral was consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1096, but little of the original Romanesque structure remains. The Royal Gate dates from the 13th century while most of the existing building dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. It was here that Eleanor of Aquitaine was married to the future King Henry II of England in 1137. If you’re up to climbing the 50 meter tall Bell tower, you will enjoy a great view.

Basilique Saint-Seurin

Although begun in the 6th century in the Romanesque tradition, this basilica had many additions, giving it a very Gothic aspect now. Within one finds Romanesque capitols and the Southern Portal which is known for its depiction of the Last Judgment. The Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-le-Rose has some amazing Gothic ornamentation, while in the crypt, the oldest part of the church, one finds some marble Merovingian sarcophagi. Legend says that it was in this basilica that Charlemagne laid down Roland’s ivory horn after the battle of Ronceveaux.

Basilique Saint-Michel

This gothic church was built from 1472-1492. The most famous feature here is the bell tower, which was struck by lightening twice, in 1574 and 1608, then finally destroyed by a hurricane in 1768. It was rebuilt in 1865, and today the bell tower stands at 374ft high and offers a great view of the city. Tours of the church include a visit to the top of the tower.

 Musée d’Aquitaine

This museum covers the history of Bordeaux over the last 25,000 years, from prehistoric times through the 19th century. There are ancient stone carvings of women from the stone-age, and a great bronze statue of Hercules that was believed to have protected the port in Gallo-Roman times that was unearthed in 1832 in the Saint-Pierre Quarter of Old Bordeaux. The collection also includes the Medieval and Modern Periods, with displays that look at agriculture, commerce and shipping in Bordeaux.

 Musée des Beaux-Arts

Housed in the 1770s Hôtel de Ville near the public gardens, the Jardin de la Marie, is a fine arts museum. Founded by Napoleon in 1801, the museum’s collection is made up of more than 100 European paintings and sculptures from the 16th to 18th centuries. Of special note are the 17th century Dutch, Flemish and Italian collections, and an exceptional painting by Delacroix.

 CAPC Musée d’Arts Contemporain

This museum of Contemporary art is considered one of Frances best museums. It displays many temporary exhibits of international artists. The museum is housed in the Entrepôts Lainé, a warehouse built in 1824 to store the exotic imports such as coffee, cocoa, vanilla and peanuts that were shipped to Bordeaux from France’s many colonies.

 Musée des Arts Décoratifs

The Hôtel de Lalande was built in 1779 as a private home and is now the Museum of Decorative Arts. The rooms in the museum have been restored to how they would have been when it was a private mansion, with décor of the Louis XV and XVI periods. Within one finds an amazing collection of period glasswork, silver, porcelain, furniture, and weapons. Touring the museum gives a great impression of how they rich lived in France at that time. There is also a tea room and restaurant on the premises.

 Place de la Bourse

Also known as the Place Royal, this beautiful square is enclosed by the Garrone River and 18th facades which are typical of Bordeaux’s architecture of the period. Built in the mid-1700s, the square includes landscaping, statues and fountains. The square is a pleasure to visit in the day time, or even at night when its fountains are illuminated.

 Grand Théâtre

Built from 1773-1780, Bordeaux’ Grand Theater is one of the last remaining 18th century theaters to survive in the world. Outside it has 12 columns with goddesses and muses on top, while the interior is opulently decorated. It is possible to tour the building, but better yet, try to see one of its many operas or plays, and appreciate it as one should.

 Musée des Vins de Bordeaux

This museum, housed in a 18th century nobleman’s home, is dedicated to the importance of Bordeaux’s wine culture and industry. The tour includes the vaulted wine cellars and the storehouse as well as an introduction to wine tasting. If you like this, be sure also visit the Vinorama de Bordeaux, another wine museum which looks at the production of wine in the region from the Roman times to the 19th century. Its display includes 75 wax figures and an audiovisual presentation. They also offer a one hour wine tasting, in which visitors sample unusual varieties such as the Roman Honey Wine.




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