Bordeaux - the capital of wine and every epicurean’s dream. Trains will carry you there through the luscious vineyards of south-west France. Only a 3-hour 15-minute train journey from Paris, 50 minutes from Arcachon Bay, or 30 minutes from Saint-Emilion’s vineyards, it’s a city in which travellers will always find their glass half full.
Upon arrival, the facade of Bordeaux Saint-Jean’s railway station is a first look at the French classical architecture (18th-19th century) that typifies the city. Great examples can be seen in the Old Town and main square, Place de la Bourse. Sitting opposite the popular Water Mirror, it is the heart of a large UNESCO World Heritage site. Bordeaux’s charm also lies in residential neighbourhoods – such as Nansouty, sprinkled with single-storey stone houses made from local stone – while southwestern gastronomy and “joie de vivre” can be experienced in the Capucins/Saint-Michel area.
Reaching key attractions from Bordeaux Saint-Jean train station is as easy as cannelé – a local cylindrical pastry, flavoured with vanilla and rum (yep, sounds about perfect, right?). The station is central and is well served by many bus routes and the convenient tram C (north-to-south route). Located in the quaint neighbourhood of Nansouty, it’s only a 30-minute walk south of the city’s beating heart.
A pleasant stroll to the northeast – punctuated by Art-Deco villas of bourgeois Saint-Genès – leads to the vibey Capucins/Saint-Michel area. Vintage and antique hunters are in good company at Passage Saint-Michel, while fruit and vegetables can be handpicked from wooden carts at Marché des Capucins. Nearby lies rue Sainte-Catherine, the city’s longest street and main shopping artery. Sprinkled with trendy little fashion boutiques and big high-street stores, it stretches all the way to the Old Town.
For a taste of history and southwestern cuisine, the Quinconces and Saint-Pierre districts are recommended. As its name suggests, La Maison du Magret is home to delicious duck breast, while Croc-Loup serves Bordeaux rib steaks and other specialities laced with wine or mushroom sauces (such as “gigolette” chicken with porcini).
The historical centre also offers delightful Enlightenment architecture, particularly the Grand Théâtre and Place de la Bourse. This city symbol boasts the Fountain of Three Graces, representing Zeus’s daughters, and is surrounded by facades decorated with macarons. Opposite, the Water Mirror – a huge granite slab covered in water – alternates between fog effects and reflections of the square and the river Garonne’s quayside. Behind Place de la Bourse, the Saint-Pierre district holds some of Bordeaux’s rare medieval buildings. Among them is Porte Cailhau, the gate to the Old City that resembles a fairy-tale castle. It was erected in 1494 in honour of King Charles VIII.
Surrounded by famous vineyards, Bordeaux is first and foremost a city of good living and good drinking. Saint-Pierre is always a nice place to start the night, hopping from characterful wine bars to cool cocktail joints. Later in the evening, students move to Place de la Victoire. This jolly square is lined with bustling bars and buzzing streets, and sits close to Marché des Capucins. Heading on from there, the docks are a popular destination. After shaking the night away at the Bistrot and La Plage clubs, the Quai de la Paludate – close to Saint-Jean station – guarantees a good snooze before that morning train. Up north, the hip Bassins-à-flot attracts electronic music lovers onto party boats such as the IBoat. And finally, the nearby Verre-ô-vin bar offers quirky wine tasting through self-service machines found under 18th-century stone vaults. A unique and snazzy nightcap!