12-16 October 2019
One mentions Bordeaux and one immediately thinks “wine.” There is so much more!
There were several statistics which prove we are in the right city. There are almost 300,000 acres of grape vines planted in the 65 appellations of Bordeaux. Over 8500 winegrowers and 300 trading houses produce and sell almost one billion bottles of wine each year. Ninety percent of this wine is red while just 10% is white. Bordeaux is definitely my kind of place!
Bordeaux is located in southwestern France near the Atlantic coast. The city wraps around a bend of the muddy, fast moving Garonne River. Walk through one of its ancient city gates and you walk into history, lovely architecture, lively cafes and and abundance of churches and neighborhood squares. And a plethora of wine shops!
Bordeaux served as a center for the French government both during the Franco-Prussian war and World War One. Briefly during the Second World War, as the Germans marched into Paris and before the French collaborationist government of Marshal Pétain was moved to Vichy, Bordeaux reigned.
However, in spite of the presence of the Italian Royal Navy’s submarine base from1940-1943 from which their subs took part in the Battle of the Atlantic, and that the port served as a major bass for German U-boats, Bordeaux suffered little damage during the Second World War. This beautiful city was saved the ravages heaped upon her sister cities in the north.
Bordeaux is an ideal city for exploration of the nearby wine regions. But the city itself also hosts several tasting rooms and many historical sites of interest. The historic part of Bordeaux is on the UNESCO World Heritage list as an outstanding architectural urban city of the 18th century. Its port was also a favorite subject of artists, including Édouard Manet who painted its lovely port in 1871.
Of course, no village or city is without its inspiring cathedral or parks. A good place to start the exploration of the city is at the Bordeaux Cathedral Saint-André. The Bordeaux Cathedral is a marvelous 11th century Romanesque edifice with dual towers and spires. The Pey Berland Tower was erected in the 15th century and offers views of the city and river. It is intentionally separate from the cathedral so as not to compromise its construction.
I rather like the Église Notre-Dame both for its elaborate façade and interior murals and carved stonework. Another fine edifice is Holy Cross Church with its squared towers and exterior Romanesque stonework. Its interior is simple with a soaring vaulted roof and 18th century pipe organ. The Basilica of St. Michael soars above all the others and dominates the skyline. Built in the 14th century, the basilica is a more decorative Gothic style with a separate 374 foot tall bell tower that can be seen for miles. Its pulpit represents Saint Michael slaying the dragon; catacombs contain the mummies found centuries ago in the graveyard.
The unusual Girondins Monument and fountain strikes one imagination. The Girondists were members of a political faction during the French Revolution. They supported a free market and a constitutional right to public assistance for the poor and public education. They also supported Napoleon’s wars along with women’s suffrage. The monument to the Republic is the typical Lady Liberté at the top of the column but the unusual part comes when you look at the wonderful bronze horses and notice their sea serpent tails and webbed feet.
The promenade along the Garonne River and Place de la Bourse is pleasant. Along the walk, enjoy views of the city, historic city gates, parks and the Place des Quinconces’ unusual Girondins Monument (dedicated to the Girondin revolutionaries who participated in the French Revolution).
Further out of city center is the Cité du Vin with its modern glass and aluminum architecture and high-tech wine-related displays. However, for a more traditional approach, visit the Musée du Vin et du Négoce de Bordeaux which offers a small tour of their museum and 18th century building with nice displays of the equipment and technology from 2000 years of Bordeaux wine production. The wine tasting and explanation which follows is excellent and one can come away well-informed about the marvelous world of Bordeaux wines.
I am never far from a square and café. The goal is to order a glass of wine and enjoy the atmosphere. There is plenty of both in Bordeaux.