A city built for slow meaningful reflection and enjoyment, Bordeaux immediately caught hold of my heart and held on tight. A good balance between a bustling city and a small town, the size provides a degree of serenity while still offering plenty to do, see, and eat. Moreover, the people of the city were generally kind and patient – open to providing helpful information and deal with out of towners who did not quite know their way around. The handful of days we spent in Bordeaux filled our hearts and stomachs and I can honestly say, I added a new favorite place in the world to my short-list.
Bordeaux proper has a population of about 250,000 residents with the greater metropolitan area comprising about 1.2 million. It is best known for its wine and is the world’s wine industry capital. Wine has been produced in the area since the 8th century and the historic district of the city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its notable examples of 18th century architecture. The city has the highest number of preserved historical buildings out of any city in France. The Bordeaux area is now home to over 287,000 acres of vineyards and over 10,000 wine producers who make over 960 million bottles per year. It is reputed to produce some of the best wine in the world and is particularly famous for its Bordeaux style red blends. The regions top wines carry some of the priciest bottles in the world. Despite this exclusive sounding background, the city is home to a large university and thus has a university town feel while the wine culture there gives it a punch of understated elegance. This comes out particularly in the food scene.
Mandy and I had said our goodbyes to Erin in Italy and were looking forward to Mandy's dad, John joining us in France and part of Spain. We flew to Bordeaux and through a scheduling mix up, lost the reservation on our rental car. What a blessing that ended up being as the roads in the city were very tight and parking was almost nonexistent. Bordeaux is incredibly walkable, and the city was filled with a vast array of restaurants and shops which made for easy exploration. After checking into our Airbnb and enjoying an excellent first meal topped off with a bottle of wine, John arrived. We decided to celebrate his arrival at a classic French restaurant. The place must have been there for eighty years. The décor felt like out of the 1940’s and the servers seemed like they had been working there for decades. We had a fantastic meal and John had a great dish of bone marrow – one if his favorites. We made sure to get a bottle of wine and in this city, we couldn’t have gone wrong with any choice.
The next day we woke up for a wine tour of St. Emilion, a famous town just outside of Bordeaux known not only for its wine but its lengthy history and notable architecture. This history of St. Emilion goes back to prehistoric times and is yet another World Heritage Site. The Romans planted vineyards there as early as the 2nd century. The town was named after a monk named Emilion who settled into a hermitage carved directly into stone around the 8th century. This hermitage was later expanded into the famous monolithic church that it is today and is one of the largest in Europe. It is also the origin of the name Hermitage which is one of the most famous and valuable wine labels in the world. Our wine tour took us to a few wine shops in the area and a great tasting of some of the wines of St. Emilion – it was truly excellent wine. The wine culture of this town was everywhere, and every street held at least two or three wine shops ran by the vineyards just outside of town. We walked the city, ate a great lunch, drank too much wine and spent the last hour exploring the city and climbing a cathedral tower which revealed far-reaching views of the ancient city below and the vineyard lined countryside. We took the train back to town and the walk to the station revealed vineyard after vineyard in one of the most picturesque scenes imaginable. The vineyard lined roads housed large estates that I imagine have been passed down for several generations.
The rest of our time in Bordeaux was spent shopping, eating well and walking the small but packed city center. The pace of life in Bordeaux promotes balance and is a must see if you are looking for a slower paced, yet food centric city in France. The food is as good as Paris, but the wine is cheaper, the people are nicer, the pace is slower, and its quiet. It’s a city you could easily disappear into for a few months without even realizing it. Maybe that’s something I will do someday. // Jeff