I can honestly admit that I have come to a place in my life where I welcome the unknown and the surprises that await. By not expecting too much, I find that what is unveiled usually can be quite fulfilling in life. This past Summer my Editor and friend, Frank D. Pond and I were trying to find a spot to visit that neither of us had been, but the one requirement was that it had to be in Europe due to our schedules. That didn’t leave many choices since Frank has travelled literally everywhere, but when I mentioned Bordeaux, I was surprised to discover that he had never been. Why? Frank is a true connoisseur of wine, who has visited the wine regions of Italy, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, but never Bordeaux, which is arguably the premiere destination for wine. I think we both were expecting extensive vineyards and sampling some of the best wines of the world, which we did, but the surprise came in the discovery of an architecturally stunning and vibrant city, with regionally fresh cuisine, great shopping and plenty of nightlife. Bordeaux is on the UNESCO World Heritage List as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble” of the 18th century. The city is also the subject of a compelling documentary entitled, “Red Obsession”, which delves deep into Bordeaux’s wine history and the bourgeoning wealth, and interest from China into the wines of Bordeaux. Read review here.
Where to Stay
The Grand Hotel De Bordeaux & Spa is a stunning luxury hotel in the city’s center located directly across from the Grand Theatre. Try and stay in one of the suites that face the Grand Theatre, as the French windows open up onto the square, and allow the guests to gaze and people watch at the vibrant activity outside. The hotel features an array of restaurants and lounges, but we opted for the rooftop bar scene, which allowed for stunning views of the city in Summertime, while you sip on the hotel’s signature cocktails. Perfectly located near stellar restaurants and shopping, the hotel is also in close proximity to the Garonne river, making it a perfect stroll during sunset.
Of course, as much as I talk about the plethora of activities and sites that Bordeaux has to offer, you’ll want to venture out to a few of the Chateau wineries. Our concierge at The Grand Hotel De Bordeaux, Anne-Sophie, could not have been more accommodating arranging a private driver for us to tour the Medoc region of Bordeaux, which is known for its primarily full bodied red wines, due to the many different kinds of rock in the soil. Our first winery, Chateau Gruaud Larose, St. Julien featured a beautiful lookout tower for viewing the extensive grounds, as well as aromatic and superb wine.
Our favorite vineyard was probably the infamous, Chateau Prieure Lichine, Margaux, also in the Medoc region. The wine was truly sublime and we enjoyed the beautiful tasting room where we met fellow global travel mates.
If you get a chance have your driver take you to La Cave D’Ulysse wine store. The owner has extensive knowledge of wine and often will let you try some of his samples he has on hand. He can ship wine home to you, and you’ll discover some of the best wines of the world.
There are several regions of wine in Bordeaux each producing and specializing in specific grapes and grape varietals. For our next visit we plan to visit the Saint Emillion, which friends tell us is a picturesque region of Bordeaux, specializing in a blend of mostly Merlot (60%), Cabernet Franc (30%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). As each region is several miles in opposite directions, and away from the city center, you can easily plan 5-7 days in Bordeaux.
There are no shortage of excellent options for dining in Bordeaux. En route to our wineries in the Medoc region, we stopped at the delicious, Cafe Lavinal. We sat outside which overlooks the quaint village known as Bages, but the inside is quintessentially a brasserie, serving fresh and local ingredients.
Two restaurants stood out as memorable, local and worth a second visit. La Brasserie Bordelaise served late and had an exhilarating wine and cocktail culture going on into the wee hours of the night. We loved our server as she was casual, fun and informative, and recommended the traditional and scrumptious casssoulet – a slow-cooked dish with meat, pork skin and white beans.
La Tupina, aka the “Bar-Cave”, is a rustic restaurant featuring a traditional wood burning oven where most of the meats and dishes are prepared. An array of fresh, seasonal meats and produce sit in front of the oven as an inviting sign that a memorable meal will be served. This is a standout restaurant, for both Summer and Winter as the restaurant embraces the local products of every season.
I can’t stress how much I fell in love with Bordeaux. Just wander throughout this charming city and you’ll get lost in the sand colored stone walls, leaving with you with a multitude of dining, shopping and sightseeing options. The city is romantic and picturesque, and does allow for late night options that include wine bars, pubs, clubs and gay nightlife. We opted for the latter including our goto spot, Busters. The next time you plan a trip to Europe, consider a stop in Bordeaux, you won’t be disappointed. View photos from Bordeaux below.