From flea markets to wine museums: the undiscovered side of Bordeaux

There’s so much more to the city than delicious red wine, from thriving arts projects to scenic river tours. John Brunton guides you to the region’s lesser-known gems

Experience urban Bordeaux

Bordeaux has enthusiastically embraced urban regeneration, converting abandoned spaces into art, music and community projects. Kick off with the Darwin Ecosysteme, a sprawling army barracks that now houses an urban farm, artisanal brewery, skatepark, and venues for live music. Stroll along the Garonne river, marvelling at magnificent 18th-century palaces “mirrored” in the world’s largest reflecting pool, Miroir d’Eau. And from summer 2020, experience the Bassins de Lumières, exploring the immense water bunkers of an old Nazi submarine base, immersed in giant projections of Gustav Klimt’s art.

Sample the local markets

The Marché des Capucins, established in 1749, is the belly of Bordeaux and boasts locally produced caviar, charcuterie and around a hundred different cheeses. Head to Chez Jean-Mi, packed with locals jostling for a glass, while tourists vie for a table to feast on plump local oysters. Down the street, enter the vibrant square of Basilique Saint Michel, which transforms, four days a week, into a giant flea market.

Tantalise your taste buds

Stay at concept hotel, Eklo, an inexpensive and classy take on the youth hostel, with wooden-clad bunks, private rooms, and a funky bar to have an evening apéro. Wine lovers and kids alike can embark on a sensory and interactive adventure to discover the cultures and civilisations of wine at the Cité du Vin (External link) , the swirling glass and metal wine museum stealing the Bordeaux skyline. The tour ends on the rooftop, where you can admire panoramic views of Bordeaux while sipping a glass of wine (or grape juice, if you prefer). Across from the Cité du Vin is new food market, Les Halles de Bacalan, whose vast brasserie serves a cuisine dubbed “démocrachic”: simple terroir recipes made from outstanding organic produce at affordable prices.

Hang out with the locals

The cobbled backstreets of Bordeaux are a food lover’s paradise. Don’t miss Le Petit Commerce, where you can indulge in freshly caught grilled sea bream with a bottle of white Bordeaux. Prefer a wine bar crawl? Check out Vins Urbains for organic wines, and Le Bar à Vin, for everything from bubbly Crémant to Sauternes. Out of town, following the grape trail first planted by the Romans, is Château Lestrille, where winemaker Estelle Roumage runs her sustainable vineyard. She showcases her wine in chic locale, Un Château en Ville, her tasting room and restaurant in the centre of town.

Hit the vineyards for a wine tour

In June 2020, the city gives itself over to the Bordeaux Wine Festival, providing a great opportunity to discover more than 80 of the region’s wines. Alternatively, head out on one of five wine routes, detailed on the official Bordeaux Wine Trip website. Drive one hour north through the Médoc peninsula, described as “the wine lover’s equivalent to Route 66”, stopping off at famous wine estate Château Mouton Rothschild, which can be visited by appointment. To the south, on the Graves and Sauternes wine route, is the Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey. Reserve a room, wander the vineyards with a guide or eat at the restaurant, Lalique.

Head upriver on a wine cruise

Let someone else do the work by opting for a river tour along the Garonne or Dordogne. Day trips are magical, but a cruise with CroisiEurope (External link) , snaking through Gironde’s estuary, lakes and canals “lets mother nature put on the show”, incorporating châteaux stop offs around Pauillac, a tour of Saint-Émilion, and excursions for bike rides, cheese tastings and glasses of grand cru.

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