My Kind of Place: Bordeaux, France
What a difference a man can make to a city’s fortunes. Before Alain Juppé became the mayor of Bordeaux in 1995, this stately French city on the River Garonne was looking distinctly tired and dull – a place to fly to before heading off to more picturesque neighbours such as St-Émilion or the nearby Atlantic Coast. But a massive clean-up and a new electric tram system – not to mention a complete redevelopment of its previously forlorn waterfront – have transformed Bordeaux and given it a buzz that it badly needed.
Its 18th-century squares and streets hum with bars, cafes and restaurants – particularly in the “Golden Triangle” formed by Place St-Pierre, Place du Parlement and Place Camille Jullian. The revamped riverside includes the rejuvenated Bassins à Flot district. Its latest eye-catching addition is La Cité du Vin (www.laciteduvin.com), a new multimedia museum that has more than a hint of Bilbao’s Guggenheim about it.
Bordeaux’s restaurant scene is one of the most inventive in France, thanks to the efforts of the so-called Bordeaux bistro brat pack – and that’s not even including the newest restaurant, Brasserie Le Bordeaux by British bad boy Gordon Ramsay at the InterContinental Grand Hotel.
A comfortable bed
La Grande Maison (www.lagrandemaison-bordeaux.com) is about a 20-minute walk from the centre, but this five-star hotel makes you feel as if you’re in the countryside. This handsome 19th-century house has only six rooms, each done up in unashamedly sumptuous silks, gilt and marble. Its two-Michelin-starred restaurant was founded by Joël Robuchon and is now run by Pierre Gagnaire. Double rooms cost from €392 (Dh1,610).
There’s a fantastic eclecticism going on at the new five-star Yndo Hotel (www.yndohotelbordeaux.fr). In contrast to the hotel’s historic exterior, the rooms have cutting-edge modern style in which comfort, for once, hasn’t been sacrificed. There’s also an elegant courtyard garden and a terrace for lazy breakfasts. Doubles cost from €320 (Dh1,314).
You’re right in the heart of the city at the four-star Le Boutique Hotel (www.hotelbordeauxcentre.com). Its chic rooms have stylish contemporary decor within a venerable 18th-century townhouse. There are also some spacious apartments to rent, while the hotel’s courtyard bar does excellent tapas. Doubles cost from €237 (Dh973).
Find your feet
Bordeaux’s main sights are along the west bank of the Garonne. While the tram is useful for going to Bassins à Flot, the city centre is pleasantly walkable. Start in the Place de la Comédie, flanked by the grand Opera House and even grander Grand Hotel, which is just south of the tourist office (www.bordeaux-tourisme.com). From here, you can plunge into the surrounding narrow streets that make up the Golden Triangle and the dizzying number of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants found within.
Meet the locals
Join the Bordelais during happy hour in Le Vintage Bar (www.vintage-bar.fr) or L’Amirale (www.lamiralebiere.fr), both on Rue St-James. L’Alchimiste (www.lalchimistebordeaux.com) on Rue Parlement St-Pierre is the spot for mingling later in the evening. Cross the Garonne to Darwin (www.darwin.camp), one of Bordeaux’s newest, funkiest regenerated areas. These former military barracks now host a bistro, food shops, arts venues, workspaces and a giant skate park, with everything designed in just the right shade of shabby chic.
Book a table
Watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen of innovative restaurant Côté Rue (www.cote-rue-bordeaux.fr). The sole menu (€49 [Dh201]) changes regularly and extends to five courses, plus various nibbles. Expertly crafted dishes could include delicately steamed cod with oysters.
Chef Ludovic Le Goardet occasionally likes to let his Breton roots creep into his “bistronomic” menu at Glouton (www.gloutonlebistrot.com), which changes every two weeks. The €38 (Dh156) three-course menu could include lightly battered gambas with tarragon or plump tournedos of pollack.
Grab a table in the intimate courtyard of laid-back Potato Head (www.potatoheadbordeaux.com) for hearty bistro fare. Lunch is a good time to try their daily specials, which could include slow-cooked beef cheeks (€13 [Dh53]).
You’re bound to find something appealing along Rue St-Catherine off the Place de la Comédie: it lays claim to being the longest pedestrianised shopping street in Europe, stretching for 1.2 kilometres. For a relaxed vibe, head to the Quai des Marques along the riverside, south of Bassins à Flot. Along this wonderfully open promenade are major European brands tucked in among cafes, bike-hire shops and ice-cream outlets.
What to avoid
Taking a car in the city centre is more hassle than it’s worth. Parking isn’t cheap and traffic can be horrendous.
Head to the riverside Place de la Bourse once the sun goes down to see the graceful semicircle of 18th-century buildings reflected in the Miroir d’Eau on the other side of the tramlines. This flat expanse of water shimmers by the light of the street lamps and it’s a night-time picnic spot for students. For fabulous views of Bordeaux, have a sundowner at the InterContinental Grand Hotel’s rooftop bar Night Beach.
Turkish Airlines (www.turkishairlines.com) flies from Abu Dhabi and Dubai to Bordeaux via Istanbul, from Dh2,400 return, including taxes. Next year, a new fast train (www.voyages-sncf.com) from Paris to Bordeaux will halve the current journey time of four hours.
Updated: August 31, 2016 04:00 AM