The fog comes out of nowhere on this bright summer day. I sit on the Garonne, opposite the Palais de la Bourse, and see the passers-by only through a veil of millions of drops of water. Children jump in the fog cloud, which is refreshing to the skin. A little later everything is clear again, the facade of the stock exchange palace is reflected in the water – a wonderful photo motif.
This is made possible by the Miroir d'eau, a nearly 3.500-square-meter granite slab that is washed over two centimeters high, creating the illusion that the Bordeaux landmark is standing in the middle of the water.
Magnificent houses abound in Bordeaux, the old town from the 18th century. The nineteenth-century port is almost completely preserved and has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site as Port de la Lune (Port of the Moon).
Nevertheless, Bordeaux has changed, says the city guide. This can be seen not only in the streetcar, which now travels through the center without cables. The attitude to life is also different than it was ten years ago, more relaxed and open. Sometimes charmingly classic, in some quarters more multicultural, alternative and hip. From the somewhat staid wine and trade metropolis to the place to be – at the latest since the Lonely Planet travel guide 2017 proclaimed Bordeaux the ultimate city break destination, this is officially true.
Bordeaux is classic and hip, multicultural and alternative
The new nonchalance suits the city very well. I still remember well my first visit in 2007, during the international wine fair Vinexpo. I'm reminded of the air of conceit that was in the air at the time: the great wines come from Bordeaux, you're somebody in the world.
The great wines still exist. But it doesn't need all the hoopla around it anymore. Today wine is no longer elitist, but what it should be: Pleasure.
I was therefore all the more pleased when I was invited by the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region to (re)discover the pleasurable sides of the region between Biarritz and Bordeaux – including the largest wine festival in the world, which attracts visitors to the Garonne for four days from noon onwards.
I use the morning for a market stroll. One of the best markets in Bordeaux is said to be the Marche de Capucins in the Saint Michel district, according to a tip from locals who like to shop there themselves. From my hotel, it's a nice 20-minute walk through Bordeaux, a bit on the dead-straight shopping street on Rue St. Catherine.
The Marche de Capucins is a feast in itself, a land of milk and honey (but isn't that true for many markets in France)?)! Fruit, vegetables, herbs, flowers, fish, meat, cheese are available here as elsewhere. The selection alone is fantastic.
Savoir vivre in Bordeaux: enjoy oysters and tapas directly on the market
What makes this market special are the small restaurants between the stalls. Here I choose a few tapas and enjoy them with a glass of wine, next door I slurp a few oysters – it doesn't get any fresher than this. What a shame it's so early in the day and I'm unfortunately still full from the foie gras last night. But a cafe and a croissant, that always goes. I like the hustle and bustle and even more the way the French choose their food. This awareness of the value of good food.
From the market I walk again in the direction of the river through the quarter. Passing facades with ornate balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows. Many Africans live in Saint Michel. Women in colorful dresses and turbans do their shopping at the weekly market – from fabrics and yarn to household items and bags, everything is on sale. Mountains of fresh mint smell in the sun, the alleys around the church are like a picture book.
Bordeaux Fête le Vin – the largest wine festival in the world
Bordeaux is the last stop on my five-day journey through the Nouvelle Aquitaine. On this sunny June weekend, the Fête le Vin, one of the most beautiful wine festivals I know, takes place against the backdrop of the magnificent old town. To the 20. For the first time, the world's great sailing ships are coming to Bordeaux for its 50th anniversary. Stately three- and four-masted ships like the etoile Molene, which would do honor to any pirate movie. Some of the ships receive visitors and offer small round trips. The Garonne flows right through the city; so if you come by boat, you can dock right in the center. Another point that makes Bordeaux so attractive.
Every two years the Bordeaux Fête le Vin takes place, alternating with the river festival. The quays are lined with two kilometers of stalls of the various appellations of the region. In between food trucks and tents, where the culinary delights of Nouvelle Aquitaine tempt you.
How fortunate that I have nothing else planned today, so tempting is everything here: Oysters, cheese, ham, foie gras and, of course, wine without end. Well-known chateaux such as Baron Philippe de Rotschild or Baron de Lestac are represented as well as (to me) unknown wineries. On request, the winegrowers at their stands advise in detail and patiently – despite long queues, I have never experienced this at a wine festival before.
Equipped with a wine glass and a practical shoulder bag as well as a pass degustation (included in the ticket price) I start my pleasure tour. A Crèmant to start, plus a few oysters from the ile de Re – la vie est belle!!
Savoir Vivre on the Garonne and a journey to wine: Cite du Vin
Not only can you party at the festival grounds, but you can learn a lot about wine as well. The Ecole du Vin holds workshops on various topics several times a day. Participation is free of charge on a first come, first serve basis. Tip: be there in time, the places are very sought after.
By the way, I can also highly recommend a visit to their wine bar at Cours du 30 Juillet: great wine selection, first-class advice and small snacks from the region.
One of the highlights of Bordeaux is the Cite du Vin in the Bassins A Flots district, which was opened in 2016. From the wine festival I get there in about 20 minutes on foot, along the river, a nice walk and quite convenient to take a break between tastings.
The metal and glass building gleams in the sun and makes its mark on the city skyline. Already from a distance I see the 55 meter high tower, which reminds me of the shape of a decanter carafe. Completely beside it, the wooden vault is supposed to represent the hull of a ship on the Garonne, I later learn. Thanks to the river, Bordeaux was able to develop into a wine mecca in the first place.
Curious, I explore the second floor, where the permanent exhibition is housed. I like the interactive and playful way in which knowledge is imparted here. See, hear, feel – the Cite du Vin is a feast for the senses. After the theory, I quickly get a desire for a sample sip again. You can find it in the 8. Floor at the Belvedere – with a 360-degree view over the city.
One floor below is the restaurant, but you can also eat on the first floor. Or on the opposite side of the street in Les Halles de Bacalan, a mixture of market hall and gastronomy, partly you can also sit outside. The stands offer typical products of the region – from cheese from the Dordogne to foie gras de canard from Gascogne. The harbor area of Bordeaux has been transformed into a trendy district in recent years, an exciting mix of old and new.
Back to the center I take the streetcar line B. But only ride one stop and get off again in Chartrons to stroll along the Garonne River. In the historic quarter of shipowners and wine merchants, the people of Bordelais meet to feast at the Sunday market. A new city district is to be built here by 2025, an urban mix of living, working and going out. The former submarine base already hosts concerts and exhibitions, the Musee Mer Marine opens in 2018.
The sun is already low. Slowly the wine festival fills up. The queues at the stands are getting longer, the atmosphere could hardly be better – relaxed and cheerful.
And because the Fête le Vin is more than an ordinary wine festival, the wine party ends accordingly gigantic: with a fireworks display. Every evening anew, point 23.30 o'clock is the time. The dragon comes across the water, spits fire. For minutes, his boat and its companions circle the Garonne in the direction of the Pont de Pierre, accompanied by drumbeats that herald great things to come.
Then, just before midnight, the finale: fountains of fire in silver, purple, red and green color the sky over Bordeaux; showers of stars and gold tinsel glitter in the darkness. The spectacle lasts 25 minutes. Then it's over for the day.
Tomorrow at eleven we meet again, at the Quais. For a glass or two.
The French call it savoir vivre, the way of life. A piece of it I take home, even if it is only in the form of wine, cheese and baguette.
Au revoir, Bordeaux!