The heart of the City
By Jane Anson
This Guide was last updated on 16 June 2012
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Years ago, négociant offices lined the Quai des Chartrons on the far bank of the Garonne River, Bordeaux's main artery.
© Mick Rock/Cephas
There are not many world cities that share a name with the wine region that surrounds them – there’s no city of Champagne, for example - head to Reims or Epernay instead, nor a city of Burgundy - think Beaune and Dijon. But, many visitors, even when flying in to Bordeaux for a vineyard tour, will plan trips around the Médoc and Saint Emilion and ignore the centre of town. Anyone who visited Bordeaux 15 years ago would have made doubly sure that this was the case, as it had a reputation for snarled traffic and distinctly seedy districts.
All of this has changed, however, and any visitor to the Bordeaux region today should make their first stop the centre of town and its attractive waterfront. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2007, the city of Bordeaux has transformed into one of Europe's most vibrant centres, and the wine industry, once disconnected, is busy reclaiming it. Cases of claret may no longer be shipped from the quays downtown, but a handful of négociant houses have opened up to the public, and a museum honours the history of the trade. Wine bars are finally taking their rightful place in a city that for years kept wine just at the restaurant table; and châteaux on the outskirts of the urban sprawl are getting connected through the new tramway. There's even a new wine cultural centre planned for 2015. It’s also worth knowing that buying wine can often be easier and better value in central Bordeaux than in the more tourist-focused areas such as Saint Emilion.
Located along the banks of the Garonne River, Bordeaux is protected from Atlantic storms by 'Les Landes', a large pine forest to the south and west. It has a mild maritime climate influenced by the Gulf Stream, with average annual temperatures of 7.5°C minimum and 17°C maximum and winter frosts being rare. There is however plenty of rainfall coming in from the Atlantic with 900mm per year, mainly in the spring. The summers are usually dry and hot with good weather often extending into autumn. The vineyards are notably flat, rarely reaching altitudes of more than a few metres above sea level.
At the northern end of the Graves, Pessac-Léognan stretches along the left bank of the Garonne River to the southern outskirts of Bordeaux. The northern part of the appellation is surrounded by urban Bordeaux with a hilly terrain of well-drained gravelly slopes. Located between the Gironde/Garonne rivers and the Atlantic, the Médoc, from just north of Saint Estèphe to the suburbs of Bordeaux, hugs the banks of the river along one side and is edged by the protective forest on the other side.
The fastest route from Paris, by car, is to take the A10 which takes you straight to Bordeaux. By train, the TGV Atlantique service reaches Bordeaux in less than three hours from Paris (due to become two sometime in the future), five hours from Lille and seven from Brussels. The local bus company Citram Aquitaine is useful for visiting areas outside Bordeaux centre. The closest major airport is Bordeaux-Mérignac.
Bordeaux Tourist Office,
12 Cours du XXX Juillet, 33000 Bordeaux
Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB),
1 Cours du XXX Juillet, 33000 Bordeaux
Tel: 05 56 00 22 66
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