The last time I was in Bordeaux in 2001 it was a dirty industrial port city that didn’t even rate a stop on my way to view the beautiful wine growing estates in the surrounding area. Last year though, I discovered to my surprise that the city had undergone a massive clean-up revealing beautifully well preserved 19th century architecture alongside a picturesque river. The limestone facades of the Bourse, the Grand Théatre and the cathedral had been restored to their original white finish and Rue Sainte-Catherine was now a pedestrianised upmarket shopping hub with trendy boutiques and department stores crowded with visitors. Nearby restaurants were celebrated for locally grown food and superb wines from the region. I even found an artisanal cafe with a barista passionate about making excellent coffee - a rare treat as overseas travellers to France may appreciate. Bordeaux, according to recent surveys had become France’s second-favourite city. Quelle surprise!
The architect for this turnaround had been the Bordeaux mayor and France’s former Prime Minister Alain Juppé. The transformation of old warehouses and disused docks continues and now half of the city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site making it the largest urban world heritage site in the world.
An attraction that I found truly amazing though was the Cité des Civilisations du Vin opened in 2016. Housed in a modern beehive like building I would venture to say this is one of the best modern museum experiences I have ever had. And it deals only with wine! The financial might of the French wine industry has been literally poured into this amazing venue and all the latest audio visual and virtual reality tech along with the French flair for design and surprise make this a must-see stop. Visitors are given headphones set to their native language attached to a device that locates them precisely throughout the museum. A half a dozen visitors can be watching a presentation side by side in 6 different languages and each has the ability to explore further information and interact with the display in individual ways. The history of wine throughout the world comes alive and a visitor can go into as much detail on types of wines, regions, wine making and tasting as he wants. It’s a vast topic it seems and the museum goes all out to make in it fun and interesting using tactile displays and even bell jars with air pumps to simulate wine aromas. If you knew nothing about wine beforehand you would certainly come away 2-3 hours later with a greater appreciation for the whole world of wine. And of course you are given a complimentary glass of a wine of your choice to finish the tour. Merveilleux!