Bordeaux may be made up of “arrondissements” like Paris, but people tend to talk about the city in terms of quarters (quartiers). Each quarter has a name and encompasses a relatively precise area, often flanked by two main roads or streets. Let's start with the oldest one, which is often considered the most beautiful of Bordeaux's quarters.
The Saint Pierre quarter Right in the heart of Bordeaux, the
The Chartrons quarter The
The Saint Eloi quarter This focal point of the Saint Eloi quarter is, of course, the
The Saint Michel quarter Separated from the St. Pierre quarter by the cours Victor Hugo, the
The Sainte Croix quarter Formerly a suburb, the
The Station quarter On arrival in Bordeaux's train station, visitors can immediately admire the building itself—the
The Victoire quarter Center of student night-life, the
The Grands Hommes quarter This chic, elegant quarter is home to the old Dominican Notre Dame church, built in 1684. Not far from here are the former place Dauphine (1747), the
The first traces of the town of Bordeaux date from the 1st century CE. Burdigala, founded by the Biturgies Vivisques in the first century, quickly became a prosperous town. This prosperity was upset by a succession of barbaric invasions—by the Vandals, Wisigothics, Francs and Normans—until the 12th Century.
With the marriage of Aliénor d'Aquitaine and Henri II Plantagenet in 1154, Bordeaux returned to peace. The town came under English control, which lasted for three centuries. During this period the town began to grow. The exportation of wine to England in the 13th Century gave Bordeaux its reputation in the wine trade. The town reached its apogee under Edouard de Woodstock. English ownership gradually dwindled, and by 1453 represented only a small band which extended from Bordeaux to Biarritz. After the Hundred Years War, as a result of the battle of Castillon, Bordeaux fell back under the authority of the king of France. The town only regained its sovereignty in 1462. Louis XIV gave Bordeaux the definitive status of a town in the kingdom of France.
Bordeaux enjoyed a second boom as a result of the wine trade (its main activity), but colonial trading quickly increased. From 1660, trade between France and the West Indies intensified and flourished even more in the 18th Century. As with Spain, the trading route was essentially triangular in nature: export of manufactured products and hardware from Nantes, Bordeaux, and Rouen. In Senegal or Guinea, hardware was exchanged for slaves who were transported to Santo Domingo, Guadeloupe and Martinique. The ships brought back sugar, coffee and indigo. In 1774, 562 ships from the West Indies came back to France and almost half of them came into Bordeaux.
The town was hit by revolution, empire and the Terror. Trade was therefore affected and did not get back into full swing until the middle of the 19th Century with the sale of groundnuts. Once again Bordeaux became a commercial and industrial center. Unfortunately, phylloxera, a disease which infects vines, had devastating consequences on Bordeaux's vineyards. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the town experienced a resurgence as a result of weaponry. Then during World War II, Bordeaux was affected by a series of troubles, e.g. the ones caused by Maurice Papon.
At the end of World War II, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, the radical socialist MP from Gironde, became the mayor of Bordeaux in 1947 and remained in the position until the town elections of 1995, when Alain Juppé succeeded him. Jaques Chaban Delmas was mayor of the town for almost 50 years; Bordeaux of today reflects the stages of his political office. Bordeaux also became a large urban area, and its existence was recognized and organized by the creation of the Town Council of Bordeaux (bill of December 31, 1966). In 1990, the town proper of Bordeaux consisted of 210,428 inhabitants, while the town together with its suburbs counted 696,587 inhabitants.
ART & CULTURE
Works of Art As far as the cultural scene is concerned, the international wine capital is certainly full of surprises. If you're specifically looking for works of art, the impressive museums and many small galleries are the places to head for. At the Musée des Beaux Arts you'll find masterpieces by Breughel and Rubens, as well as many fine examples of 20th-century art (Matisse, Picasso). The CAPC contemporary art museum is the number one destination, if you're interested in the evolution of art since the 1960s: over six hundred pieces await your inquisitive eyes.
History and Literature The large Musée d'Aquitaine is the ideal spot if you want to learn more about Bordeaux and the surrounding area. A tour around this impressive building will give you a thorough insight into the history of the Aquitaine region. Lovers of French culture will also be well cared for in Bordeaux; don't miss the houses of Montaigne, Jeanne Lartigue (the wife of Montesquieu), or the Centre François Mauriac, which also offers a great view of the city.
Nature and Science Visitors interested in natural history and the animal kingdom won't be disappointed either. The area surrounding Bordeaux offers some wonderfully preserved natural domains as well as several superb eco-museums (such as the Ecomusée du Libournais). In town you'll also enjoy the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle, and science enthusiasts definitely shouldn't miss Cap Sciences, a large and cleverly thought-out center where laymen will soon catch the experts up, thanks to regular themed exhibitions.
Other Places of Interest Among the smaller spots, one obviously can't miss the city's wine museums. Two of the most interesting are Vinorama and the Ecomusée de la vigne et du vin. Other less well-known spots, are the Musée national des douanes (customs museum), the Musée des arts décoratifs, the Centre Jean Moulin (dedicated to the French resistance movement) and the fabulous Colbert Warship that lies on the banks of the river Garonne and is open to visits. And a great way to get to know the city from a slightly different angle is the Aérolune, a hot-air balloon that offers a magnificent view of Bordeaux.
Bordeaux is equally well equipped as far as cinemas are concerned. Around the thriving Place Gambetta you will find the city center's largest commercial movie theatres as well as the wonderfully old-fashioned Cinéma Jean Vigo, which specialises in old movies and art-house productions. Another great spot for cultural and underground movies is the Cinéma Utopia, a five-screen cinema that is set in a beautifully restored old chapel, in the heart of the attractive Saint Pierre area.
If you're into multiplex theatres, Bordeaux won't disappoint on that front either. The Méga CGR is a great place, and the Mégarama is an even more thrilling experience since the cinema is set inside a huge historical monument, on the right bank of the river Garonne—the former Orléans train station.
THEATER & DANCE
For those of you who are interested in theatrical productions and dance, Bordeaux offers some very high quality shows, as well as many smaller places where you're sure to find a wide and varied choice of cultural entertainment. The Molière Scène d'Aquitaine, the Théâtre du Port de la Lune and the Théâtre de la Pergola are three favored spots, but if you're looking for more amusing plays, why not try the Théâtre des Salinières. There is also a large underground theatre scene in Bordeaux; La Théâtrerie and Théâtre La Lucarne should not be missed if you're into more obscure productions.
For dance enthusiasts the Théâtre des Quatre Saisons offers an exciting program and you'll also find a wide selection of dance shows, from classical choreography to contemporary work at the Molière Scène d'Aquitaine and, of course, at the Grand Théâtre, which is also a magnificent historical monument.
Classical If you want to hear some pure classical music while you're in Bordeaux, you will certainly have a lot to choose from. Opera lovers should visit the Le Grand Théâtre, where great French and international performers flock all year round. The décor in itself is worth a look, as is that of the Chapelle de Mussonville whose concerts mostly feature Renaissance work and other early classical music. The Salle Jacques Thibaud, Conservatoire de Région, definitely offers one of the most diverse programs in France, ranging from early chamber pieces to the very latest in contemporary music, composed and played by both talented students and confirmed professionals, depending on the show.
Jazz-blues Although Paris unquestionably provides France's major jazz and blues scene, Bordeaux does possess some unbeatable venues for those of you who enjoy these timeless styles. One spot that certainly shouldn't be missed is the Thélonius, in the North of the city, and the Tempo, in the Quais area, which boasts some pretty hot jazz concerts several nights per month.
Rock The Bordeaux rock and pop scene is thriving at the moment, and the many local reggae and salsa bands add to this excitement. For the best concerts try Le Jimmy, Rock School Barbey or Krakatoa. These aren't huge venues, so their ambiance is intimate and buzzing—ripe ground for hot new talent. Many small concerts take place on weekends in the town's bars and cafés; Le Plana and Le Fiacre are two that regularly hold good concerts. Great national and international names often stop off in Bordeaux's Patinoire Arena, so be sure to keep an eye on the many billboards and advertisements in the weekly free magazine, Clubs et Concerts, that you'll find in most of the city's bars.
House, electronic music If this is your idea of good music you've definitely come to the right place. Just check out the concerts at Space Opéra, O'Ventilo, or le Zoobizarre. These are just three of a very long list of great spots that organize excellent modern electronic music shows. It's definitely worth a serious look.
NIGHT CLUBS & SHOWS
For Parisian style cabaret shows, Caesar's is the place to go. The setting itself is sumptuous and you won't find a more refined atmosphere anywhere in Bordeaux. L'Ange Bleue is another good spot for this type of timeless spectacle.
Young and trendy clubs come by the dozen in Bordeaux and here are some of the best places to try out: you could start with the Nautilus, a large dock warehouse on the banks of the river to the North of town. The concerts and DJ sessions there are without doubt among the hottest in France at the moment. In the Quais area you can't miss Le London, the house music club in Bordeaux. Another great place, where the décor will surely amaze you, is le Quatre Sans, a huge warehouse club (and concert hall) with a rather diverse musical program and some unbelievable live electronic music shows. And last but not least, The In'n Out, an up and coming gay club in Bordeaux where one tends to find a more and more heterogeneous crowd, ever willing to have a good time.
GARDENS & PARKS
For those who enjoy taking a stroll and relaxing in a pleasant green and wooded environment, Bordeaux certainly has a lot to offer. Le Jardin Public and le Parc Bordelais are two of the city's most peaceful spots, wonderful havens of tranquility when the bustle of the streets gets too much. The Cimetière de la Chartreuse is also worth a look, as long as the somewhat morbid side of French graveyards doesn't upset you. Slightly out of the city center you'll also be able to relax in the Parc de Mussonville or the Parc municipal de Thouars, spots where you'll feel surprisingly far away from modern urban life without having to drive for miles on end.
The Domaine départemental d'Hostens or the Domaine départemental de Blasimon, two preserved natural areas, are both a bit further away from the city, but equally relaxing for those who enjoy trekking in unspoiled areas of countryside.
SPORTS & THEME PARKS
For a city of its size, Bordeaux is extremely well equipped for sports amateurs and professionals. The reputations of the Girondins de Bordeaux football team and the Bordeaux-Bègles rugby team are well established, and the city can boast a high level of capability in all major sporting fields. Whatever your particular interest, you can be sure to find people in Bordeaux who share your favorite sports and leisure activities. As far as the city's sports monuments are concerned, don't miss the impressive Stade Lescure or the Stade Vélodrome.
If you're looking for a good day out at a theme park, be sure to give the watery Aqualand a try; don't forget, Bordeaux is only half an hour's drive from the coast. La Ferme exotique de Cadaujac is also an impressive spot where children and adults will appreciate the exotic animals and plants. For a smaller but equally entertaining zoo, you could also try the Bordeaux Pessac Zoo.
And if you're in the Southwest of France for a while, you definitely should not miss the Futuroscope, in Poitiers. The European image theme park is roughly an hour and a half away by car or train and worth a good look. What's more, with the new TGV speed train link, there will soon be quick and easy access to the theme park.
Place de la Bourse As Bordeaux's town center is quite small, you can see a lot of monuments and interesting sights in only a few hours. All trips can be made on foot.
The first recommended tour begins at the Place de la Bourse (formerly the Place Royale), at the foot of the Fountain of the Three Graces. Here you can begin by visiting the Musée national des douanes. After the museum, take the Rue Philippart until you reach the Place du Parlement, then take the Rue du Parlement St. Pierre where you will find the Eglise St-Pierre. This is the historic center of the city. This area certainly has a large number of restaurants to choose from. If you've worked up an appetite, try Madura (Le), or if you're looking for traditional Bordelaise cuisine, don't miss Café Français (Le).
The Rue Bahutiers (former manufacturers of safes) will bring you to the Cours Alsace and Lorraine. Just before this avenue, turn left and you will catch a glimpse of the Porte Caihlau. The quays of the Pont de Pierre on your right. By taking the Rue Ausone just in front of the Porte Cailhau, you will cross the avenues Alsace and Lorraine. At the junction of the avenues and the Rue Ausone, you will find the Rue de la Porte Saint Jean, which looks onto the Rue de la Roussselle (at number 23 and 25 you will find the family home of Michel de Montaigne). Continue down this street until you reach the Cours Victor Hugo to find the Porte de Bourgogne, looking onto the quays and the Pont de Pierre. By crossing this avenue, you will enter the St. Michel quarter, take the Rue Fusterie until the Place Duborg, where you turn right in the direction of the Place Canteloup. From one of the café terraces on this square, you can admire the spire (Flèche St Michel) and the basilica of the Flèche St-Michel. Wrap up your day with a nice meal at Vieux Bordeaux (Le) where you can savor local specialties.
Grosse Cloche If you start on Rue Saint Francois you will eventually reach Rue du Mirail. On your right you will see the Grosse Cloche. By turning left at the Cours Victor Hugo, you will cross the rue Sainte Catherine. At the avenue Pasteur on your right you will find the Musée d'Aquitaine.
By continuing through the Cours Pasteur, you will come across the magnificent Cathédrale St-André and the town hall. You can go around the town hall by turning left and taking the Rue Elisée Reclus. You will now be on the Cours Albret; turn right and you will come to the town hall's garden and the Musée des Beaux Arts. By following the avenue (which veers to the right), you will go back up to the Place Gambetta (formerly the Place Dauphine). On your right, you will immediately see the Porte Dijaux. Go under the Porte and continue straight ahead until the Place de la Bourse. Here you will arrive at your starting point. A great dining option in this area is the Bistro du Sommelier (Le) where you can taste local vintages, and the lunch fixed-price menu is a great deal.
Grand Théâtre Start on the steps of the Grand Théâtre, where you will find the Place de la Comédie. Then take the Rue Mautrec, which runs perpendicular to the Allées de Tourny. You will arrive in front of one of the most beautiful churches in Bordeaux: the Eglise Notre Dame. Then take the Rue Diderot, which will bring you straight to the Marché des Grands Hommes, a glass shopping arcade with large metal columns. The rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau will bring you to the end of the Allées de Tourny, where you will turn right in the direction of the Cours Verdun. On your left, you will see the Public Gardens. There are many points of interest here, including the Botanical Gardens.
When you have finished a tour of the gardens, take the Cours Verdrun to the Rue Sicard, which is on your right. You will soon come across the Place du Marché des Chartrons, a pretty market hall in glass, metal and stone.
By continuing down the Rue Sicard, you will find the Saint Louis church with its neo-gothic architecture. Take the Rue Notre Dame where you will turn right, and then turn into the Passage Beaujau on the left. A completely different architecture awaits you: The Cité Mondiale. From here you can already see the quays, and if you so desire, you can visit the Croiseur Colbert. If you're ready for a nice meal by the end of the day, try Iberico. This restaurant is unique in that it serves cod in every way imaginable. If fish isn't your thing, try the delicious pizzas at the family joint Grappa (La).
St Louis Church For a longer tour, continue along the Rue Sicard to St Louis Church with its neo-gothic architecture, then take the Rue Notre Dame and turn left until you come to the Rue Borie. Turn left and you will find yourself in front of the Musée des Chartrons. On coming out of the museum take the Rue Borie on your left and go down towards the quays where you can visit the Croiseur Colbert.
When you are on the quays opposite the Croiseur Colbert, turn right until you are standing opposite the two Quinconces columns. Cross the quays and pause for a while on the Place des Quinconces, one of the biggest squares in Europe. At the bottom of the square, you will see the Monument aux Girondins et à la République (1894-1902).
Take the Cours du 30 juillet on your left and continue until you come to the Grand Théâtre. You can have a drink on the terrace of one of the cafés, which are about fifty metres from your starting point. Our final dining recommendations include Gambas Bleue (La), a seafood restaurants where patrons can taste all the delicacies that the Bay of Arcachon has to offer. And last but certainly not least, for tasty, hearty crepes, pop in Crêpe d'Or (La).
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