36 Hours in Bordeaux – The New York Times – Smart Media Magazine

36 Hours in Bordeaux – The New York Times

Having long shed its reputation as a backwater, Bordeaux is still often overlooked by travelers intent on the Paris-Provence circuit. Nestled in verdant wine country and on the edge of leading oyster-producing areas, this elegant city on the Garonne River melds a history as a wealthy shipping center with a more recent resurgence in arts and infrastructure to make for a captivating — and mouthwatering — destination that’s easy to navigate on a system of modern trams. And with the high-speed rail service introduced in 2017, it’s just two hours southwest of the French capital.

The city’s neighborhood markets and “brocantes” are great for finding upcycled souvenirs. Head to Place St. Michel where vendors set up tables or spread out carpets topped with what they hope you’ll see as second-hand treasures, which recently included vintage vinyl, ceramics galore and a silver-plated Servan comb and hairbrush set in its original satin-lined leather box next to an enamel-on-metal painting of someone’s favorite German shepherd. For 5 euros, climb 230 steps inside the bell tower of St. Michael’s Basilica for a drone’s-eye view of the action.

With so much to take in at La Cité du Vin, this impressive museum, which opened in 2016, offers an array of self-guided, hourlong highlights tours to intrigue adults and children alike, helped by handy graphics and English translations. “The Essentials” tour, for example, includes a look at the history of winemaking and how Bordeaux — where winemaking dates to the ancient Romans — fits into that, and videos in which male and female winemakers from different countries talk about their terroir. The “Juniors” route for ages 7 to 12 includes a cartoon video of Romans shipping wine across the sea and a “buffet of the five senses” where sniff tests identify aromas and flavors found in wine. A 20-euro ticket also allows elevator access to the eighth-floor Belvedere observatory, including a taste of wine.

Across the tram tracks from the wine museum is the Halles de Bacalan, an indoor-outdoor food court where two dozen vendors offer the region’s gourmet goods. Grab a platter of freshly shucked oysters and a glass of minerally white wine, or tastings of truffle and foie gras with a bold red. End with a cheese plate or a cup of intense chocolate mousse. (Expect to pay about 20 euros for a dozen oysters with wine.)

Bordeaux has an abundance of rentals through companies like Airbnb and Homeaway. (Airbnb recently listed a one-bedroom apartment near the opera house for about $150 a night.) One independent option is a guesthouse called Chartrons Ecolodge (23 rue Raze; doubles from 125 euros). The building features lots of stone steps, ceiling fans, pine floors and antiques. Solar panels and energy-saving lighting add to the eco-credentials. An abundant breakfast featuring organic items is served in the covered courtyard.

With a prime view of Place du Parlement, Villa Reale (9 Parliament Square; doubles from 300 euros) blends the comforts of a design-driven home with the convenience of being in the center of pedestrian-friendly action on a pretty square close to main tram lines. The 18th-century structure offers well-stocked kitchens in three air-conditioned suites. (Check the price list before popping those Champagne corks).

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