At the end of last week I found myself in Bordeaux as a tourist, for practically the first time in my life, and I can thoroughly recommend the experience now that the city has been spruced up.
Because it was freezing cold, I was glad that I had followed the advice of one of my travelling companions to find somewhere 'comfortable' to stay. We treated ourselves to a couple of nights in the very sprauncy, recently refurbished Regent Grand, just opposite the Grand Theatre slap bang in the middle of town. We booked months ahead and had to cough up €190 a night per room in advance, but this represented a considerable saving on their quite extraordinarily high regular room rates. But it certainly was 'comfortable', and has clearly become a focal point for the city's own populace as a meeting and eating place.
The city has been cleaned up enormously and all the trams seemed to be working this time. I particularly enjoyed the renaming of many a street (see picture), and the considerable extension of the pedestrianised area, even if it seemed to take forever to move anywhere in a taxi.
We found the Musée de Beaux Arts eminently forgettable (it felt like the extension of the town hall that it is) but the nearby Musée des Arts Decoratifs is charming and involving, with agreeable café-restaurant attached. (This is a detail from its main door.) And walking by the Gironde is a great pleasure now that so many of the façades have been thoroughly scrubbed and polished. The Musée de l'Art Contemporain is in an atmospheric old warehouse but was too far north of the centre for our short visit this time.
But visitors to this site are perhaps most interested in eating and drinking. I can thoroughly recommend the Bar à Vins that now occupies the ground floor of the official wine body, the CIVB, just across the Allées Tourny from the Regent Grand. It's a comfortable space with sensible light dishes and carefully chosen wines practically given away by the generous 15 cl glass. We particularly enjoyed the rich, waxy Ch Cantelys 2003 Pessac-Léognan Blanc at €5 from Ch Smith Haut-Lafitte.
In an airy, if slightly clinical, modern wine gallery at 15 cours de l'Intendance, the main shopping street, is the recently opened Max, where you can taste small samples of first growths (all 2006s on the day I visited) for closer to €30 apiece and some lesser wines. Bravo to the Bordelais for bringing wine more obviously intro the tourist experience.
As for eating, we had only two meals to experiment with so revisited the famously hearty La Tupina on the first night (the Cazes' Villa Belair 2003 Graves Rouge and my salad of green beans with foie gras were particular hits) and much enjoyed the bistro at the new three-layer Gabriel right in the centre of the beautiful Place de la Bourse (pictured below). Gabriel has an airy restaurant on the second floor but the first floor bistro seemed crammed with happy locals. A two-course lunch menu, including a generous slab of yet more terrine de foie gras, was offered for around €22.
We needed someone to drive us to and from an extremely bibulous dinner in Pauillac and cannot recommend highly enough John Mears and the bespoke Bordeaux travel company that he and his wife run at www.gourmet-touring.com. They will design and organise a trip to your requirements and seem well plugged in to the local châteaux and restaurants.
Bar à Vins opposite the tourist office, 3 cours du 30 Juillet, showcases inexpensive Bordeaux across all the appellations. www.baravin.bordeaux.com
Max Wine Gallery, 14 cours de l'Intendance. Six Oenomatic machines dispensing top wines. www.maxbordeaux.com (website under construction).
La Tupina, 6 rue Porte de la Monnaie. Very hearty. An institution.Shades of Ami Louis. www.latupina.com
Le Gabriel, 10 place de la Bourse, three levels: bar/lounge, bistro and restaurant. www.bordeaux-gabriel.fr
Restaurants that have also been recommended:
Le Gravelier, 114 cours de Verdun. Modest outside, limited menu but excellent quality.
Le Septième Péché, 65 cours de Verdun. Booking essential.