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When it comes to France, Paris often hogs the spotlight. While few would argue that it doesn’t deserve it, there’s more to the French story and you’ll find a beautiful piece of it in the southwest city of Bordeaux. It should be considered a highlight of any journey through Southern France.

Bordeaux is a different beast than Paris. For one thing, you won’t have to wind your way through massive crowds. That’s not to say it’s a sleepy place. Bordeaux is France’s eighth largest city, with a population of more than 240,000, but it’s not crazy-busy either. It strikes the right balance of energy and edge thanks to its college student population. Better still, you generally won’t find expensive Parisian price tags, be it dining or accommodations.

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Shopping

For retail action, check out Rue Sainte-Catherine, featuring 1.2 km of shopping; it’s believed to be the longest pedestrian street in Europe. The designer stores and stunning Gothic, Renaissance and contemporary architecture packs enough pizazz to make it worth a stroll even if the shops are beyond your budget. Sprinkled in the mix you’ll find eateries, along with a handful of less fancy stores. While the scene is high-end retail, it is contrasted by street musicians and entertainers, like a man on stilts draped in a gold full-length gown, and with branches sprouting from his body. Self-expression is the order of the day in Bordeaux; perhaps that’s not surprising in a place where wine is like water.

Wine

Bordeaux is all about vino. This region is world-renowned for its wines, including a vast selection of really good wines priced between $5-$10.  Whether you’re an oenophile or not, you will be impressed by La Cité du Vin, a museum/cultural center that celebrates wine and is famous for its bold, curvy shape. The museum, which opened in 2016, bills itself as an immersive journey through a global history and culture of wine. Spend hours getting swept up in 3-D films, engrossing kiosks where you control the narrative, wine tastings, and more. There is also an enormous museum store boasting wines from around the globe. Truthfully, if you took a trip to Bordeaux solely to visit the La Cité du Vin you wouldn’t feel cheated.

Dining

Great food goes with great wine and Bordeaux’s culinary scene is vibrant. In the last few years, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay opened two restaurants in Bordeaux. Good luck getting a reservation at 2-Michelin-starred Le Pressoir d’Argent Gordon Ramsay or Le Bordeaux Gordon Ramsay. Restaurants are springing up like local poppies. Recent additions include La Belle Saison, in a picturesque spot over the Garonne River and Cent33 headed by noted chef Fabien Beaufour. Cent33’s Robotayaki, a Japanese-based wood-burning fireplace, has diners raving. Casa Gala and Arcada are two other recent additions making their culinary mark.

As if that weren’t enough to sate the most discerning foodies, late last year food court La Boca opened. Fill up on Japanese, seafood, Italian, tapas, Mexican street food, fish, wine, cheese, and more. Then there is Les halles de Bacalan, a new indoor market with local producers opened in front of La Cité du Vin. Quite frankly, there’s little you can’t buy here to tickle your palate.

Historic architecture

Much as Bordeaux continues to emerge as a hip, funky city where you have to watch out for skateboarders and cyclists, this UNESCO World Heritage city is awash in historic landmarks, some dating back to the 15th century. There are many to see, but put Pont de Pierre, with its panoramic views of Bordeaux and spanning the Garonne River, deserves a spot on your bucket list. This walkable bridge stretches 1,568 feet, features  17 arches, and offers great views of the quay and port area. Pey Berland Tower was built in the 15th century; climb the tower for perfect views of the statue of Notre-Dame d’Aquitaine, which sits atop it. Another popular site is Esplanade des Quinconces, the city’s largest square, and among the largest in Europe. It overlooks the Garonne River and is beloved for its monuments and fountains.

Museums

Bordeaux is a city of museums. In addition to La Cité du Vin, check out CAPC, (the Museum of Contemporary Art), the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of Decorative Arts & Design for starters. The Museum of the Sea and Navy showcases the history of the navigation and the main discoveries of the oceanography and the new scientific conquest of the seas.

Hotels

For lodging, the InterContinental Bordeaux – Le Grand Hotel, is as luxurious as it sounds. With its sophisticated, elegant 19th century décor, you’ll feel like you’re in old world France. Recent additions include the Radisson Blu with its rooftop bar showing off views of the Bassins à Flot and nearby La Cité du Vin, Le Palais Gallien, a luxury hotel with an outdoor pool and rooftop, and Hilton Garden Inn Bordeaux Centre. Budget travelers should check out Central Hostel.

Tagged: Europe

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Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl is a writer and editor, specializing in travel, personal finance, business and career topics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Money, DailyFinance.com, Forbes.com, ABCNews.com, Upscale Magazine, Essence, Black Enterprise and others.

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