The essential essentials
Grand Théâtre: This monumental building was the work of the architect Victor Louis and was erected between 1773 and 1780. Watching over proceedings at all times are twelve statues, each perched in line with a Corinthian column. They represent the nine muses and the goddesses Juno, Venus and Minerva. The inside of the building, which can only be viewed when on a guided tour organised by the Office de Tourisme or when attending a show, is equally impressive, with grand stone staircases leading to the five tiers of seating in the main performance hall, which is topped off by a painted ceiling and an elaborate chandelier.
Porte Saint-Éloi and the Grosse Cloche: The 13th-century Porte Saint-Éloi was one of the gates to the heart of the city and a natural extension to the existing Saint-Éloi church. It was also known as Porte Saint-James as it welcomed a steady stream of St. James' Way pilgrims. The Grosse Cloche (Great Bell) belfry was added in the 15th century and has become one of the best-known landmarks in Bordeaux, visible on the city’s coat of arms. The current bell was installed in the 18th century. Cast in 1775, it weighs 7,800 kilograms and is two metres tall and wide.
Cité du Vin: Since opening in June 2016, Bordeaux’s wine museum has rapidly established itself as one of the essential visits to take in during a stay in the city. The permanent exhibition covers the history and culture of wine throughout the world, with plenty of spectacular high-tech wizardry to make the experience a memorable one. The admission price is high but there is plenty to see, do, touch and smell: as well as taste since the visit also includes a glass of wine to be sipped while taking in a spectacular view over Bordeaux and the Garonne… from the very top of this most unusual of buildings, which its architects designed to look like a massive decanter! [Photo source: bordeaux-tourisme.com / Arnaud Bertrande]
Pont de Pierre: The Pont de Pierre bridge over the Garonne was the sole means of crossing the river within the city from its completion in 1822 until the Pont Saint-Jean and Pont d’Aquitaine were opened in 1965 and 1967 respectively. Its construction had been commissioned by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and medallions celebrating his rule feature on each flank while the number of arches (17) echoes the number of letters in his name.
Pont Jacques-Chaban-Delmas: Pont Chaban-Delmas, also affectionately known to some as Pont Chababa (Chaban-Bacalan-Bastide) in reference to the two districts it connects, is Europe’s largest lift bridge. Inaugurated in March 2013 after four years’ construction work, the structure is 425 metres long and its four pillars measure 76 metres. The 117-metre central lift span, which weighs around 2,600 tons, rises vertically to a height of 55 metres to let tall ships pass underneath. The €160m bridge, mainly funded by the greater Bordeaux authority (Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux), was designed by architects Charles Lavigne, Thomas Lavigne and Christophe Cheron in association with the engineer Michel Virlogeux.
The not-quite-so essential essentials
Rue Sainte-Catherine: This 1,250-metre-long street is the vibrant commercial heart of the city. It is often referred to as the longest shopping street in Europe, and there are more than 250 shops to choose from. The street has been fully pedestrianised since 1984 and was totally overhauled between 2000 and 2003. The street’s name is in reference to a chapel which stood until 1835 on the spot where a FNAC store can now be found.
Cours de l’Intendance: Cours de l’Intendance forms the southern flank of the affluent so-called Triangle d’Or quarter (the golden triangle), the other two sides of which are formed by Cours Clémenceau and Allées de Tourny. In past centuries, the mansion houses of many of the city’s richest families were on this street. At number 57, now the Cervantes Institute Spanish cultural centre, the Spanish artist Francisco Goya spent the last months of his life. Goya died there in 1828 at the age of 82.
Saint-Michel church: This flamboyant gothic church was built between the 14th and 17th centuries. Again, the belfry stands apart from the main edifice (as with Saint-André, the instability of the Bordeaux soil was the reason behind this decision). The “Flèche de Saint-Michel”, as it is known, tops out at 114 metres!
Place de la Victoire: If you needed any reminder that Bordeaux is a lively student city, Place de la Victoire is the best place to start. Surrounded by popular bars, the square is a public transport hub and meeting point for the more youthful Bordelais population! Since 2005, its centrepieces have been the red marble obelisk and bronze tortoises created by Czech artist Ivan Theimer. Predating them by more than 250 years is the decorative Porte d’Aquitaine gate into the city, built by architect André Portier in 1753. Beyond the arch is the Rue Sainte-Catherine pedestrianised shopping street (see above). The square was previously known as Place Saint-Julien and was given its current name in December 1918 to commemorate victory in the First World War.
Saint-Seurin Basilica: Saint-Seurin basilica was originally built in the 6th century then overhauled and extended between the 12th and 14th centuries. It was (and still is!) the first stop in Bordeaux for St. James' Way pilgrims passing through the city en route to Santiago de Compostela, in north-western Spain. The church boasts some fine samples of Christian carvings and sculptures, and an impressive pipe organ which was first installed in 1776. In the early years of the 20th century, archaeological digs uncovered a large Christian cemetery with graves dating from the 4th to the 18th centuries, and revealed a set of walls that formed constructions from different periods housing fresco-decorated tombs and pottery storage jars that were used to bury infants.
Place Stalingrad: The most striking feature of this square is the large blue lion conceived by the French artist Xavier Veilhan (born 1963). It has been in position since 2005 and has become one of the symbols of the renewal of this district, which was for many years regarded as the black sheep of the Bordeaux neighbourhoods. The plinth-less statue, made from composite materials (polystyrene, polyester resin on a metallic frame), is very much of its times: computer software played a large part in getting the geometrically-challenging volumes just right!
Botanic Gardens: These right-bank gardens were conceived in 2002 – nearly 150 years after their left-bank Jardin Public counterparts – by the landscape gardener Catherine Mosbach and the architect Françoise-Hélène Jourda. The gardens, which opened in 2004, feature a number of zones which each reflect a different type of landscape of south-western France. The most impressive features include a wide expanse of water which provides a home for numerous aquatic species, and the glasshouse conservatory (and exhibition centre) where 500 types of Mediterranean plants are kept.
Other more unusual sights which could prove rewarding - and which have been covered on the blog - include: la Base Sous-Marine WW2 submarine pen, the Mériadeck quarter, Statue of Liberty, Cour Mably, the façades of Hôtel Saint-François, Place Fernand-Lafargue, Pont d'Aquitaine, Rue des Bahutiers, Impasse de Rue-Neuve, Caserne des Pompiers de la Benauge, Toussaint Louverture statue, Place Georges de Porto-Riche, Stade Chaban-Delmas and Parc Floral. Enjoy!