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Living the French Way: Wine, Friends & Happiness in Bordeaux

Bordeaux – award-winning city in Southwestern France, known all over the world for dark red shimmering wine and for old architecture. A city where medieval gates, Gothic churches and streets in the style of classicism nestle against the banks of the Garonne river and where 18k m² are listed as UNESCO-world heritage. That sounded like a place where I can find some happiness.

La grosse cloche, one of two medieval city gates, carrying an impressive clock

Even though Bordeaux was honoured in 2015 as the European destination, the news have not reached out to the world. It certainly is a touristic place in August, but while lately many Parisians chose Bordeaux over Paris the tourist masses from all over the world still fill the streets of France’s capital and stay clear of Bordeaux.

I am personally not a big fan of Paris, despite the fantastic architecture and collected art treasure. The atmosphere certainly is very stereotypically French (unless you found yourself surrounded by Asian tourists which happens easily), but it is not as “French” and cute and enjoyable – especially if you’re not rich – as romantic movies would suggest. On top, it’s too poshy for me.

Very Bobo: in the quarter St. Paul you can find some of the best bars

At first glance, Paris and Bordeaux share quite some similarieties (which only makes sense since the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel has worked on sites in both cities) and you do get the bobo-vibes (The French hipsters are the bobos, short for bourgeois-bohéme) in both cities. France-lovers will certainly love Bordeaux and not only for the wine, but what makes it special is that scpetics like me will also have no chance to resist and will become passionate lovers of the French culture and mentality in the blink of an eye.

I start out with my discoveries at the most Southern point of the city centre: At the Place de la Victoire and just follow my guts. At the place Saint Michel I suddenly find myself in a big market where everything is on display except for food and I escape the busy hustle through streets with small markets and cafés until I step through an old city gate – the Porte de Bourgogne – which leads me straight towards the Pont de Pierre. This bridge was constructed under Napoleon and serves at the moment for an environment-friendly experiment: The whole summer no cars are allowed to cross. I am in love with Bordeaux for that particular reason: Huge parts of the city centre are car-free zones and the Bordelais often choose to take the bike. For this moment I continue along the bay. The sky is rather grey and a fresh wind is blowing – but that only has me enjoying Bordeaux, known for grey days and rain, even more – my Northern soul needs clouds from time to time to be happy.

Only a few years back a motorway led right by the river, the facades of the old houses were black and ugly from time and dirt. The beauty was uncovered in the early 2000th thanks to innovative city planning: The old bricks of the city were cleaned, green areas replaced shabby buildings and the Quai got a complete make-over. Prosperity moved in.

Porte Cailhou

I dive back into the relaxed life inside the city. Through the Porte Cailhou, part of medieval fortification, I enter a square full of cafés and bistros, laughter and joy reaches me from all sides and takes me with it. Numerous boutiques, restaurants and concept stores – they are trend in all cities with hipsters and liking them might make me a hipster, too – line the streets and alleys. “Made in France” and “organic” is written at their doors. It is obvious that Bordeaux is becoming richer and richer and I am not surprised to hear that especially young people started to rebel against the beginning gentrification.

The Walking Tour leads in 1.5h to the Place des Quinconces

Thanks to the „Hello Bordeaux – Free Walking Tour“, introducing travellers with wit and anecdotes to the history and present of the city, I get some founded knowledge about Bordeaux. I learn, for example, that Bordeaux was an important place of transhipment of slaves in the 18th century. Until today several streets carry the names of rich business men which had crucial roles during the colonial slave trade.

With steady steps the guide leads us through the city and shares his favourite spots with us. Hooked by him I want to visit the Bar á Vin, a wine tasting bar with a luxurious ambience, but very affordable prices, located inside a wine school, but the waiting line scares me off. The wine does not cost much anywhere and it is just as nice to enjoy it – now that the sun is peaking through the clouds – in the Cinéma Utopia, to name just one example. Once a church the building is now an independent cinema for documentaries and movies with value, outside you can enjoy your cold drink right by the old stone walls – like I do with my organic wine.

The Bordelais like to take it easy and enjoy life
Fountain, Place de la Bourse

From my first hour I have no trouble getting in touch with people, but the highlight is when I meet two French guys in the Jardin Public. We quickly develop a friendship. Since the guide of the Walking Tour had nothing good to tell about Germans (they were here in the 2nd World War) I contribute my part to the French-German friendship and it is a lot of fun. It’s much better to have dinner with three people than alone and in the restaurant Melodie where we share our meals I experience a few culinary orgasms (after I temporarily give up my vegetarianism). Step by step I learn more about wine: Rosé from Bordeaux is more a light red wine, those from the Provence are better.

Very French: Rue Notre Dame

The longer I am in Bordeaux, the more I like it, no matter where I am: During window shopping in the Rue Notre Dame (small shops, galleries and antiques), while watching people at the Place du Parlament, during a short break in the church St. Pierre or with a way too sweet Cannelé (is there anything in there besides sugar, eggs and rum?) at the Place Gambetta where you find a park nowadays instead of a guillotine.

I enjoy the impressive architecture at the Place de la Bourse and in front of the opera, avoid the Rue St. Catherine, a 1,2-km-long shopping street, choose much prettier and quiet side streets instead and have the atmosphere delight me.

The Opera

I fling my head back to see the Gothic round arches in the churches, I drink wine, eat ice-cream and switch off my mind. Most of all though I spend wonderful hours with my new friends.

Cathedrale Saint-André

I miss out on climbing the Tours Pey-Barland and the bird’s perspective onto Bordeaux from there (which is free for Europeans below 25 years) and I also miss the chance to take the fairy. I don’t make it to the futuristic wine museum “Cité du Vin”  and I only see the Marche de Capucin from the outside. But who cares? Instead I get a unique insight into the life of young Bordelais, the pleasure and honour of being dragged along to all kinds of events and hours of heartful joy.


One highlight I keep for the last evening. As a fan of innovative rebellion and alternative urban spaces I visit the “Darwin Ecosystem” at the other side of the river. Against the guts of the city administration which would rather see pricey apartment blocks being built, the old barracks are today a hub for start-ups, conscious stores, alternative art, graffiti, a farm and a skater park. Obviously you can also get beer and wine here. That’s a place where young people meet to talk about life and politics. It is my place to be!

With new and old friends I finish off my last evening in Bordeaux “chez Alriq” (at Alriq’s) right by the river under colourful light bulbs. For 5€ entry the evening is accompanied by a life jazz band while the sun is setting above the river with a dramatically beautiful sunset.

I knew that Bordeaux was a very promising place to visit, but my expectations were absolutely outdone. I not only discovered a new favourite city, but besides a passion for France and the French language. I am already excited for my next rendez-vous with Bordeaux.

A new passionate admirer of France

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