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Bordeaux /wine region, France

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Did You Know…?

  • Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes originated in Bordeaux.
  • A grapevine in the Sauternes region produces only one or two glasses of wine a year.
  • A modern incarnation of a medieval wine guild, the Jurade, controls the quality of St. Emilion wines.
  • Modern Bordeaux vineyards cover only about half the former maximum Bordeaux wine-growing area.
  • Until the 1970s, Bordeaux produced more white wines than red.

Santé

Bordeaux, a city with roots in antiquity, gives its name to its surrounding wine region in southwestern France. The city, which predated the Romans in the area, today reflects a purposeful conversion from a medieval town with narrow winding streets to a classic planned 18th century metropolis. Bordeaux is a port city, located on the Garonne River, about 60 miles above the river’s mouth. The Garonne empties into the Gironde Estuary and then the Atlantic.

Sights and activities of interest to visitors include the city’s Esplanade des Quinconces, described as Europe’s largest downtown city square; reclaimed docklands; river excursions; 18th century jewels like the Grand Theatre, the Rohan Palace and the Palace of the Bourse; a Roman amphitheater; the cathedral and two basilicas on the pilgrims’ Route of Santiago de Compostela, plus craft shops, outdoor cafes, markets, museums and art galleries.

The Bordeaux wine region is France’s oldest, dating from the first century B.C., first planted with grapes from Albania.

The English taste for claret is well known. That attachment dates from the days when Bordeaux and its wine region were under English control. The political connection lasted 300 years until 1453 when France reclaimed the area at the end of the Hundred Years War, but trade in the wine certainly didn’t die.

Now one of the world’s top fine-wine producers, where reds overwhelmingly predominate, Bordeaux comprises several key districts, including Medoc and St. Emilion for reds; Entre Deux Mers and Graves for reds and whites, and Sauternes for whites.

The most important grapes are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for reds and Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for whites.

Visitors are drawn by the 12,000 grape-growing estates and their roughly 300,000 acres of vineyards; the prestige attached to certain of the winemaking chateaus and their cellars, and the naturally scenic settings. The St. Emilion wine district, notable for its viticulture landscape and monuments associated with medieval pilgrimages, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

These attractions are the basis for independent and guided wine tours, wine-related classes, a wine museum, wine festivals and food-and-wine experiences in the city and beyond.

Things to do for Venturers

  • In Medoc, drive the Route des Grands Crus where you may visit several estates, tour the cellars and taste the wines. It’s a good idea to call ahead for appointments, especially for well-known vineyards.
  • Book a biking tour of the Bordeaux wine region.
  • Check out the Marche St. Michel, the market for a jumble of goods located in a mostly North African quarter of Bordeaux.
  • Spend a weekend at one of several Medoc-based wine-tasting schools.
  • If you plan to walk the Route of Santiago de Compostela, visit traditional pilgrim sites in the city of Bordeaux — the St. Andre Cathedral, the St. Michel Basilica and the St. Seurin Basilica — all of which are on the UNESCO list of heritage sites.
  • Try the jet skiing on the Garonne River. Canoeing is another option.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Refine your wine tasting skills and understanding of wines at the Bordeaux Wine School. Classes are available most days.
  • Explore Bordeaux, the city, on a bicycle. Also, ride on the city of Bordeaux’s futuristic tram system.
  • On Sunday, shop at Bordeaux’s Marche des Quais, a foodie’s market and good place to sample fresh oysters, too.
  • Attend the Bordeaux Wine Festival, held every two years, in June. Or, take a cooking class, focused on pairing foods with Bordeaux wines, at Planete Bordeaux near the city.
  • Plan a bird-watching session at the Teich Ornithological Reserve, about 32 miles from Bordeaux.
  • At Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery and Cellar in the city, sample Bordeaux wines delivered from a high-tech vending machine.

Things to do for Authentics

  • In the city of Bordeaux, Rue Charlotte is called a shopper’s paradise. Make your own judgment.
  • Try your luck — and see theater — in the city’s Casino Theatre Barriere.
  • Visitors have some options for playing at the private Golf Bordelais club. Check them out.
  • Get culture. Hear the Bordeaux orchestra or see the city’s ballet company perform. Other alternatives include opera or a musical event at the Theatre Femina.
  • Put Bordeaux’s wine museum on your itinerary. Then, join a guided wine tour of the area.
  • See the ruins of a Roman amphitheater, the Palais Gallien, as part of a broader city sightseeing tour.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Atout France-France Tourism Development Agency at www.us.rendezvousenfrance.com