Lay of the Land
“Bordeaux is a curious, original, perhaps unique city. Take Versailles, add Antwerp, and you have Bordeaux.”~Victor Hugo, Voyages Pyrénées, 1843
Bordeaux is an easily walkable city, but if you get tired there’s the sleek, contemporary tram, which has just three lines that go to all the major places you’ll want to visit. The lines running along the river also offer a great way to sightsee the cleaned-up facades of the historic buildings overlooking the Garonne. Taxis have to be ordered in advance, and in the morning and late afternoon, there’s a bit of rush hour along the quays.
City Center / St. Pierre District
Most of the historic sites, including the Cathedral, are located in the City Center, whose heart is the plaza that holds the opera house and the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux. There’s an extensive pedestrian area, with lots of shops, cafés, restaurants and bars, and this area really comes to life on weekend nights. Some spots not to miss here are the cute Place Saint-Pierre; the quay at place de la Bourse, complete with the Miroir d’Eau installation, and such restaurants as Le Petit Commerce, Brasserie Bordelaise, Le Chien Pavlov and the Aux Quatres Coins du Vin wine bar.
Capucins / St. Michel District
Centered around the wonderful Marché du Capucin, this little district south of the historic center, is full of cute cobblestone streets, with independent shops and restaurants. The neighborhood’s mainstay is La Tupiña, opened in 1968, which was once famously voted the world’s best bistro by the International Herald Tribune. Its owner Jean-Pierre Xiradadis also opened Café La Tupiña, and an epicerie. But there’s lots more to discover in this charming little neighborhood, and the market also has fabulous food stalls to sample southwestern French goods.
A couple of tram stops north of the historic center, this is Bordeaux’s trendiest neighborhood. What began as an antiques enclave still boasts many dealers centered on bustling Rue Notre-Dame. But now they have been joined by a collection of wonderful fashion and home boutiques, as well as chic cafés and restaurants. Go on a Friday or Saturday night to soak up the local vibe, or come for lunch when such neighborhood favorites as Chez Dupont bustle with dealers, shop owners and stylish Bordelaise. Be aware that most shops here keep a lunch hour as well and are closed from 1-2pm.
Bassins à Flot
The edgy Bassins à Flot neighborhood is the one to watch in Bordeaux. At first when you emerge from the Achard tram stop, surrounded by construction site and seemingly abandoned buildings, you wonder what all the fuss is about – but like a small version of Berlin’s Mitte, the Bassins is very cool once you stumble across its art spaces. Le Garage Moderne, a non-profit that’s part working garage/bike repair shop, part exhibition space, kicked it all off. Now there’s also Les Vivres de l’Art across the street. Stop for an apero at Bar de la Marine, a very local spot. The massive Musée du Vin is being built at the entrance of the Bassins, so at the latest when it opens in 2016, this will be Bordeaux’s new it neighborhood.