Our Blog - Bordeaux June 2017 Blog
Our first weekend trip was in June to Bordeaux. It was a fairly short train ride over there from Toulouse (about 2 hours) and we went out on Friday and came back on Sunday.
Most people know of Bordeaux purely from a wine point of view, and, well, that is really what most of the city is about. It is near the Atlantic Ocean and sits right on the Garonne river and the port made it a very important city throughout history. Its inhabitants are called "Bordelais" (for men) or "Bordelaises" (women). The term "Bordelais" may also refer to the city and its surrounding region. Bordeaux is the world's major wine industry capital and the wine economy in the metro area takes in 14.5 billion euros each year. Bordeaux wine has been produced in the region since the 8th century. After Paris, Bordeaux has the highest number of preserved historical buildings of any city in France.
Let's go through the history first. There has been a settlement here since around 300 BC when there was a Celtic settlement named Burdigala. It fell under Roman rule around 60 BC and was important in the trading of tin and lead. It continued to flourish until the 3rd century, when it was sacked by the Vandals. Additional sacking in the 5th century lead to a period of obscurity for the city. It wasn't until around the 12th century that Bordeaux regained importance, and this was due primarily to a marriage.
Duchess Eleonore of Aquitaine married Count Henri Plantagenet, who shortly after their wedding became King Henry II of England. This started a period of increased British influence in the city, which still remains. The city flourished, primarily due to the wine trade (especially wine trade with Britain). France got it back after the Battle of Castillon although Bordeaux itself didn't fair that well out of it as it lost the wealth it was getting from the wine commerce with England.
The golden age of Bordeaux was in the 18th century, when Marquis Tourny made massive changes to build a grand city. Bordeaux actually was the model that was used by Baron Haussmann transformed the quasi-medieval Paris into a "modern" capital under Napoleon III. Bordeaux is classified "City of Art and History". The city is home to 362 historic monuments (only Paris has more in France) with some buildings dating back to Roman times.
Obviously, Bordeaux is mainly known for its' wine. Within the Bordeaux region, there are over 120,000 hectares in total vineyard area, making it the largest wine growing area in France. The majority of wine produced in Bordeaux is red, but they also make sweet white wines (most notably Sauternes), dry whites, and a few rosés and sparkling wines (called Crémant de Bordeaux). There are several areas within the Bordeaux wine region and each has their own major wines and, based on the terroir of that specific area, their own tastes. Initially, Graves was the principal wine region up until the 17th century when the Dutch drained the swampy area of the Medoc to plant vines, and this is now the most prestigious region. Initially mostly producing Malbec grapes, it now is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Graves and Medoc are both on the left bank of the Garrone, with Saint-Emilion on the right bank and Entre-Deux-Mers between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. There are whites as well, called White Bordeaux, which are made from Semillon and Sauvignon blanc. We hadn't really thought about whites in Bordeaux until we started seeing them on the wine menu's in several restaurants.
Lastly, a few observations ... the city center looks much more like Paris than Toulouse ... and it should since Paris was redesigned based on Bordeaux. The grand boulevards are lined with very large, imposing 18th century limestone buildings. When you do not include suburbs, the population is about 1/2 what it is in Toulouse, making it 9th by population in France (vs 4th for Toulouse). When you add in the metro areas/suburbs, Toulouse and Bordeaux are about the same. However, just walking around, it "seems" to me to be larger. One reason is because of these wide, grand boulevards and the massive white limestone buildings. As well, there seemed to be more people out-and-about walking around. This could be due to a few things: the weather had cooled down a little in Bordeaux from the heat wave we had last week, there are more tourists in Bordeaux in general than in Toulouse, with the wide streets and places, it may have just seemed like more people because you could actually see them all at the same time.
We took lots of pictures, so I've broken the blog into separate pages for each day of the trip.