A Glimpse of Bordeaux and the Cité du Vin
By Christopher Ludgate
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
It was an opportunity just beckoning to explore the old city of Bordeaux that the Fathers of the Enlightenment once called home. Even if just for 24 hours. Preserved architectural beauties and landmarks; the people-watching at local pockets of nightlife and the city’s iconic limestone buildings glowing by the cobblestone as the sunset held off until well into the night. It was short, but oh so sweet.
The city’s historic section was the ideal spot for exploring the UNESCO city on-the-fly and ensuring my friend, Christina, and I were near where we needed to be with a good night’s rest. In the morning we’d be embarking on our week-long AmaWaterways’ Taste of Bordeaux River Cruise adventure at the port along the nearby Garonne River.
“If what you want is that historic fanciful French town feel because maybe Paris is a bit too urban at times, then let’s do Bordeaux,” I told Christina. It’s a charmer, for sure.
The smooth streaming TBC trams ran on the corner weaving in all directions, but we opted to explore the historic nooks of the city on foot, so we set up camp at the chic and centrally located Hôtel La Cour Carrée to unwind and refresh after the flight.
We eased into the evening’s accord with orchestra tickets at world-renowned Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux for a bit of concerto. The restored 18th Century theater’s interior is luminous with its ambiance and original décor of regal gold and blue. The ceiling’s stunning artwork has been completely restored.
The lobby’s grand staircase is as much a marvel as the exterior’s portico with the looming muses above Place de la Comédie like jewels. Touted as a ‘Temple to the Arts’ by many, it’s been host to a top-notch roster of performances through history.
Wandering toward the river as the moon rose, it was impossible to miss the dramatic spires rising up from the Gothic and Romanesque Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux.
Up close, the supportive buttresses added in the 1600s are a striking addition. Its original structure dates back to 1096. In fact, in 1137 the 13-year-old Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future Louis VII here. The Bell-tower of Pey-Berland stands beside it topped with a statue of Our Lady of Aquitaine.
Circling back and passing Place de la Bourse and under the Porte Dijeaux archway, we relaxed at a quaint little outdoor café sipping on vin-blanc with frommage as other revelers enjoyed the beautiful night, too.
“Oh my God, this city was just sublime. I want to go back yesterday,” Christina recently confessed.
The Heart of Wine at Cité du Vin
In the morning, we dove feet first into an immersive primer before our wine excursion. It was an exploration of everything nectar of the Gods at recently opened Cité du Vin.
The evocative architectural wonder by architects Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières emulates the swirl of a goblet. The metallic colors pay homage to the limestone cityscape, changing hues depending on the fluid reflective nuances of light. It sits distinctly along the promenade by the historic harbor at Quai de Bacalan.
The one-of-a-kind museum is a celebratory sensory experience, an interactive education, and a complete multi-cultural journey through the intoxicating world of wine.
Built through private and public funding, the project is estimated to have cost 80 million, the museum now is said to sustain itself financially through visitors, donors, cultural events within its auditoriums, workshops, and its restaurants, Latitude20 and Restaurant le 7.
The multi-medium hi-tech installations and rotating exhibits were almost exclusively audio/visual. And they are culturally immersive in wine-centricity. Upon entering, we were immediately brought into an overview of global viticulture on multiple large screens created in partnership with 50 plus wine regions across the world.
There are accommodations for disabilities, including the visually challenged. And it’s handy for all to grab a map on the way in.
There is a selection of eight languages on the personal headsets, also on the way in, which guided us through a cornucopia of cultural wine experience and trivia like the highly sensual uses in bacchanals to holy religious customs like Wine of the Pharaohs.
From societal heritage to mythology and classifications to the colorfully descriptive wine vocabulary, it was an amazing, unique journey into how integral and heralded wine has been throughout civilization.
We weren’t inundated with excess information in all the offerings, rather it seemed that the flow of the space intentionally gave room to move at our own pace and process the different experiences.
It was very easy to be selective and take our time enjoying things like the hands-on fragrance section that put or senses to the test. Chocolate pairings, anyone?
The experience can be an intimate and hypnotic experience. But we also wandered and discussed together, marveling as we weaved in and out of innovative exhibits like the impressive interactive hologram dinner tables.
“Wow, that is great, and so much more than I thought,” my friend gushed.
It would have been easy to spend all day here in its multi-dimensional space – plus, consider the even more intensively focused events and workshops – why not add a day! But we did cover a lot of ground during our quick three-hour time-travel.
You don’t have to be a wine snob to appreciate it, but you might be one by the time you leave.
Our self-tour through its fluid 3000 sq. meters eight-level floor plan finished with the apropos tasting of our choice atop the partially exterior observatory, Belvedere.
Who cares if it wasn’t noon yet? Every exhibit made us want for wine, so we could’ve drunk a whole bottle by that time, frankly. I mean, it is Bordeaux.
Senior Travel Writer Christopher Ludgate is a travel & culture journalist based out of his native New York City. Chris combines his multi-faceted professions and is ever drawn to adventure and creative outlets. His travel writing pursuits have lead to working with publications such as Passport Magazine, LAX in-flight, AIR Chicago, FLY Washington, and, of course, GoNOMAD.com. Chris is an award-winning filmmaker with films in distribution and screenings around the globe.