A celebrated destination for any wine enthusiast, Bordeaux has undergone significant changes since the turn of the 21st century. Once known as “La Belle au Boise Dormant” (or Sleeping Beauty), the city adopted more pedestrian-friendly streets, a modern public transportation system, and a restoration of its classical architecture. The entirety of the Bordeaux region enchants and charms visitors year after year
Arcachon Bay is a beach resort near the city of Bordeaux washed over by the Atlantic Ocean. Take a dip in the Atlantic or explore the Dune du Pilat, Europe’s largest sand dune. The dune sits at 107 meters high, and you can either climb up the side or take the stairs to make your way to the top. The town of Arcachon features mid-century architecture and fresh oysters plucked directly from the ocean.
The chic town of Biarritz is another stunning beach town with cosmopolitan flair. Cote de Basque is a favorite among surfers, although it has almost no sand at high tide, at low tide it’s perfect for the beach bum looking to catch some waves. Visitors can also partake in custom spa services, kayaking, golfing, and water skiing.
One of the most well-preserved and picturesque towns in southwest France has to be Bayonne. This beautiful red and white town sits adjacent to nearby Biarritz and shares similar gorgeous beaches and favoritism from the surfing community. Delightful riverside restaurants offer fresh local cuisine, including chocolates made locally. Bayonne chocolates are famous throughout France for their quality and flavor, and there is no better place to indulge than right at the source.
For a more spiritual experience, consider an excursion to the town of Lourdes in the Midi-Pyranees region of France. Local legend is the Virgin Mary appeared 18 times to a young girl, Bernadette Soubirous, who was later granted sainthood by the Pope in the 1930’s. This story brings over six million believers every year to the grotto, hoping for healing and blessings from Mary from and to drink the holy water at the site. Visitors can visit both the grotto where Bernadette received her visions and the basilica that Mary instructed to Bernadetter must be built.
Formerly a medieval fortress, Carcassonne is a step back in time to the age of knights, jousting, stone walls and turrets. Every day knights dressed in full regalia charge at each other atop their robust steeds in live jousting demonstrations; or, if you’re of stout heart (and stomach), you can visit the Torture Museum. Be warned that these devices can be very upsetting to many, so if you’re squeamish you’ll want to stick to the jousting. You can also take a relaxing barge trip along the Canal du Midi, with multilingual commentary provided. If you’re lucky enough to visit in July or August, the Festival de Carcassonne is a truly engaging event of art. The festival celebrates art in all its forms, including art exhibitions, dance, music, and theater, all by local and prominent French artists.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Albi is honored for two great achievements: its magnificent Episcopalian cathedral, and as the birthplace for the cheeky artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, famous for his quirky painting style and depictions of the seedy underbelly of French society. Albi is the cradle for the Saint-Cécile cathedral, the biggest brick and mortar cathedral in the world. This rust-colored Gothic cathedral took over two centuries to complete, starting in the 13th century and ending in the 15th, and is lavishly decorated with religious frescoes depicting The Last Judgement.
For more gorgeous medieval architecture around every corner, look no further than Sarlat. Located in the Vézère Valley, Sarlat’s timeless charm makes it a popular filming location; the sensational film starring Johnny Depp, Chocolat, filmed in the castle of Beynac-et-
No trip to Bordeaux would be complete without a visit to one of the many vineyards and wineries that have made the region the outstanding wine producer it is today. Bordeaux is the second largest wine-growing region in the world, producing 800 million bottles of wine annually. Many of the vineyards and wineries offer tours that can be enjoyed simply by calling ahead for a reservation. Every summer wine is celebrated with festivals, the biggest being the “Bordeaux-fête-le-fleuve” (The Bordeaux River Festival). This annual event celebrated both the city’s history and its proximity to the Garonne river with an annual boat race. Yachtsmen and sailing devotees alike flock to the waterfront to cheer on their favorite colorful vessel.
If you feel that your knowledge of wines is lacking, consider enrolling in École du Vin, the Bordeaux House of Wine. This school offers both two hour introductory courses and more intense two-to-three day courses for those serious about improving their nose and palate. You can also visit the châteaux, included in the price of their multi-day courses.
In great part to its renovation and restoration projects, Bordeaux today is the largest urban UNESCO World Heritage site. But before the entire city earned its classification, there was the Cathedrale St-Andre, a Roman Catholic cathedral constructed in the 11th century and renovated in the 14th and 15th centuries. In this church, Eleanor of Aquitaine wed the future King Louis VII only a few months before he ascended the throne and she became Queen. The bell tower, the Tour Pey-Berland, is constructed in the Gothic style and covered in silent gargoyles grimacing down at visitors. A spectacular panoramic view of the city can be yours if you are willing to climb the 231 narrow steps to the top.
Thanks to its superb quality of wines, both the city and region of Bordeaux also retains a distinct reputation for incredible French cuisine, as well as Asian, African, and Arabic fusion cuisine. Eateries ranging from quaint bistros to organic farm-to-table restaurants are all lined up for your convenience along Rue de Saint Remi, the official street of restuarants in Bordeaux.
To learn more about beautiful Bordeaux and Back-Roads Touring, visit them online at www.backroadstouring.com.