Thinking back to the moment when I packed all my coffee cups, dresses and a cat to move to Bordeaux, I believe I trusted in two things. First, the power of wine culture over the probable homesickness. Second, the encouraging review from the author of “Les Misérables”. It was the year of 1843 when Victor Hugo famously summarized his trip to the southwestern France: “Take Versailles, mix with Antwerp and you get Bordeaux”. Considering, that the great humanist was not so generous with the idle complimenting, the limestone city got quite an appraisal – Hugo called it “curious, unusual, perhaps even unique”.
Unique is a very good definition.
Yes, Bordeaux is showered with all sorts of titles – the Best European Destination 2015, The New York Times top destination 2016, the city with the highest happiness index in France, and so on and so far… But what is really cool about it, is that Bordeaux became a case in point of a classic French fairy tale with a happily-ever-after ending. And I happen to love fairy-tales.
Reason #1 (Not) Sleeping Beauty
First things first: don’t you listen to anybody, who has been to Bordeaux, let’s say, before 2006 (clearly, besides Hugo). Ten-year-old photos from a city archive unsettlingly resemble the illustrations to Charles Perrault story, the one that tells about a beautiful kingdom sadly trapped in a lethargic sleep. Unofficially, the city was often referred to as The Sleeping Beauty, and not without reason. Think of the blackened walls of the cathedrals, empty unlit embankment, and, as depressing as never-ending, parking lot steadily devouring the streets. It takes a whole lot of imagination to picture present-day Bordeaux without trams, cruise ships, bicycle lanes and joggers but that is how it was.
Unofficially, the city was often referred to as The Sleeping Beauty, and not without reason.
In urban fairy-tales its usually mayors, not fairy godmothers, who are responsible for casting “bibbidi bobbidi boo” spells. Similarly, Bordeaux came to life when the mayor, Alain Juppé, took office in 1995. The façades were scrupulously cleaned, the embankment got a flower garden, and the parking lot turned into the biggest mirror fountain in Europe – big enough to let the neo-Classical palaces around reflect on its surface. As the result, the mayor generated the new media phenomenon – La Juppé mania, and we got a magic honey-colored kingdom to fall in love with. The Sleeping Beauty opened her eyes, stretched and finally shook that annoying sleep off. If you make friends with les Bordelais while sipping your wine on one of the waterfront terraces – ask them to tell some “before and after” facts, they can be passionate taletellers.
Reason #2 Wine
Speaking of wine…
To sum up the contribution of Bordeaux region into the world’s winemaking is equivalent to summing up the contribution of France into the world’s culture. For thousands of professionals around the globe, local wines became some kind of a reference point when it comes to the blend of quality, taste and over 2000 years of history.
In Bordeaux everyone, from a baker to a police officer, knows someone or is related to someone in the winemaking business.
One can only imagine how many times during the centuries les Bordelais must have blessed the location of their hometown and its surroundings. The meandering Garonne and the Dordogne rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean gave the region the fantastic variety of terroirs: both gravel and clay-limestone soils, unique maritime climate and… a deep port.
In other words – wine to die for, flourishing trade and the unbeatable conversational topic.
In Bordeaux it is just the matter of time when you humbly accept that everyone, from a baker to a police officer, knows someone or is related to someone in the winemaking business (a rough number of 11 500 regional châteaux can somewhat explain this). But, and this cannot be emphasized enough, nobody expects you to swirl, sniff, slurp and spit out like a pro – wine in Bordeaux is approachable and meant to be enjoyed. In fact, there is a certain thrill in coming to Bordeaux for the first time and discovering the taste behind the Pauillac, Saint-Émilion and Lalande-de-Pomerol regions – the thrill that is no longer available to the locals, whose ability to distinguish between 60 appellations of the Right and Left bank wines is a default setting from birth.
Even though, the main three pillars of Bordeaux winemaking are – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc – there are also white wine miracles. Do not miss out Sauterne – dessert wine made from the grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as “noble rot”. In combination with foie gras (duck or goose liver) and a pinch of Merlot sea salt the glass of Sauterne produces the effect as close to euphoria as it is possible in gastronomy.
Reason #3 Life style
Here is the paradox: Bordeaux is definitely a city on the go but… it is also the city that does not rush. Never and nowhere. The only attractions that might require some kind of serious queuing are Bar á Vin and the plate of oysters in the charming Sunday market – le marché des Chartrons.
You will notice quite fast, that the locals are not stressed by the tourists, traffic jams, demonstrations or nasty weather: they are relaxed, friendly and more than understanding, if you happen not to speak French. Daily hedonism of the Bordelais is a big deal explained by the climate: sunny and dry summer that smoothly turns into a mild swift-passing winter is a beautiful assemblage of the oceanic and Mediterranean climate (of course, the cheese-wine diet also has its share).
Daily hedonism of the Bordelais is a big deal explained by the climate.
No wonder, that suchlike philosophy immediately wins you over and all the stories about people, who came to Bordeaux once upon a time and happened to stay forever, start to make sense.
Continue reading Six reasons to fall for Bordeaux 2/2