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Affectionately known as La Belle au Bois Dormant (the sleeping beauty) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city of Bordeaux sits in the heart of one of the largest wine-producing regions in the world. The wine would be reason enough to visit, but there is so much more. Bordeaux today enjoys the benefits of a well-planned refurbishment that created an expansive pedestrian area in the city center and meticulously restored its neoclassical architecture. No wonder people from 113 countries voted Bordeaux the European Best Destination 2015.
Set along the banks of the Garonne River and just a few miles from where the Garonne and Dordogne rivers meet, Bordeaux has its roots in a Celtic settlement from around 300 BC. The Romans occupied the area for years and the English ruled for three centuries. Vestiges of these civilizations can still be found in the city today. Bordeaux experienced a golden age in the 18th century thanks in part to prosperity built on its wine trade; many of the city's important buildings were constructed during this period.
Whether you are a lover of history, architecture or wine, Bordeaux has appeal. And because many of the picturesque plazas, historic buildings and attractions, including the river, are within or close to the pedestrian area, Bordeaux is ideal for exploring on foot, though more than 300 miles of cycling paths and tracks make it a draw for cyclists, too.
Here's a 1-minute 47-second video of Saint-Émilion, 22 miles northeast of Bordeaux.
The Basilique Saint Seurin is the city’s oldest church and features a 4th century neoclassical façade. At Basilique Saint Michel, those who climb the bell tower's 243 steps are rewarded with sweeping views. The CAPC d’art contemporain de Bordeaux and Musee d’Aquitaine should be on any museum lover’s list of must-sees, along with the enchanting Jardin Public, the city's garden created in 1746.
One of Bordeaux's most popular attractions, Mirroir d'Eau (the Water Mirror) is an ingeniously designed pool near the Place de la Bourse and the subject of hundreds of dramatic photographs; bring your camera and you can add to the collection. Farther afield, the medieval town of Saint-Émilion, about 25 miles from Bordeaux, features Romanesque architecture and narrow, winding streets in addition to its ancient vineyards. About two hours from Bordeaux, visitors can delve into history and pre-history in the Lascaux Caves, near Montignac, known for their remarkable paleolithic paintings.
In between sightseeing and wine tasting, Bordeaux is a shopper’s dream. Perhaps the best place to shop is the pedestrian area in the city center where shops and boutiques offer everything from clothes and art to food and wine. For the most upscale luxury items, the area around Place Gambetta is a good bet.
If a romantic evening out sipping wine along the river in a captivating historic city is on your list, Bordeaux is the place you want to be. But the city also has a thriving music scene and local hot spots with appeal for many different generations.
Bordeaux is a food-lover's paradise. Restaurants such as Jean Ramet and La Petite Savoie give visitors a chance to indulge in authentic cuisines of France. Soléna has an impressive wine list and contemporary French cuisine. There are many excellent restaurants in Bordeaux, from inexpensive bistros to upscale white-tablecloth establishments, and this is surely the best place in the world to indulge in dishes that pair perfectly with Bordeaux wines.
River cruise vessels and smaller cruise ships sail up the Garonne River and dock directly in the city center at the Quai Louis XVIII on the west side of the river, putting many of the city's attractions within a short walk. Larger cruise ships dock about six miles away on the river’s east side at the Quai Alfred de Vial, and the largest ships dock where the Garonne empties into the Atlantic Ocean, a two-hour bus ride into Bordeaux.
Taxis are available throughout the city. Bordeaux also has an extensive and modern public transportation system that includes buses and trams. The buses run on a large network of over 70 lines, all of which are connected to the tram network’s three lines. Bordeaux is also and excellent walking and biking city
Bordeaux offers free public wi-fi in its city center as well as in many cafes and restaurants and some municipal buildings.
Documents: All U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport.
Language: French, though many workers in tourist businesses speak English.
Store hours: Shops are usually open from Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 7:30 pm. Smaller shops might close during lunch time from 12:30 am to 2 pm. As an exception boulangeries (bakeries) stay open on Sundays.
Tipping: A 10% tip is customary but not required. Bargaining is not practiced in France.
Currency: The Euro
Safety: Bordeaux is considered to be safe for tourists though pickpockets have been known to work the pedestrian area and public transportation. As always, be aware of your surroundings, stay in public areas, don't use ATMs at night if you're alone and leave extra cash and expensive jewelry in a safe on the ship.
Shorefox and Wikitravel contributed to this guide.
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“With the emergence of reasonably priced, inventive neo-bistros — much like the ones that have been sweeping the Parisian culinary scene — the city's expanding dining scene is primed to compete with its famed varietals as a reason to visit. Among the rising stars in the casual-dining brigade is Miles, a 28-seat restaurant that opened last fall in the ethnically diverse St.-Pierre neighborhood.”