Having cruised during the morning from Liborne on the river Dordogne onto the river Garonne, CroisiEurope’s MS Cyrano de Bergerac arrives at the Quay de Chartron in Bordeaux. After lunch we get ready for the classic guided tour around this glamorous city.
But it wan’t always so beautiful, says our guide as we board the coach. Twenty years ago, the bright limestone façades of the city were black with polluting soot and the city’s crescent promenade, enjoyed by young and old today, was covered with abandoned warehouses, completely separating the river from everyday life. Former prime minister, Alain Juppé, a native of Bordeaux, was responsible for the big clean-up and the opening up of the river vista. The result earned the city its well-deserved UNESCO listing and it’s now France’s second favourite city.
The coach weaves in and out of the streets, criss-crossing the city’s non-wire tram lines and pausing for us to peep along the rue Sainte-Catherine, currently the longest pedestrianised shopping street in Europe; it stops for a moment at the Place des Quinconces and its Spirit of Freedom statue and fountain, where we learn about the Girondins and their part in the French revolution.
We cross the bridges over the brown Garonne river. First the lifting bridge of Jacques Chaban-Delmas, which rises over 70m to allow tall ships and cruise ships to pass beneath. Then back across the landmark Pont Pierre, already closed to cars and lorries to conserve its ancient structure; it may be closed to traffic completely in the future.
Back in the city, we park in the lawyers square and take to the pavement. We walk past Norman Foster’s love-it-or-hate-it Palais de Justice (I love it). The building encloses 7 pod-like courtrooms within a glass frame, to indicate transparency, openness and the accessibility of the French judicial system.
A few steps away we pass the Palais Rohan and the Musée des Beaux-Arts and then reach the Cathedral of Saint-André and step inside to admire the amazing restorations within. Once adorned with brightly coloured statues and pillars, the Cathedral fell into ruin, losing its treasures and housing cattle fodder during the Revolution of the 1790’s. Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII, the future king of France, were married here in 1137; she was just 13 years old.
We have a little free time before the coach leaves so we dive across the street and into the glorious Café Napoleon, a step away from the Grand Theatre, for a spot of street-life, a chocolat chaud and a chance to write some postcards.
Later, on our own, we visit the new Cité du Vin, perched on the riverside near the old submarine pens. It celebrates the grape and vinification, the wines of the Medoc and St Emilion chateaux that continue to bring Bordeaux fame and prosperity. There’s plenty to do inside, with seminars and wine tastings in English and French. It’s also packed with diners, queuing to get up to the panoramic restaurant on the top floor. .
We stroll towards the Place de la Bourse and arrive just in time to see the Mirroir d’Eau collapse into an atmospheric mist. Its a work of art and also a part of Bordelais life, where people gather to paddle and cool off in the heat of the summer, and meet up to enjoy an evening’s promenade at any time of year. All part of the romance of the Port de la Lune.
The guided tour can only offer a glimpse of Bordeaux’s treasures – a quick introduction to the most historic, architectural and cultural attractions. For more than an enticing taster be sure to tack a few days onto the start or end of your cruise so that you get time to dwell and dawdle; to marvel at its ancient and modern buildings and just soak up Bordeaux city life.
Read more about our cruise aboard MS Cyrano de Bergerac: