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On your marques - a weekend in Bordeaux

On your marques - a weekend in Bordeaux

Bordeaux, the dynamic capital of Aquitaine, offers a welcome shot of city buzz, particularly if you need some seasonal shopping inspiration...

As a scooter bounces noisily by, the spaniel sprawling nonchalantly on the lap of the girl riding pillion looks surprisingly relaxed, but then Bordeaux is full of surprises. You can sense it from the moment you stand on the banks of the wide Garonne river and gaze in awe at the architectural tour-de-force created by a wine trade which long ago made this place world-famous. These days visitors come to discover the city itself, a process made refreshingly simple by a modern tramway whose benefits have rewarded local residents for their patience in living with widespread disruption during the system’s construction. 


Even if you’re just visiting, with much of the city centre now pedestrian (and cyclist) friendly, it makes sense to take advantage of Park & Ride passes, which offer free secure car parking at key points on the periphery of all three tramway routes. If like me you’re arriving from the north then you’ll find ‘P&R’-signed access points to all the tramway lines. Heading for Les Aubiers brings the option of dropping into France’s biggest IKEA store (along with other familiar chain outlets) en route at Bordeaux Lac. With the car securely parked there’s a sense of liberation, and the onward tram-ride into town is fast, smooth and surprisingly entertaining, serving up a succession of townscapes which reveal how the system has already stimulated an outward expansion of the city. Current line extensions mean the process will continue for some time yet, for this is a city on the move. Soon we’re gliding past elegant streets lined with classic stone and wrought-iron façades in the city’s historic heart, so I hop off beside the Esplanade des Quinconces, where a giant funfair is rubbing shoulders with one of Bordeaux’s most celebrated landmarks, the 54m high Monument aux Girondins.



An irresistible short stroll brings me to the banks of the river, where weekend joggers, cyclists and roller-bladers are out enjoying the wide open spaces. Visible on the horizon to my left is the unmistakable outline of the Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas, under whose sensational lifting deck the replica sailing frigate Hermione recently passed during a much publicised visit to the city. I resist taking a closer look until the following day, and instead head deeper into the heart of old Bordeaux, where a different kind of energy is in evidence in and around the Place de la Comédie, home of the aptly named Grand Théatre and gateway to some of the city’s best shopping areas. On the run up to Christmas these include Les Allées de Tourny, home to the city’s celebrated Marché de Noël. Beyond the square lies Cours de l’Intendance, which is in fact trés tendence, being the Bordeaux equivalent of London’s Regent Street. Happily it’s now car free, making it a pleasure to explore a selection of boutiques ranging from Nespresso to Baccarat. Less immediately obvious are those tucked away in an elegant glass roofed arcade linking Cours de l’Intendance with Place du Chapelet and known as Le Passage Sarget. Opened in 1833 by wealthy financier Le Baron Sarget, it remained privately owned for many years and frequented by royalty, heads of state and members of the nobility, but in 1878 the city purchased it and opened it to the public. Today the carpeted arcade contains up-market boutiques - fashion, jewellery, perfume, etc. - plus a popular salon de thé serving English-style scones.



Bordeaux’s other period arcade is La Galerie Bordelaise, between Rues des Piliers de Tutelle and Rue Sainte-Cathérine. It was opened in 1834 by four wealthy South American wine merchants who had fled from the Mexican War of Independence. In 1975 it received Monument Historique status in recognition of the time warp interior, currently awaiting restoration to its former grandeur. Here you’ll find one of France’s finest stores for collectors of model cars, boats and locomotives.


The opposite end opens onto what is claimed to be Europe’s longest shopping street, Rue Sainte-Cathérine - running straight as an arrow for around 1.25km between Place de la Comédie and Place de la Victoire, and lined with hundreds of boutiques, bars and cafes. It’s shopping heaven, and the buzz is incredible, particularly on Saturdays, when visitors are convincingly outnumbered by the good people of Bordeaux and outlying areas, who come to check out the latest fashion arrivals, soak up the energy and just enjoy being there. There’s something for everyone too, things taking on an edgier, more market-like vibe at the southernmost end, marked by a huge golden stone arch known as the Porte d’Aquitaine. Beyond are the open spaces of Place de la Victoire, whose restaurants, bars and events make this a popular meeting place.


Others, though, are tucked away more discretely. Just below the mid-point of Rue Sainte-Cathérine I find the need for lunch break hard to ignore, so I turn into Rue des Ayres and make for Place Fernand Lafargue. This little square was for years used for car parking, until some imaginative landscaping transformed it into the perfect spot for a relaxed meal or a spot of people watching. I’m more than happy doing both for a while, before heading off to explore the intriguingly named Mériadeck, whose ‘shock of the new’ skyline includes a vast shopping mall, the Conseil Régional de l’Aquitaine, Conseil Départemental de la Gironde, the Bibliothéque Centrale and a whole lot more. Shopping potential aside, it’s pretty soulless, though, so I spend the rest of the day taking in some of the more classic city sights.


Nightfall transforms the streets of old Bordeaux into the city’s alter-ego as one of the world’s great gastronomic destinations. A menu browsing tour of the huge selection of bars, brasseries and restaurants is one of the joys of even a fleeting visit, with a dazzling selection of international cuisines (including vegetarian and vegan) served in some of the most atmospheric settings imaginable. By day Bordeaux has what it takes to surprise and entertain you; by night it will steal your heart away.


Make a weekend break of it and you’ll also get to see the city in its Sunday best. The following morning I ride Ligne C of the tramway once again, this time to Porte de Bourgogne, where the graceful 17-arched Pont de Pierre meets the Quai des Salinières. Sunday mornings find the riverbank just beyond the bridge teeming with countless flea-market traders and those who come to browse the eclectic range of items on offer, from tat to potential shabby-chic. It’s compelling, since there’s no telling what you might find, and might never see again. If, however, you don’t turn up that elusive piece of Lalique or Fabergé, there’s another chance a couple of streets away in Place Duburg, beside the Basilique Saint-Michel. Here the multi-cultural setting will awaken your latent streetwise responses, but people seem to coexist, there’s lots of investment going in and shops in nearby Rue des Faures offer some of the freshest and most reasonably priced fruit and vegetables around.


Talking of food, back on the riverbank a more traditional market is in full swing further downstream at the Quai des Chartrons. Here some of the region’s finest artisan producers display the results of their passions at the Sunday morning Marché des Quais, and you can sit down and enjoy a meal, too. Not far away a visionary regeneration scheme has rescued a collection of former warehouses from years of sad dereliction. The result is the Quai des Marques, where a series of immaculate factory outlet boutiques offers big name brands all year round at discount prices, and there are bars, restaurants, bike hire and more. Add views of the nearby Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas and you also have a great place to spend some post shopping time recharging your batteries amid the infectious energy of a city which not only has a proud past but clearly an exciting future, too.


Shopping, regular markets, getting around...

Find Offices du Tourisme, download maps & brochures, etc. here:

Park & Ride: A Tickarte Jour pass offers unlimited travel on both trams and buses, and at just €4.30 per person, it’s a steal – as is the Tickarte Parc-Relais, which for €4.50 gives all occupants of the vehicle two journeys (e.g. into town and back). Alternatively, a Tickarte Voyage gives 1 person an hour’s unlimited travel for €1.50. For details in English of tramway, bus, bike and other transport services see:

Open Air, Covered, Bio, Brocante... there are markets in Bordeaux every day – they’re listed here:

You’ll find a glass roofed former market with fashions, interior items, jewellery and gifts, plus a hypermarket near Quinconces at Galerie des Grands Hommes, Place des Grands Hommes.

Browse antiques and vintage interior items at Passage Saint-Michel, 14 -15 Place Canteloup, Saint Michel. 

Le Quai des Marques Bordeaux, Quai de Bacalan offers quality big-name brands at heavy discounts. 

Access, opening times, etc., for IKEA and many other stores at Bordeaux Lac: s 


WORDS & PHOTOS: Roger Moss

© Living Magazine - all rights reserved. First published in December 2014