June in Bordeaux was a delight. We had a full agenda every week and we experienced a great deal of what the city offered.
The city is built in a crescent moon shape following the Garonne River and is known as Bordeaux, the ‘Port of the Moon’. It is located 300 miles Southwest of Paris.
There are magnificently restored 18th-century limestone buildings at the city’s center to feast your eyes on. (Although hundreds more could be restored back to their original beauty by cleaning off the gray/black pollution) In 2007, Bordeaux, “the sleeping beauty”, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The distinct architectural style is throughout the city and it seems we were constantly looking up. The relief work or sculpted elements on the buildings were our favorite parts.
We found peaceful public gardens to explore, historical monuments to educate ourselves and contemporary art installations to admire throughout the city. We visited permanent and temporary exhibitions in museums and browsed through notable art galleries. One of our favorite squares was the grand Place de la Bourse with the Three Graces fountain in the center and, across from it, the ever entertaining Miroir d’Eau (Water Mirror).
It is a 37,000 foot square black granite water feature that provides hours of entertainment. The reflections in the 2 cm of water – draining and refilling every half-hour –- are stunning. A dense fog-like vapor is also ejected every 23 minutes to add to the fun. Children and adults alike play in it as it brings the child out in each of us.
Bordeaux has an ancient beautiful coat of arms with castles and lions and fleurs de lys, but we particularly liked this newer shield created in the mid 17th century made of three intertwining crescent shapes. We were told a variety of meanings from interlocking rivers to croissants to romantic entanglements. Whatever the story, it is a cool design.
Other favorite destinations were the Roman ruins called Palais Gallien, the Grand Théâtre – which is the Opera house, the Grosse Cloche and the Porte Cailhau – two of the six remaining old gates to the city. Pont de Pierre was beautiful, especially when one particular sunset turned it fiery gold. Rue Sainte-Catherine, touted as the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe, although we loved it for its architecture and finally the gorgeous Monument to the Girondins with the statues in the fountains.
In general, France seemed to us to focus on quality of ingredients, their presentation and art. All three can be seen in the displays in patisseries, candy & chocolate shops and the fruit & vegetable markets. The fresh fruits and vegetables we purchased in the corner markets were incredibly flavorful and perfectly ripe. Fragrant flowers, elegantly displayed, are also abundant reminding us of the Pacific Northwest.
And we cannot forget wine, as we have blogged previously, Bordeaux is primarily known for its fantastic wines and wine industry and continues to be the world’s major wine industry capital. Wine has been produced in the region since the 8th century. Bordeaux now has about (116,160 hectares) 287,000 acres of vineyards, 57 appellations, 10,000 wine-producing châteaux and 13,000 grape growers. With an annual production of approximately 960 million bottles, Bordeaux produces large quantities of everyday wine as well as some of the most expensive wines in the world.
We were enamored by this city in France and the surrounding areas we visited.
One final note: We attended Spanish language classes for 2 months in Valencia. Upon arriving in France we tried to resurrect our nearly forgotten high school French. Our poor brains and tongues were constantly confused. Even though we knew the correct word to use we kept saying ‘si’ instead of ‘oui’ for days after our arrival.
We are now headed back to explore more of Spain and are hoping to continue to improve our Spanish language skills.
As we say Adieu to Bordeaux we think of the wonderful churches and museums we visited. Bordeaux is truly a beautiful city that has a lot to offer. Here are links to our photos from the churches and museums we visited.
Église Notre Dame
The Notre-Dame church in Bordeaux is an excellent, late 17th-century example of Baroque architecture. Built by the Dominicans to complement their large monastery, it has an impressive façade.
Notre-Dame church is sensational. It was built in the baroque style around the end of the 17th century. The exterior has beautifully carved moldings on the facade. Within the medallions near the top of the church are four popes of the Dominican Order and below are four large statues of great doctors of the Church. Both the church and the striking organ cabinet are listed as French historic monuments. Many concerts are held at Notre-Dame because of the remarkable acoustics and surroundings.
We particularly liked the beautifully painted side chapels in Notre-Dame. A typical nave built during this time would be barely half the length of the impressive 200 foot long nave at Notre Dame. This nave is simple and pure and achromatic, however each of the shallow side chapels have elaborately painted backdrops further accenting the altarpieces and decoration within. The colorful side chapels are a delightful contrast next to the main body of the church. There are also a number of beautiful pieces of art hung throughout Notre Dame. These pieces are dated between 1712 and 1735 and were painted by André Jean, also known as Brother André.
We visited Notre Dame a couple of times and each time came away with a greater appreciation for this church.
Saint-Marie de la Bastide
The construction of the neo-medieval church Sainte-Marie de La Bastide was completed in 1887. The architect had to face many technical problems related to the nature of the quality of the peat soil. The church and bell tower were built upon wooden piles distributing the load over the unstable ground.
We had spotted an unusual church steeple peeking through the trees on the opposite side of the river, called the right bank, so we hopped on a tram to investigate.
The Garonne river runs through Bordeaux with the majority of the historical city, business district, shops and homes, our Airbnb included, on the left one side/bank.
This intriguing church, Saint Mary’s, is located on the opposite side.
A newer church, the neo-medieval church Sainte-Marie de La Bastide was built in 1887. Unfortunately the chosen site has unstable ground, presenting the builder with numerous challenges. There are dozens of wooden piles deeply sunk into the peaty soil beneath to support the weight and distribute the load of the church and bell tower. Because of the soft soils, still today, there is a slow and constant settlement of the foundations.
What in particular caught our attention though was the beautifully rounded belfry. Instead of the usual Gothic belfry, like most churches have in Bordeaux, this church has a large bulb-shaped belfry crowned with a lantern. Apparently this bulb shape caused much curiosity as it was a unique design. Inside the church, there is a wooden framed ceiling visible in the nave and some of the chapels have been painted with lovely colorful decorations.
Each church we have visited to date in our travels, has an interesting story to uncover. Saint Mary’s tale is mostly about it’s construction challenges and design elements. This is a pretty church and we are glad to took the time to visit it.
The Church of the Holy Cross was built in the late 11th century and is attached to an even older Benedictine abbey believed to have been founded around 450, on a rise of land, named Eau Bourde.
The Church of the Holy Cross was built in the late 11th century and is attached to an even older Benedictine abbey believed to have been founded around 450, on a rise of land, named Eau Bourde. The original abbey was destroyed around 730, then believed to have been rebuilt at the end of the same century.
We learned that in the middle ages church organs could be sold to, and melted down by, the army and this was the fate of the first church organ of Saint-Croix.
In 1730, the monks of St. Croix gave the church a new more imposing organ. Then in 1811 the archbishop requisitioned and transferred that organ to the larger more prestigious Cathedral Saint-André, where it stayed until 1970. That year, it was decided to return it to St. Croix. In the early 1990s, the buffet (the wooden portion that holds the pipes) was cleaned of the brown paint covering it to regain its original stunning silver and green. It is a magnificent organ.
The church was renovated in the 19th century and the former Benedictine Abbey is currently used as the home for the École des beaux-arts de Bordeaux. (School of Fine Arts)
Musée de Beaux Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts in Bordeaux was established in 1801 by the painter Pierre Lacour and today is one of the largest art galleries in France outside Paris.
Musée des Beaux-Arts is the city’s fine arts museum that has a rich collection of works by renowned French and Dutch artists. The collection is large enough that the museum is housed in two separate buildings that face each other.
One artist’s work we were particularly fascinated with was Philippe Mohlitz, a French engraver born in 1941 and who currently lives and works in Bordeaux. His etchings are incredibly detailed and you can’t help but be drawn into each piece. He meticulously engraves planks of wood with chisels and then ‘press prints’ are made. The results are truly amazing. If you are interested in seeing more of his work, he has published at least one art book.
The Museum of Aquitaine is a collection of objects and documents from the history of Bordeaux and the Aquitaine region.
The Musée d’Aquitaine focuses on the local history of Bordeaux and the surrounding Aquitaine region. Since we enjoy learning the origins of each city we visit, this was a ‘must see’. The earliest records show that around 567 BC Bordeaux was settled by the Celts who named the town Burdigala, a name you see frequently in the city still today. Roman rule began around 60 BC and the very first vines were planted during the early Roman occupation.
There was a temporary exhibition, featuring Jack London that was interesting. We are renaming him, ‘the pioneer vlogger’. He and his wife traveled the world, in his case by sail boat, took photos and videos and wrote books. Sounds familiar, right?
Musée National des Douanes
The National Customs Museum is a national museum of customs located at the Place de la Bourse. The building was built in the 18th century to hold a rich and varied collection of the history of the customs brigade and its administration.
We were eagerly looking forward to visiting and learning about the various french customs at the Musée National des Douanes. (Museum of French customs)
We laugh now because we completely misunderstood the definition of the word. The word ‘customs’ has multiple meanings. This museum is not about french characteristics, habits and traits as we hoped, but about the history of tax collection, tariffs, import and exports duties and the people that held these jobs. The museum was not at all what we expected, nonetheless it was interesting and worth a visit.
This museum also had a temporary exhibit called ‘Doctors without Borders’. There is a phenomenal book we have read called ‘Doctors without Borders’ written by Renée C. Fox that goes into detail about this admirable organization.
Musée des Arts decorative et du Design
The “Musée des Arts decorative et du Design” is housed in the impressive Hôtel de Lalande. The Hôtel de Lalande is a remarkable example of a house belonging to the Bordeaux aristocracy and enhances the artworks exhibited therein.
It was Father’s day, the final day of the Bordeaux wine festival and a football game day for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ on the day we visited the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (MADD). Consequently we had the museum virtually to ourselves.
The Lalande Hotel, built in 1775, was for more than a century, a private aristocratic mansion. It was eventually purchased by the city and subsequently used as a police station and prison, a museum of ancient art and today the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design.
This beautiful mansion museum exhibits french ceramics, sculptures, paintings, jewelry, furniture, dishes and glassware and more.
Throughout the museum, we discovered tastefully decorated rooms staged with fine furniture and objets d’art from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. A few unique dishes were on display that we hadn’t seen before and appealing antique mantle clocks were sprinkled throughout the rooms.
Wine and Trade Museum
The Bordeaux Wine and Trade Museum opened in June 2008. In three underground cellars, the museum presents a collection of unique objects, representing both the past and the present wine trade.
The Bordeaux Wine and Trade Museum, housed in an old cooperage is located in our neighborhood of Chartrons.
The museum is made up of three cellars that have a collection of objects related to the wine industry. It focuses more on wine trade than on wine production and from the evolution of the wine merchant dating back to the Middle Ages to the present day. The Port of Bordeaux and its wine exports are illustrated by various artifacts, documents and films.
We also learned about various wine classifications over the years from the prestigious classification by Napoleon III in 1855 (the classified growths of the Medoc and Sauternes) to the Wine classification of Saint-Emilion in 1959.
Once you have completed exploring the museum, return to the shop for an informative wine tasting in the shop.
After learning so much about Bordeaux wines and and wineries elsewhere, we enjoyed this museum dedicated to the rich world of wine trade.
La Cite du Vin Museum
The City of Wine in Bordeaux is a museum and exhibition center that focuses on the theme of wine, the wine industry and wine culture. Opened in 2016, the City of Wine is an interesting center entirely dedicated to wine.
The City of Wine Museum opened in 2016, and is an eye catching contemporary addition to the skyline of Bordeaux. The museum focuses on the many facets of wine throughout the ages, on a worldwide scale. In addition to the numerous interactive exhibitions, there are shows, movie projections and seminars on this theme.
Ticket prices are unusually steep although you can easily spend hours browsing, listening to and interacting with the exhibits. (Temperatures outside were hovering at 92°F/34C so we were happy to be inside.) Included in the ticket price is a self-guided audio device and one wine tasting from a selection of a dozen or so different wines from around the world. The wine tasting is on the 8th floor in a huge open room, (no seating available) called the Belvedere, where you can enjoy 360° views of the City of Bordeaux.
We learned in the 18th and 19th centuries, ships were believed to age wine faster, due to the constant rolling waters of the oceans.
We also learned about the mid-19th century ‘Great French Wine Blight’. Over 40% of french grape vines and vineyards were devastated. An aphid called a grape phylloxera, attacked the roots of the vine and proved to be fatal to the European varieties of wine, destroying many vines in France as well as other European countries. The aphid originated in the US and the american vines had developed resistance to them. After much trial and error, the only remedy that proved effective, was to graft french vines to the resistant american rootstock.
In one area of the museum you can watch videos filmed from a helicopter fly-over of 20 wine making regions in 17 countries around the world. We enjoyed seeing vineyards in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, another place we lived for a short time.
Santé from these Bordelais,
Ted & Julia