Our initial idea was to make our way straight from Bordeaux up the coast, and although we had intended to stop off briefly along the way at various points of interest, our main aim was simply to get to La Rochelle. We had been to La Rochelle some years ago, and remembered it as being a very attractive port town with lots to see and do. However, we hadn’t realised just how much there is to see en route, and so what was supposed to be a less than two hr. car trip, with some quick diversions on the way, instead turned out to take several days!
The city of Bordeaux is now such a pleasure to visit and explore, with a rich historic heritage of elegant historic stone buildings, impressive monuments that invite the visitor to stroll along its pedestrian streets, into any number of bistros, Michelin-starred restaurants, wine bars and enticing shops that draw you in. The city today bears little resemblance to the first time we saw it, decades ago now, when the fine stone buildings were grimy, blackened from soot and dirt, shabby and unloved. Seeing the beautiful, creamy stone of the fine city buildings today, it’s hard to imagine its recent past. After many years of hard work, the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ has awoken from its slumber. It’s now a World Heritage Site, and one France’s greatest treasures.
Saint-Émilion is a charming medieval village, perched on a promontory, located in the heart of the famous Bordeaux wine area. It is a unique site where world famous wineries produce fine wine, and together with beautiful architecture and great monuments, are a perfect match. We had visited this lovely village very briefly many years ago, and as we were based in Bordeaux for some days, it was the ideal opportunity to head to Saint-Émilion on the convenient local bus for the day.
It had been some years since our last visit to Bordeaux, and the city has acquired a couple of great new attractions. One we were keen to visit turned out to be of the most remarkable cultural venues we have ever seen. We were familiar with Culturespaces’ Paris space, the Atelier des Lumières, housed in a former iron foundry, which itself is a fantastic venue that we always try and visit every time there’s a new show. Their latest venue in Bordeaux, the Bassins des Lumières, is the massive concrete structure built by the Nazis in 1941 as one of their Atlantic submarine bases, now an extraordinary space for Culturespaces’ digital art shows. Another attraction we had earmarked is the enormous Cité du Vin, a large, striking, modern building created to celebrating the world of wine and its heritage, not just in Bordeaux, but around the world.
Our travels in this region revealed far more than we had expected. There is such a wealth of great places to visit just south of Bordeaux, ranging from world famous vineyards such as Château d’Yquem, while others are much less well-known, and a few hardly known at all outside the region. There are a great number of fortified châteaux, many of them impressive ruins, while some are still lived in today. There are pretty bastide villages, imposing cathedrals, and the most surprising discovery of all, a small, Gothic-style chapel with an exquisite Italianate Baroque interior, located in a tranquil rural setting in the deep heart of the Tarn et Garonne countryside.