Of course France – and Bordeaux, of all places – is a great place to go for wine. You don’t need a super awesome wine club to tell you that. We could suggest any number of places around the world to travel to for great wine, but we’re seriously suggesting you check out Bordeaux – not to boost French egos any more – but to experience a place that has captured the impact of wine in nearly every corner of the world.
Just this year, a magical place opened its doors in Bordeaux. La Cite du Vin is what some are calling an adult wine theme park (apparently there’s a simulation boat ride), others a wine museum and still others the Guggenheim of wine. Call it what you will, the brains behind La Cite du Vin have created a wine school paradise – inside and out.
Beginning with the structure itself, here’s a few facts about the architecture: the shape of the building is said to resemble how wine looks when it’s poured into a glass and the curve of the Garonne river, which helped Bordeaux wines travel to fame. The appearance is always a little different depending on the time of day and time of year as the custom-printed glass (in varying colors) and aluminum panels constantly change shades and angles. The building is a spectacle, to say the least.
Perhaps the real show, however, is what’s happening inside. This monstrous facility is a testament to wine across all ages, peoples, civilizations, cultures, landscapes and journeys. It is a cultural center dedicated to exploring and educating on the wonderful thing called wine and its transcendence in the world. Now that’s pretty cool.
A permanent tour offers a self-guided exploration through 19 themed areas and exhibits, which include things like giant screens displaying aerial footage of winemaking regions in 17 countries and a five senses buffet. The tour ends with a tasting at the Belvedere – the top of La Cite du Vin with a 360 degree view of the city, the Garonne River and the famed grape lands in the distance. It would be just silly of us if we didn’t mention the chandelier made of thousands of wine bottles.
No need to fear if you haven’t practiced your French since high school. Signage throughout the facility is in French, English and Spanish. A hand-held tour companion, that detects where you are in the tour, is also available in eight languages. La Cite du Vin is killing it.
Of course, a project of this size and beauty comes with a price tag (about 22 US dollars for the self-guided tour and some workshops/exhibits are extra), but if you’re interested in any part of the history of wine – this place seems worth the experience, or at least worth seeing the architecture.
And since you’re already in Bordeaux, you might as well check out what else the historic region has to offer. The Bordeaux region has been producing wine for 2,000 years and the port city of Bordeaux lies at the center. Here’s a few spots that we know we’ll check out after we make it to La Cite du Vin… eventually. Allons-y!
Château de Sales
The Château de Sales estate has been in the same family hands since 1464. The vineyard is the largest in the Pomerol appellation, which is located in the east Bordeaux region. Unlike other Bordeaux regions, the Pomerol appellation has no formal wine classification system and its fame – mostly for Merlot grapes – has come in more “recent” history than its neighboring regions.
Bordering the Pomerol appellation is the lands of Saint-Émilion. Saint-Émilion is a historic village and World Heritage Site – named for the monk who fled to a cave in the village in the 8th century and eventually created a great religious center of the village. Just steps outside the village lies Château Villemaurine. A tour at this château will walk you through the great wine history of the Saint-Émilion region and famed limestone soils. A guide with a lamp leads you through underground quarries, which stretch over 17 acres and across four levels.
Back in the city of Bordeaux, Chez Pompon is one of the oldest brasseries and has been attracting locals for some 100 years. It’s especially popular on Thursdays for Sweet Hour – the brasserie’s form of happy hour that apparently attracts a lot of singles and dancing. The brasserie is just steps from the Place des Quinconces – one of the largest city squares in Europe, which was built in the 1800s on the site of an old castle. At Place des Quinconces stands a monument and fountains paying homage to the Girondists – a political group of the French Revolution.
If you have a car during your travels, the route des chateaux will be a drive well worth your time. The Médoc peninsula stretches 50 miles northwest from Bordeaux and is home to many famed vineyards and appellations of the Bordeaux region. The drive won’t be long, but the views and miles of vineyards are sure to take up some more of your time.
Bordeaux has seen great revival in the past two decades as much of its ancient buildings – many from the 16th and 18th centuries – have been restored, and the city has been named a World Heritage Site. The Miroir d’eau is a testament to this revival as the largest reflection pool in the world and located in front of the Place de la Bourse – a symbol of the city. While staring into water may not be on the top of your list of things to do with your limited time in Bordeaux, it is sure to offer you some moments of calm and reflection on the amazing place you’re in.