Difference between revisions of "Bordeaux"
Revision as of 16:16, 31 March 2012
You'll be raising your glass many times in Bordeaux, which is renowned for its wines, considered amongst the best in the world. As the capital of the department Gironde in the region Aquitaine, it has one million inhabitants in its metropolitan area at a 2008 estimate. After years of neglect, the former wet docks are the country's new hot spot, with a number of cafés, gardens, and museums springing up all the time. A lively university community of over 60,000, (Bordeaux Campus is the largest in France) establishes that Bordeaux is about more than just wine.
Bordeaux is considered a very tolerant and relaxed place - no one will bother you about your political beliefs, religion, or sexual orientation. The cultural, artistic, and music scenes are very vibrant. The city was ruled by the English for a long time, which is why Bordeaux seems to have an "English flair".
Bordeaux is often referred to as "Little Paris" and the rivalry between the "Bordelais" (people from Bordeaux) and "Parisiens" is a hot subject, so you may experience some heated arguments on the subject during your stay.
Bordeaux is a flat city, built on the banks of the Garonne River. It is also the largest French city by area and geographically one of the largest in Europe. The Garonne merges a dozen kilometers below the city with another river, the Dordogne River to form the Gironde Estuary, which is biggest estuary in France.
The city center is located west and south of the Garonne. To the east are a few hills - the only ones in the vicinity. These hills mark the beginning of an industrial zone and suburbs. Because it is a flat city, bicycles make excellent modes of transport, especially as the city has more than 580 km of cycle tracks. Bordeaux is among the most economically dynamic cities in France.
Due to the weakness of the subsoil, there are no skyscrapers in Bordeaux, which explains its sprawl. The center of the town has retained its traditional stone mansions and smart terraces, hence the reason behind the city being called "Little Paris".
Modern buildings can be found to the west (administrative center) and south (university) of the city.
Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport (IATA: BOD) (ICAO: LFBD),  is west of the city. It is a regional airport which serves mostly domestic flights, though there are international flights as well connecting Bordeaux to some European "hub" airports like Paris (Orly and Roissy), London (Gatwick and Luton), Madrid, and Amsterdam.
An express bus runs every 45 minutes to the city center, with stops on the demand. The same bus runs from Gare Saint Jean to the airport with three stops:
The fare is 7€, but a reduced fare for those under 26 or over 60 is available for 6€.
You can also take public transit (1.40€) from the airport to downtown. After you exit the airport "Arrivals" section, walk to the right and you will see a bus stop for route Number 1. This bus will take you directly to Gambetta (a short walk from the Hotel de Ville), or you can get off at "Lycée Mérignac" and take tramline A to the city centre.
The main train station (Gare Saint Jean) is located about 4km from the center of town. Several trains per day (around one every two hours) go north (to Paris, about 3 hours, 25 trains a day , Angoulême, Poitiers), south (to Toulouse, Marseille, Montpellier (about 4 to 5 hours), up to Nice), and east (to Périgueux and Clermont-Ferrand).
Buses, trams and taxis leave from in-front of the station. Take Tram C to get to downtown if you are going to the more northern part, or a bus if you are going to the area around Place de la Victoire.
You can reach Bordeaux by car from the north (taking the A10 highway or N10), south (taking the A63 highway), and east. A beltway goes around the city.
If possible, avoid driving between 8-10AM and 4-7PM, as the beltway is usually overcrowded.
Long-distance buses seem to stop southeast of the train station along Rue des Terres de Borde by the rental car parking lots. Eurolines  provide bus service to the city -- confirm the location of the stop on your tickets and with the somewhat surly staff at the Eurolines ticket sales office (across the street from the main entrance of Gare Saint-Jean).
If you're travelling with bikes European Bike Express  run a route from north of Leeds, stopping through the UK to Dover and then on towards Bayonne via Bordeaux. Passengers normally travel from the UK to Europe.
Taxi providers offer service to and from the airport. For taxi services, you can go directly to Bordeaux Airport taxi rank or make an advance booking with one of the companies.
Bordeaux is quite a big city; however, most of the interesting attractions are in the town center. It is not recommended that visitors drive as it is always a hassle to park (and car parks are expensive), and there are often traffic jams in the narrow, old streets of the city.
The most interesting way to explore the city is by walking. As most of the town center is a 'pedestrian area', this is easy to do. If you like sports, you can rent roller-skates or a bike (see below) or you can make your way in town using the various bus lines. A small ferry boat permits to go from the western shore of the river to the eastern shore, and vice-versa.
Three efficient tramway lines are also available (A, B, and C), tickets cost 1.40€ and covers unlimited journeys within one hour of validation.
The bus network is organized around a few main places, where it is possible to take buses to almost every destination in the city :
Avoid the buses on peak hours (8-10AM, 4-7PM) as the town center is usually totally jammed (and cars often block bus tracks), and buses are overcrowded.
Le Bus du Fleuve, as it is called, links the western and eastern parts of the city by a small cruise on the river. It is managed by the CGFTE, and you can therefore ride the ferry using a standard bus ticket. The bus goes from the Southern part of Quai Richelieu to the Place Aristide Briand, very close to the Aquitaine Bridge (one of the must-see in Bordeaux).
By electric bus and tramway
A new tramway  serves the town, crossing the Garonne via the Pont de Pierre. A distinctive feature of the tramway is that within the inner city, it has no overhead wires as it utilizes ground-level power supply system.
The electric bus, called la navette du centre-ville, is the only public transportation on pedestrian roads. There are no bus stops for this one: to board an electric bus, wave your hand to the driver - he will stop the bus and let you on. When you want to go out, just tell the driver.
All the maps, fares and times are on the TBC Web site (in French) . Also, maps and times can be easily accessed with Google Maps, just select route "By public transit" when getting directions.
As was mentioned previously Bordeaux is very flat and has lots of bike lanes so it is very easy to get around the city by bicycle. The city has recently (February 2010) added a city-wide bike sharing program called VCUB (similar to Vélib in Paris), it is a cheap and easy way to see the city although the requirement to put down a 200€ deposit before taking a bike might cause problems if you do not have a bank/credit card that works well with the system. A daily or weekly subscription is 1 or 5€, respectively and each usage is free provided you do not go over 30 minutes (you can just return the bike and take out a new one).
Bordeaux is a historic city with many tourist attractions. The main districts are briefly presented here, which are listed according to their distance from the railway station.
Bordeaux gardens open: end March to end October - 8AM to 8PM; end October to end March - 8AM to 6PM. Bordeaux gardens admission is free.
Football (soccer) is a very popular sport in Bordeaux, as the F.C. Girondins, the football club, is one of the best in France (avoid talking football in the city, it's another sensitive subject). Tickets for almost every game are easy to come by and can be purchased before the match at the ticket office 'Place Johnstone' at the South West corner of the stadium or on the evening of the game at the turnstiles. Games against main rivals Marseille will sell out well in advance as will the fixtures against PSG, Lyon and usually St Etienne so don't travel without a ticket for one of these games. Expect to pay anything between 9 euros for the Virages Nord and Sud (behind the goals) to a maximum of 80 euros for the exclusive Presidential Suite.
The Virage Sud is an amazing experience for any football fan but be warned that everyone stands up on the seats, your view may be restricted by an impressive array of flags and they have a habit of lighting flares frequently during the match.
Despite the locals being extremely loud and passionate in their support, there are very few safety problems helped partially by the small numbers of travelling fans. In the past few seasons, there have been some clashes against supporters of Marseille and PSG but the vast majority of games end peacefully with both sets of fans mixing on the tram back to the city.
Explore the city on wheels as Bordeaux is a very nice city for practising roller-skating (or roller-blading) and other "skating sports".
Other sports that enjoy some support in Bordeaux include ice hockey, handball and rugby. The two Bordeaux rugby clubs Stade Bordelais and Begles merged in 2006 to form Union CABBG. The club plays in the second tier of Frances national leagues and usually plays its home games and Stade Andre Moga in the suburb of Begles. Tickets for the seated stands are 10 euros.
Bordeaux Cricket Club are the vice champions of France and play regularly at Château Giscours in Médoc. Attendance is free and greatly encouraged.
Touring the vineyards and sampling the local wines are one of the greatest pleasures when visiting Bordeaux. It is the second largest wine-growing region in the world and produces over 800 million bottles annually. It produces some of the best and most prestigious wines in the world, some of the most famous being:
Tours are available through many operators. Alternately, call ahead for reservations. Note that Haut Brion and Mouton are closed for renovation in 2010, while Latour generally only accepts serious collectors and professionals.
If you are an individual you can take daily wine tours departing from Bordeaux and that head towards all the major vineyards of the region: Saint Emilion, The Médoc, Graves and Sauternes... The excursions take place on board 8-seater fully equipped minivans and are taken care of by professional driver guides.
The annual summer wine festivals are held in tandem with the "Bordeaux-fête-le-fleuve"  celebrating the river, land, and international community. The most recent was held on 24-27 June 2010.
There are many tour operators for this region of France. They can organise your complete tour (including travel to and from Bordeaux and France) or they can arrange visits to wineries and château for you.
Bordeaux is a great city for learning- to learn a bit about French culture, consider visiting cinemas such as Utopia  or going to the city library in Meriadeck.
If you're interested in wine, don't hesitate to visit wine resellers north of Gambetta or Les Quinconces.
The Bordeaux University , located a few kilometers south of town, offers a wide variety of courses, from science to humanities, from beginner classes to high-level research. The laboratories are among the best in France. It is possible to take French courses there in the summer, with Erasmus students. The DEFLE  (Department for the study of French as a foreign language) is attached to Université Michel de Montaigne - Bordeaux III. It offers both semester and vacation courses in French for foreign students.
Bordeaux has made its wealth out of trade, and the local economic system relies heavily on shops and trading halls. The Pedestrian Center is basically full of stores of all kinds, from clothes to art, craftworks, food and wine etc. If you're looking for luxury items, head to Gambetta square and its surroundings.
Don't hesitate to buy some local music - Bordeaux music groups are on the rise! Check out Kap Bambino, an electronic music duo formed by singer Caroline Martial and beat-smith boyfriend Orion Bouvier.
Clothing is less expensive than neighboring Paris, so wear comfortable shoes and head to Rue Sainte Catherine, the longest pedestrian precinct in Europe and the best place for shopping.
Of course, you can hardly leave Bordeaux, without taking home some of its beloved wine. Make sure you're aware of the customs rules at the airport.
Gastronomy has a very important place in the city, which is full of restaurants of all kinds. French restaurants provide dishes from almost every part of the country, and there are a lot of Asian, African or Arabian restaurants.
Bordeaux is lively during the day and continues throughout the night. If you're looking for a bar to hang out with friends or to enjoy watching a football match, head for La Victoire, as most of the pubs and bars of the town are here. Virtually, all the shops in the surroundings of this area are bars, and you'll likely be able to find one that suits your needs.
If you prefer dancing or clubbing, most of the night-clubs are on the Quais, close to the train station. From rock to disco, dance to techno, you also have a lot of choice.
While the entrance is free to the majority of the clubs, don't get there drunk or you will not be let in.
Most tourist hotels are close to the railway station (that is, close to the Quais). There are some luxury hotels close to Gambetta square and Quinconces square, which are really nice but rather expensive.
Bordeaux has a recently-built youth hostel, close to the railway station, which can be worth a visit for a few nights - remember to book in advance.
Bordeaux is covered by the three major telecommunication operators in France : France Telecom (Orange), Bouygues, and SFR. If you have a GSM cellphone with an international subscription, you should be able to give calls from anywhere in the city. It is also possible to find phone cabins, but some have been removed recently due to their decreased usage.
As for internet access, there are a few cybercafes in the pedestrian center, which are not expensive (from 2 to 4 euros per hour).
Most restaurants also offer free Wi-Fi.
Bordeaux is not a city with a high crime rate. If you respect some simple rules, you shouldn't have any problems.
There are a lot of interesting things to see close to Bordeaux.
To reach those places, you can use either the regional railways (TER) or inter-city bus lines (which often go where trains do not). By car, all these areas are less than an hour from Bordeaux.