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Never bored with Bordeaux

Herman Grech finds much more than fine wine in the French town.

Bruno, our flamboyant tour guide, pirouettes above the crowd on Rue Esprit des Lois and orders: “Come wiv me, I vill show you something vewy special.”

Porte Cailhau, a gate of the old city walls in the historical centre of Bordeaux.Porte Cailhau, a gate of the old city walls in the historical centre of Bordeaux.

We march into an outlet called Mollat, the largest independent bookshop in France and, as we whizz through its 2,500-metre floor space, we realise why it holds a special place for the people of Bordeaux.

Hundreds of locals of all ages leaf through books, lost in a world of their own, in a 120-year-old historic labyrinth. It’s a refuge, far from the madding crowd at its doorstep, where thousands of foreigners and locals sip coffees and Bordeaux wine.

While the capital Paris will indisputably remain one of the most stunning cities in the world, there are plenty of reasons why you should visit its southern cousin, especially if you want to see a city which grows better with age… just like a fine wine. And now it’s accessible directly from Malta.

Twirling his moustache, Bruno goes to pains to explain how Bordeaux now looks nothing like the city stained by black polluted walls until just 20 years ago.

By the 1990s, Bordeaux had degenerated into a city of abandoned warehouses clogged by traffic, the facades of historic buildings like the Grand Théatre and the cathedral smeared with smog. Realising the hidden potential, then mayor Alain Juppé embarked on a massive cleaning spree to remove centuries of soot from the city’s majestic squares and medieval churches and reveal one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

Bordeaux at night. Photo: Christophe BouthBordeaux at night. Photo: Christophe Bouth

Fast forward to the 21st century and the grand boulevards and promenades of Bordeaux are now a haven for cyclists, runners and pedestrians.

The pedestrianisation of many roads in the city, coupled with its high-tech tram system (with no overlying cables), means you can really do away with driving in the centre of Bordeaux. The city’s monumental heart is a triangle, bound by three boulevards – Cours Clemenceau, Cours de l’Intendance and Allées de Tourny.

It’s a city worth discovering on foot. In 2007, half of the city was Unesco-listed, making it the largest urban world heritage site

It’s a city worth discovering on foot. In 2007, half of the city was Unesco-listed, making it the largest urban world heritage site. Despite the murky brown water, Bruno insists the Garonne river is not dirty. Though his claim is questionable, the stunning riverscape provides a fantastic vantage point to witness the city’s beautiful riverside architecture.

And once you’ve feasted your eyes on history and architecture and want a whiff of bourgeois privilege, just head to a stylish boutique or one of the dozens of coffee shops or exquisite restaurants which provide more fine wine than you could ever possibly drink.

Go to: La Cité du Vin

Shaped like a massive decanter, La Cité du Vin basically provides all you need to know about wine in an immersive, sensorial approach over 13,500 square metres of space.

Before you think it’s all hogwash best suited for the St Emilion Jurade, the museum is a starting point for anybody wanting to delve into the beautiful world of wine, from a detailed explanation of the different grape varieties to really useful information such as pairing wines with foods.

The museum invites you on a journey through time to discover wine in its universal, heritage and cultural dimensions.

And, on your way out, just visit the boutique shop that hosts wines from all over the world, including Malta’s own Grand Vin de Hauteville Cabernet Sauvignon from Delicata.

It’s no wonder the museum is now believed to be one of the most important sites to visit in Bordeaux.

Tour guide Bruno explaining the history of Bordeaux.Tour guide Bruno explaining the history of Bordeaux.

Tour: Smith Haut Lafitte Winery

There are wine chateaux dotting this region, beautiful old buildings which entice you to go in and taste wine.

Chateau Smith Haut LafitteChateau Smith Haut Lafitte

And then there are chateaux which soak you up and give you a sensory experience, just like a fine Bordeaux wine should do. Smith Haut Lafitte, located on the outskirts of Bordeaux provides breathtaking views of the rolling vineyards from a recently-constructed tower before you experience a wine-tasting tour capable of convincing the biggest teetotaller.

Visit: St Emilion

While the town of St Emilion is world-renowned with anybody who knows his Grand Cru from his table wine, it is a must for anybody who appreciates postcard-perfect scenery.

St Emilion. Photo: Steve Le ClechSt Emilion. Photo: Steve Le Clech

Just over an hour away by car from Bordeaux, the medieval town provides the perfect combination of history, food and arguably the world’s finest wine. Perfect your taste buds at wine houses like Chateau La Serre, lunch at L’Enver du Decors and round it off with coffee beneath the Monolithic church. It simply doesn’t get better than this.

Fly: directly to Bordeaux with Volotea

The airline currently operates on: Thursdays (April 13 – October 26) and Mondays (June 26 –  August 28).

The airline expects to further develop the Bordeaux schedule in summer 2018. Bordeaux is Malta International Airport’s seventh French direct scheduled connection after Paris Orly, Paris CDG, Marseille, Lyon, Nantes and Toulouse.

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