Morning of May 4th:
This morning we called for a 5:30 a.m. taxi for a ride to the nearby Barcelona Airport for a 7 a.m. flight over the Pyrenees mountains to Bordeaux, in southwest France. In planning this trip I had dedicated myself to seeing Europe by train, but I just couldn’t make the Barcelona to Bordeaux link click. When researching, I found out that we’d be on the train for 12 hours and the trip would cost over 400 Euros apiece! Compare that with a 1-hour flight at $59 per person and it was a no-brainer!
We took off into the sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea and were then immediately flying over the spine of the 10,000 foot peaks of the Pyrenees mountains, straddling the border between Spain and France. There was plenty of snow down there, and, oh, how I longed to be down amongst those majestic mountains, taking an exhilarating alpine hike – someday, maybe!
After the Pyrenees mountains we were over the flat coastal plains of southwest France, flying over broad, silty, winding rivers and fertile farmland. Once into Bordeaux by taxi from the airport, we checked into Mama Shelter Bordeaux, where I had snagged us a double room for $89 on an otherwise $350 per night charge. I love a good bargain!
“Heart of the Gironde, world capital of wine, a breeze away from Atlantic beaches, the city of Bordeaux is a plump red drunk with friends gathered here from all over the world.” (from mamashelter.com) The Mama Shelter Bordeaux was designed by the world-famous architectural and interior designer, Phillipe Starck.
All of historic, 18th century Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with over 5,000 extant buildings dating from that time period. Bordeaux is surrounded by the world’s most famous wine growing region. The region grows inexpensive table wines, but is also home to some of the most expensive, sought-after labels in the world.
A Bordeaux wine is any wine produced in the Bordeaux region of southwest France. Bordeaux is centered on the city of Bordeaux, on the Garonne River. To the north of the city the Dordogne River joins the Garonne forming the broad estuary called the Gironde.
The first growth red wines (four from Médoc and one, Château Haut-Brion, from Graves), are among the most expensive wines in the world. The very finest and most expensive wines are of the Grand Cru Classé.
The first growths are:
- Château Lafite Rothschild, in the appellation Pauillac
- Château Margaux, in the appellation Margaux
- Château Latour, in the appellation Pauillac
- Château Haut-Brion, in the appellation Péssac-Leognan
- Château Mouton Rothschild, in the appellation Pauillac, promoted from second to first growth in 1973.
At the 5 December 1985 Christie’s auction, a new record price of approximately US$156,000 was paid for a bottle of wine – a 1787 Château Lafite which was thought to be owned by Thomas Jefferson, who had been a customer of Château Lafite’s ever since he visited there in the late 18th century, when he was ambassador to France.
Mandy chose to sleep in at the Mama Shelter after our arrival while I explored, for she was still drugged from dramamine, a motion-sickness medication she takes when we fly. I headed out for the spectacular La Cité du Vin, the City of Wine, by XTU architects, Anouk Legendre & Nicolas Desmazières, which is in an abstract organic architectural delight that opened to the world in 2016. The building is shaped like a giant, abstract decanter of wine.
The wine cellar at the La Cité du Vin sold only Bordeauxs, and some were quite expensive. I resisted the temptation, this time, to buy any wine. Instead, included with my ticket, was a free glass of red Bordeaux enjoyed on the 6th floor observatory and terrace. It was fantastic, and what a view!
There was also a wine decanter competition on display – the winning decanter was meant to be hung from and appreciated from a tree! There was also a fantastic exhibit of Baccarat crystal goblets and cognac bottles.
After Mandy woke up from her snooze and I returned from the City of Wine, we met up at the Mama Shelter rooftop terrace for drinks.
After drinks and a little relaxing, we went down to the fantastic ground floor restaurant for appetizers and dinner. For an appetizer we had a roast camembert, salad and Brut Cidre.
“Today, Mama is entrusting her kitchen to Guy Savoy, one of the most talented chefs of his generation. Mama’s success is secured by a mix of genres and our relaxed outlook does not prevent us from striving for rigour and excellence. This triple Michelin starred chef has thus joined us on our adventure, putting his signature to a new menu: spontaneous, generous and always available.
Local flavours are combined with a touch of exoticism, with Mama’s emblematic recipes alongside some of his signatures. There is just one constraint: remaining affordable!” (from mamashelter.com) Dinner was a sumptuous event. The restaurant space is a very lively one. It has blow up floaties in rows above the bar, chalk writing in colors on the ceiling, musical instruments on display at the stage and near our table, a huge chicken print.
Morning of May 5th:
Mama Shelter‘s breakfast buffet was stellar. They laid out a huge feast for us on the buffet on both a giant, long table and on the back of the bar. It was very international in flavor at the same time that it was very French.
After breakfast, on a crystal-clear May morning, we strolled over to the Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1096, where there was a mass in progress. Outside there were street car rails everywhere. My overall impression of the city was that it was spotlessly clean and effectively run and loved by citizens and visitors alike. We certainly liked it very much.
“Bordeaux is classified as a “City of Art and History”. The city is home to 362 monuments historiques (only Paris has more in France) with some buildings dating back to Roman times. Bordeaux, Port of the moon, has been inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble” (from Wikipedia)
Walking around the historic center, we found a building we really liked, the Ministère de la Justice, designed by the English architect, Richard Rogers, who won the project in an international competition in 1992 – the building was completed in 1998. “The design was for a building that would, through a feeling of transparency and openness, create a positive perception of the accessibility of the French judicial system. With its use of irregular forms and natural materials, the building successfully complements its sensitive environs, including a section of the city’s medieval wall.” (https://www.rsh-p.com/)
I love the République Française flag and the French motto: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – Freedom, Equality, Fraternity.
After this discovery, we went to the Musée des Beaux Arts de Bordeaux, the Museum of Fine Arts, which is the largest gallery of art in France outside Paris. At the museum there were masterworks by Delacroix, Cassatt and Redon.
I was very moved by the light, lacey marble sculpture of the death of Mozart, Mozart Experant, by Rinaldo Carnielo, 1880. It was so delicate – his features, his beard stubble, the music in his lap and his clothing – masterful, but macabre for sure.
The monumental canvas, Antoine-Jean Gros, L’embarquement de la duchesse d’Angoulême was incredible, as was Rolla, by Henri Gervex, 1878. I really liked the painting of the Bordeaux riverside wharves, Pierre Lacour, Vue d’une partie du port et des quais de Bordeaux dits des Chartrons et de Bacalan, 1804. La Mer a Mersat by Redon was familiar, because my own mother painted a copy of it in oil. I was impressed by Alfred Smith, Le quai de Bacalan à Bordeaux le soir, 1883, a view of Bordeaux from far across the river, with the stone bridge in the foreground.
After the museum we walked through the sparkling city center to a gate house from the medieval city wall, the “Porte Cailhau.”
Place de la Bourse (1735–1755), designed by the Royal architect Jacques Gabriel as landscape for an equestrian statue of Louis XV, now replaced by the Fountain of the Three Graces. The sculptures represent Minerve protecting the arts and Mercury favoring the commerce of the city.”
“The Miroir d’eau (Water Mirror) in Bordeaux is the world’s largest reflecting pool, covering 3,450 square metres (37,100 sq ft). Located on the quay of the Garonne in front of the Place de la Bourse, it was built in 2006. In the context of the quays embellishment operation (2000s), it was designed by landscape artist Michel Corajoud. Then it was built by the fountain-maker Jean-Max Llorca and the architect Pierre Gangnet, who reused a former underground warehouse to set the machinery and reservoir.
The reflecting pool is made of granite slabs covered by 2 cm of water, and a system allows it to create mist every 15 minute.” (from Wikipedia). There were dancers both in and out of the reflecting pool.
For lunch we had pizza on the basilica square. After the reflecting pool we found a huge flea market in the largest public square in France, the Place des Quinconces.