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Perhaps the quintessential French city, Bordeaux is known for all that is most beloved of French culture. The city has known two ‘Golden Ages’: Medieval Bordeaux, governed by the Dukes of Aquitaine, drew wealth and prestige from its busy, crescent-shaped port on the Garonne. Following the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to King Henry II of England, the region’s wines found an appreciative new audience - and investors - in the British Isles and beyond. Thriving viticulture, supported by the international port reached a peak in the 18th century, the city’s second Golden Age, creating a wealthy bourgeois population that sought to express itself in sublime architecture embellished with the finest decorative arts. Indeed, in later years, it was to Bordeaux that Baron Haussmann looked when tasked with transforming the snaking alleys of medieval Paris into the ‘modern’ capital that would signal France’s importance to the world. Falling from fashionable favour in the 19th and 20th centuries, Bordeaux gained the moniker ‘La Belle Endormie’ (The Sleeping Beauty), but renewed investment in recent years has brought it roaring back to life with an exciting resurgence in arts and infrastructure, and it is now undeniably enjoying a third Golden Age.
Eurostar from London to Bordeaux via Paris and transfer by private coach to our 4-star hotel in the heart of the city. After some time to settle in we reconvene for welcome drinks and an introductory talk with our host and local expert, Kirsty Fergusson, before enjoying a meal together in the evening.
A day on foot, discovering the glories of Medieval and ancien régime Bordeaux. A short walk from our hotel is the magnificent Basilique Saint-Seurin, named after one of the city’s most venerated patron saints, St. Seurin, fourth bishop of the City. Built over a 4th-century necropolis, it is a masterful example of the Romanesque style, although subsequent additions have been made over the years. Following the footprint of the medieval ramparts we continue to the imposing Gothic cathedral of Saint-André before a break for coffee. Afterwards, we take in La Grosse Cloche, the mighty 15th-century bell that marks one of the medieval entrances to the city. Magistrates of the day would ring the bell to signal the harvest or offer alert in case of attack or fire. Our last stop before lunch is the handsome Porte Cailhau, the 15th-century defensive gate dedicated to King Charles VIII. Reconvene in the afternoon, to explore some of the 18th century splendours of the city, pausing first to examine the beautiful façade of the Place de la Bourse and continuing to the Grand Théâtre, completed in 1780 to the designs of architect Victor Louis, and considered to be one of the finest theatres in France. Following a private tour of the theatre, we enjoy an aperitif in the colonnaded theatre restaurant before returning to our hotel just a short step away.
Travel by coach to the Citadelle de Blaye, the impressive military fortification designed in the 17th century by the famous French engineer Vauban. Sitting atop a rocky promontory overlooking the Gironde estuary, the perfectly-preserved citadel was one of three forts constructed to control the flow of traffic along the estuary and protect the city of Bordeaux. After an introduction to the history of the citadel, you are invited to explore its charming alleys, now occupied with small shops and cafés, before regrouping at the foot of the ramparts where we continue by coach to the Château Monconseil-Gazin. This is a small, family-run estate producing award-winning Côtes de Blaye wines, where we are privileged to enjoy a tour and tasting followed by an invitation to lunch in the château with owners, Jean-Michel and Françoise Baudet. Return to Bordeaux in the afternoon, enjoying some free time before a late afternoon visit to Les Bassins des Lumières, an enormous former WWII submarine base transformed into an awe-inspiring centre for digital art. Exhibitions are ever-changing but are dedicated to the great artists of the past, as well as contemporary works.
After breakfast, walk to the Hotel Labottière, where we are privileged to have a private tour of the magnificent 18th century townhouse with the current owner who has provided the ground floor rooms with fine examples of Louis XV and XVI furnishings and porcelain. Afterwards, walk through the delightful Jardin Public for a light lunch at L’Orangerie. Return to the hotel to collect our coach for transfer to the station.
You will stay for 3 nights at the 4-star Hôtel de Sèze.
Located in the heart of Bordeaux, in the famous Bordeaux Golden Triangle, a few steps from the Allees de Tourny and close to the famous Quinconces esplanade, the architecture of the Hôtel De Sèze is inspired by the 18th century. Discreetly elegant, the relaxing rooms reflect the flamboyant past of the city, whilst being equipped with modern fixtures.
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