The good life can be found in Bordeaux
Over many, many years the south-western French city of Bordeaux became increasingly synonymous with fine wine. Since around the eighth century, generation after generation of viticulturists have been at work on the vineyards, dedicated in their pursuit of heavenly liquid splendour.
During this time they have refined and perfected the art of harvesting grapes to their optimum level, fermenting them till they turn alcoholic and then ageing them to create the final flavoursome taste.
Though they must contend with the natural world, from the unpredictable weather to bothersome insects, they do, year after year, still produce what is generally considered to be the best wine in the world. So valued is the region’s wine that some of its more stellar vintages are acquired, traded and sold as investments.
Imagine then, one evening, arriving home after a hard but enjoyable day at work, the sun slowly setting in the distance, burning the sky with a warm orange hue, and knowing that a decent red, let’s say cabernet-sauvignon, awaits you.
You pour it and amble on over to your balcony. It’s quiet, save for a few wandering souls, the occasional bird. Life, you think, is grand, and you pull the glass up towards you, inhaling the rich, fruity flavours. You take a sip and hold it in your mouth, letting it react. And then you swallow, slowly, letting the wine settle inside you. Blissful.
It’s fair to say then that wine is an important part of the fabric of Bordeaux, a city which modestly grew out of the Garonne River, so much so that it was nicknamed la Belle Au Bois Dormant, otherwise known in English as Sleeping Beauty. Great things awaited it.
It was during the Age of Enlightenment that the city arose, illuminated and ready to fulfil its destiny. And so it was, the legendary city came to be the Bordeaux we know today.
It was made into a UNESCO World Heritage Site in celebration of its rich history, its “outstanding urban and architectural ensemble” and for its value as an important cultural hub.
Also known as the Port of the Moon, another poetic description that attempts to detail its elegant character, Bordeaux revels and excels in architecture, a sort of physical and very visible skeletal binding that keeps the city together.
“Bordeaux is exceptional in the unity of its urban and architectural classical and neo-classical expression, which has not undergone any stylistic rupture over more than two centuries,” the United Nations states. “Its urban form represents the success of philosophers who wanted to make towns into melting pots of humanism, universality and culture.”
Tradition therefore remains important to Bordeaux’s identity. The city is not quaint in a charming way, which is never a bad thing, nor is it anachronistic. Instead, it is a fully modern, active and energetic place to be. It’s just that its past endures and, given its location, still continues to be a region that is defined by a life of commerce and trade on the port.
Beyond the buzz of working life, the city is awash with things to see and do, including the golden triangle, a sweeping shopping district, bountiful green areas that make for the most spellbinding ambles, and enough cultural attractions to keep you busy for however long your stay is in the city.
The lifestyle of the city is a smashing mixture of being very relaxed and focused. This way of life perhaps owes something to wine-making, where it helps to be patient, attentive and, at times, blasé. Grapes have to, after all, be allowed to mature on their own. When the time comes to nudge them in a certain direction, assiduousness is key.
From this you can paint a picture of a world which is never idle nor frantic, nor neat per se, but slightly frayed around the ages. It’s not worn out, but aged-well, like your favourite jumper, nipped here and there, but with character. The kind of sweater you’ll carry with you always.
Chic may be too focused a word to distinguish Bordeaux’s exceptionality, though it is undoubtedly cool. A suitable express might be found in cultivation, another nod to wine you see. Like life, it sprang from the sea, settled on the land, pottered about for quite a long time, went into a period of repose and then emerged as a triumphant wonder. We’ll certainly toast to that.