Anne Lataillade of Papilles et Pupilles in her home town of Bordeaux
La Place de la Bourse
Canelés in copper moulds
Bordeaux city gates, one of several. This is Grosse Cloche de Bordeaux.
Wall with imprint of stored barrels, Bordeaux
Over a decado ago, Anne Lataillade was a stay-at-home mum looking after two young children, both of whom had severe food allergies. She surfed the net, searching in vain for recipes she could feed them. This led to Anne starting her pioneering food blog in 2005. Today Anne is one of France's top food bloggers, getting around 3 million views per month. Her site, Papilles et Pupilles (eyelids and taste buds is the rather clumsy sounding translation), was voted best culinary blog by Elle magazine in 2008, and she does a weekly radio show on France Bleu Gironde. Anne lives in a tall house in the centre of Bordeaux, so everything in the newly refurbished city is within walking distance.
Bordeaux has undergone a transformation recently, thanks to Mayor Alain Juppé, the liberal, pro-immigration member of Les Republicains. Formerly a sooty decrepit town, where eighteenth-century squares were used as parking lots and industrial buildings obscured the river, there is now a clear view of the banks of the Garonne with splendid public art sculptures. The river is so deep and wide, ocean liners moor next to the town and visitors can take boat trips both up and down stream.
Bordeaux is the largest Unesco World Heritage site. Its historic town centre has been cleaned, and the beautiful old gates can now be seen. A lethally silent tramway has been built. As you walk through the grand streets (only a little of the original medieval city remains) that so inspired Baron Haussman, who brought a similar aesthetic to Paris, the characteristic pale coral light of western France illuminates the blond stone, the huge city gates, the lengthy shopping streets. Coppery lamps hang high, while starlings flock to the trees that colonnade the airy public squares.
Bordeaux is renowned for three eminent men of letters: Montaigne, Montesquieu and Mauriac. Montaigne (1533-1592) was a philosopher and writer, influential in child education and psychology. Montesquieu (1689-1755) was a lawyer, who wrote about the importance of separation of state and church. Mauriac (1913-1970) was a novelist, playwright and poet, who won the Nobel prize for literature. His best-known work is probably Thérèse Desqueyroux, about an unhappy wife living in Les Landes who tried to poison her husband. (I remember being shocked when I read the novel, that Therèse addressed her husband with the formal 'vous', apparently normal amongst the bourgeoisie at the time.)
It is fascinating to visit. Here are my top picks of what to drink, eat and see. I was aided by Anne Lataillade, who kindly gave me her 'carnet d'adresses', her address book of recommendations.
DrinkBordeaux is a wine city. Even if you don't get around to visiting local chateaux, you must visit the following places.
The Urban wine trail in Bordeaux
Check out the Bar à Vin du CIVB, Le Wine Bar, the Cité du Vin, Wine more Time, where you can both buy and taste wine.
Saint-James' mushroom guy. Ceps picked that morning.
EatBordeaux's food is meat-heavy with duck and game. As a pescetarian, I found it difficult to eat out; despite the proximity to the sea as they don't eat very much fish. Here are a few options recommended by Anne.
Chef Magie did try, without success, to convert me to liking beetroot, although I must say the food he cooked for me was truly fine. We did have a feisty conversation about vegetarianism. "The truth is we only get three vegetarians a month," explained the manager. I can see that it doesn't make commercial sense right now. It's a chicken and egg situation (or tofu and soybean?) - people don't demand good meat-free food because they don't think it exists and it doesn't exist because people do not ask for it.
There are nice places to eat at Le Marché des Capuchins, including this tapas bar with Spanish/Basque cuisine. Pintxos are priced by stick colour.
Marché des CapucinsAnne took me round to her favourite producers and stalls. Watch out for piment d'espelette, the orange pepper grown in the Basque region. Keep it in the fridge so that it retains its colour and bite.
Her herb guy, everything a euro per bunch.
A 'couronne' of bread at a stall outside. In Bordeaux, a kind of corn bread with piment d'espelette is popular.
In September I bought 'wet' new season walnuts.
Bordeaux is next to the sea, so they do sell good fish. Les délices de la Mer stall.
There is a massive battle as to who makes the best Canelés de Bordeaux. This stall, Panier Delice, does a good job. The ideal canelé is crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and brushed with bees wax.
Outside the market:
Fromagerie Deruelle, Anne's favourite cheese shop
Bread shop La Fabrique. Superb chewy sourdough bread.
Canelé shop. Le Boulanger de l'hotel de ville was recommended by a Bordeaux tour guide.
Best ice cream: La maison du glacier
Best spice shop: Dock des epices
Best tea shop: Tamatebako
Water Mirror fountain next to the river Garonne was designed by landscape artist Michel Carojou. Great spot for photography and fun to play with.
You will notice bronze bas reliefs on pedestals in the centre of town. These are maps for the blind with braille instructions. They can feel landmarks.
The opera house in Bordeaux is worth visiting. It was designed by Victor Louis in the eighteenth century. He realised that going to the opera was more about society eyeing each other up than the actual theatre, so he designed a vast foyer with pillars perfect for pre-show gossip.
Bordeaux is on the pilgrim's route to Santiago de la Compostella. These brass studs with the shell symbol, la coquille Saint Jacques, are embedded in roads, marking the path.
The court house: this was designed by Richard Rogers. Obviously inspired by the region, it amusingly looks like several wine barrels. Each 'court' is in a separate wooden wine barrel.
Take the tram: quiet and cheap. 1.5 euro per trip.
Take the boat: travel up the Garonne to Blaye, on the right bank.
The light, the trees, the water, the shops, the hipsters with their man buns (called 'catogans' in French), the lycéens flirting and smoking after school - everything. Take a walking tour.
Lycéens, autumn, Bordeaux.
I visited Bordeaux twice this autumn, first courtesy of the CIVB, and secondly, courtesy of the hotel Saint-James. Find out more about their rates and deals here.