Tourist First

Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

France: Bordeaux, Wine Capital

     We had heard little good about the city of Bordeaux, population about a quarter-million, so we were pleasantly surprised to find a sunny, low-rise city with a lot of its 19th century (and older) buildings intact and in use, a modern light-rail system, and one of the liveliest restaurant and bar scenes anywhere.
The Port de Burgundy near the Garonne River. 

     We arrived on a Sunday, but just a little too late for the Sunday morning market along the Garonne River. We found a spot in an underground garage for the car and walked a few blocks from the river and stumbled upon La Mere Michel at 22 Place Meynard, just across Place Saint-Michel from an ancient-looking stone church.  This decidedly unchic café served Katy and me perfectly cooked confit de carnard. Jane said her salad with duck meat was excellent.  Perhaps our best lunch in France.        
Modern mass transit contrasts with Bordeaux's stately buildings.
     After lunch, we retrieved our car and drove across town to our chambres d’hotes (B&B), L’Arene, which was conveniently located and had a parking spot for us in a nearby garage. Click HERE for its website.  We could easily walk everywhere we wanted to go in the city.
      One must-do for warm-weather visitors should be the long strip of outdoor restaurants on the edge of the city center, where we found ourselves our first night. It was during the early days of the World Cup in Brazil when France was still in contention, and giant TVs were everywhere showing the game to cheering and drinking locals.  Most of the cafes – think of pop-up brasseries – served rather simple fare, such as the oversize hamburger I had. But they had fairly extensive wine lists and lots of beers on tap.
Weather permitting, it seems almost everyone eats outdoors in Bordeaux.
     
Pauillac is on the Gironde, the estruary of the Garonne and Isle rivers.
  We spent a good part of our only full day in Bordeaux about 45 minutes north in Pauillac where we had an appointment for a tour and tasting at the Lynch Bages winery.   There were only six of us on the tour, so we feel like we got a fairly close look at this celebrated winery.  The tasting, which included a 2004, was a highlight of our trip.  Strongly recommend that anyone visiting the region make appointments ahead of time to visit at least a couple of wineries.  Our second Bordeaux winery was Gruaud-Larose, a much smaller operation and one where
The view from our window at L'Arene in Bordeaux. 
we could afford to take home a bottle. Gruaurd-Larose is a Saint-Julien second cru.  Most Bordeaux wineries can be contacted through their websites. If you want to visit one of the First Growth estates, you should make a reservation as far in advance as possible.
               This being the Bordeaux wine region, there is a citywide focus on wine.   We found two great spots for enjoying wines.  The first is simply named the Wine Bar, located in Le Boutique Hotel. Click HERE for its website.  The waiter, who may well have been the owner, spoke with us at some length about what kinds of wines we liked before choosing wines for us without telling us what
Again, our window at L'Arene, a very pleasant place to stay in Bordeaux.
they were. We had to guess.  I had told him that I liked red blends. He threw me a ringer: a Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape, not a Bordeaux as I was expecting. I did not guess correctly.  The second glass was a Saint-Emilion grand cru, and I guessed a merlot-based Bordeaux, so I got credit for that one.
         Our second place for wine was Aux Quatre Coins du Vin. Click HERE for its website. It has dispensing machines that siphon wines from their bottles and serves you a tasting, a small pour or a full serving.  About 40 wines are available in this format, You get an electronic card from the bartender and insert it into the machine for each serving. It records how much you’re spending so you can pay up at the end of the evening. It’s like Disneyland for wine lovers. Aux Quatre Coins du Vin also serves tapas, which could serve as a light dinner.  

         Bordeaux, the three of us agreed, is an extremely pleasant city.