Audio 1 - Introduction
Although it may be known around the world for its high-quality wine, the city of Bordeaux has a lot to offer every kind of traveller, as we’ll discover with this audio guide (audio guides). Located near the Atlantic coast in southwest France, Bordeaux is the capital of the Aquitaine region. The Garonne River runs straight through the city, while the last bridge to cross over its banks to the north is the Pont d'Aquitaine.
Its long and wide streets, magnificent buildings, and laid back atmosphere make the city one of the most popular places to visit in France. Bordeaux has the nickname "sleeping beauty" for its charm and peaceful way of being.
UNESCO declared the old town a World Heritage Site in 2007. Bordeaux has several important monuments built in an exquisite neoclassical style as well as more than 300 buildings of historical interest.
Audio 2 – Saint Andrew Cathedral
We begin our audio guide (audio guides) tour in the Bordeaux Cathedral. The building has been a World Heritage Site since 1998 and forms part of the French Route of Saint James Way. Important historical events took place within these walls, such as the marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France, and the marriage between the Spanish princess Anne of Austria and Louis XIII.
At the site of the current cathedral once stood a primitive basilica of the 5th or 6th century. In 814, it became a church dedicated to Saint Andrew, which was later destroyed during the Norman invasion of the 9th century. The new cathedral was consecrated in 1096 by Pope Urban II. It was designed with a Latin cross floor plan and a single 124-meter nave. Of the original construction, only the interior walls of the primary nave remain.
The cathedral was rebuilt between the 12th and the 16th century, adopting an Angevin Gothic style.
Audio 3 - Pey Berland Tower
Pey Berland is the bell tower of the Bordeaux Cathedral, which presents the peculiarity of having been built separately from the main building. It was built southeast of the Cathedral to house the bell, whose vibrations would have endangered the structural integrity of the grand Gothic building due to its precarious location in a swampy zone. Constructed in the 15th century, the tower measures 66 meters high and is named after Archbishop Pey-Berland, who ordered its construction.
The tower has four levels, the highest of which you can climb to and is 50 metres high. Ascending the 231 steps up with the audio guide (audio guides) the narrow spiral staircase gives us magnificent views of the city of Bordeaux. The peak of the tower is crowned by a golden statue of Our Lady of Aquitaine, which was built in 1862.
Audio 4 – Quincunx Square
The Place des Quinconces, or Quincux Square, owes its name to the quincunx arrangement of the trees planted inside. Spanning 12 hectares, it’s not just the most extensive public plaza in France, but also the biggest in all of Europe.
We’re now standing with the audio guide (audio guides) on the side of the plaza closest to the city centre, where we find the majestic Girondins Monument: a large ornamental fountain that encircles a column crowned by a statue of liberty breaking its chains. The monument was erected in tribute to the Girondin deputies who fought for democracy during the French Revolution.
In the part near the river, two columns with statues are dedicated to the Bordeaux’s maritime transport and other commercial activities.
The Quincux Square hosts concerts, shows, fairs, circuses, and sporting and artistic events throughout the year.
Audio 5 - The city of wine
The name "Bordeaux" is probably the most famous and respected denomination in the world of wine. It’s worth visiting the futuristic City of Wine to truly understand the importance of wine to Bordeaux. Opened in 2016; it has become a landmark attraction in the city.
Located on the banks of the Garonne River, the building is a remarkable architectural work, not only for the exhibition within but also for its unique design. The structure resembles the twisted strain of a vine, or a giant wine decanter, while the undulations of its facade evoke images of wine swirling at the bottom of a glass. Inside, the audio guide (audio guides) will lead you through the 3000m2 space, which extends over 19 thematic areas, on an interactive tour dedicated to the cultural heritage of wine. Wine novices and the most passionate oenophiles alike can participate in tasting sessions, savouring a good glass of wine on the building terrace.
Audio 6 – Sainte-Catherine street
We’re now located with the audio guide (audio guides) in Sainte-Catherine street, a pedestrian thoroughfare since 1984 that crosses through the city centre from north to south. It’s a common meeting point for the people of Bordeaux for its family-friendly and lively atmosphere. About 230 shops span the 1200-meter street, making it a popular place to indulge in a little retail therapy. The road sets the scene for the winter trail in February, and the summer trail in July, where locals rent out a small stall to sell the second-hand possessions they no longer use.
Audio 7 – Place de la Bourse (the Stock Exchange Square) and the Miroir d’eau (water mirror)
We continue our audio guide (audio guides) tour at the Place de la Bourse, a plaza that has been moulded by the most important historical events of the country. Designed by the royal architect Jacques Gabriel, this former Royal Plaza has profoundly modified the character of the city. As the only waterfront plaza in France, the Place de la Bourse is an essential spot to visit to get better acquainted with Bordeaux and the banks of the Garonne River.
In its earlier years, it was decided to remove some of the medieval walls that surrounded Bordeaux to build a Royal Plaza, which was destined to house an equestrian statue of King Louis XV. At that time, the city wanted to modernize its image by opening out towards the Garonne River, thus providing a more welcoming sight to the foreigners who would visit from its right bank. The square was inaugurated in 1749 and has been a symbol of the city's prosperity ever since.
In 1789, during the French Revolution, the statue was destroyed and replaced by a tree, taking on a new name: Liberty Square.
It was later renamed Imperial Square under Napoleon and then Royal Square once again during the Restoration in 1828. Finally, after the fall of Louis Philippe I in 1848, it adopted its current name of Place de la Bourse. The Fountain of Three Graces has adorned the square since 1869, which was designed by Louis Visconti and portrays the daughters of Zeus: Aglaea, Euphrosyne, and Thalia.
The plaza is one of the most emblematic images of Bordeaux, not only for its architecture but also for the optical effect of the giant water mirror. The creative installation has a surface area of almost 3500 m2 and a water depth of about 2 centimetres, allowing us to see a perfect reflection of the city as if it were a giant mirror. Superb photos are all but guaranteed, both day and night!
Audio 8 – Customs National Museum
Located in the Place de la Bourse, the Customs National Museum lies within the King’s Farm Hotel. This jewel of French Customs heritage is also an emblematic 18th-century building. It was built between 1735 and 1738 to house the General Cooperative, which was a private precursory company to Customs under the Old Regime that enforced merchandise duties and fees on behalf of the King.
The building still hosts Customs today. As we’ll discover with this audio guide (audio guides), it is, therefore, a unique building due to the long continuity of its occupancy, which dates all the way back to the 18th century. Its classic facade, designed by the royal architect Jacques Gabriel, stands out for its harmonious proportions.
The building wraps around a rectangular courtyard that once stored merchandise before and after customs duties had been paid. Although the hall that houses the museum underwent renovations in the 18th century, we can admire it today as it was originally conceived: 40 meters long with 16 pillars and magnificent illuminated vaults.
Audio 9 – The Stone Bridge
Our audio guide (audio guides) tour will now take us to the first bridge to cross over the Garonne, which was built by order of Napoleon I between 1810 and 1822. During the twelve years that construction lasted, the engineers of grand bridges and roads faced numerous challenges brought about by the strong current of the river in this enclave.
The bridge is almost 500 meters long and has 17 arches, which correspond to the number of letters in Napoleon Bonaparte’s name. On the sides, each brick pillar is enhanced by a white medallion in honor of the emperor. Also present are small representations of the city’s coat of arms, which is composed of three intertwined moons.
This was the only bridge in the city until the construction of Saint-Jean bridge in 1965.
Audio 10 - Porte Cailhau
The audio guide (audio guides) has now taken us to the Porte Cailhau or the Palace Gate, which is one of the old gates of the walled city of Bordeaux. It’s located in the Saint-Pierre district, near the church of the same name. The gate’s origins date back to the 15th century, with construction beginning in 1495 to honour Charles VIII, whose statue is visible at the gate. Given its location near the river, the Cailhau Gate was the primary entrance to the city for those coming in from the port.
It’s an eclectic mix of different architectural styles, both Gothic and Renaissance, and incorporates different building elements such as battlements, cupolas, and dormers. With a height of 35 meters, it formed part of the wall and served a defensive purpose. These days, it houses a small exhibition on the history of Bordeaux and offers beautiful views over the Garonne River.
Audio 11 – The Grosse Cloche
The Grosse Cloche, which means the “fat bell,” is the bell tower of the old city hall. Together with the Porte Cailhau, it’s one of the few civil monuments of medieval origin that the city has managed to conserve. It was built in the 15th century over the remains of the old gate of Saint Eligius, which dates back to the 13th century. The old gate was also known as the Saint James Gate because pilgrims would pass underneath it on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
We’d be foolish not to mention the current bell in this audio guide (audio guides), which was baptized under the name of Armande Louise. The bell was constructed in 1775 and weighs about 7800 kg. Its bulky dimensions justify the title, “the fat bell”, with a height of 2 meters as well as a diameter of 2 meters in the widest part and 1 meter in its narrowest section. It only sounds for 15 minutes at noon on the first Sunday of each month.
Audio 12 – Bordeaux Public Garden
Located in the heart of the city, the garden has been a hit among the people of Bordeaux since its creation in 1746. As you’ll discover through this audio guide (audio guides), it serves as the city’s green lung. Eleven hectares of oxygen-producing foliage house numerous playgrounds, in addition to the famous Guignol Guérin puppet theatre.
The garden is surrounded by a succession of stately homes, where we can find the Natural History Museum and an old Botanical Garden. The Public Garden has the distinction of being a “Notable Garden of France,” a coveted award only given to the country’s most outstanding gardens.
Audio 13 – Sail on the Garonne River
The next stop on our audio guide (audio guides) tour is the Garonne River, which plays an essential role in the daily life of the city of Bordeaux.
Note the BatCub ferries that cross the river as part of the city’s public transport network. The best way to enjoy Bordeaux from another perspective is to use a city-wide public transport ticket to set sail across the river. From the eastern shore, you’ll enjoy a unique view of the city’s grand historic buildings. The best spots to board the ferries are Stalingrad and Quinconces as they stop here every 15 minutes, as opposed to every 30 minutes in the other stations.
From the river, we can also take the opportunity to marvel at the modern bridge of Chaban-Delmas.
Audio 14 – The Grand Theater
The audio guide (audio guides) now brings us to another emblematic building. The Grand Theater of Bordeaux was designed in the 18th century by the famous architect Victor Louis, who was a winner of the Grand Prix of Rome and who worked on the gardens of the Royal Palace as well as the French Theatre in Paris. He inspired Charles Garnier in his construction of the Palais Garnier Opera House, an influence that is particularly evident in the grand staircase. The theatre, which is 88 metres long, 47 metres wide, and seats 1,100 spectators, has been declared a historical monument of France.
The architecture is truly innovative in many respects. Its immense portico is composed of twelve Corinthian columns, which enhance its imposing neoclassical facade. Twelve statues adorn it, portraying the nine muses and the goddesses of Juno, Venus and Minerva. The theatre is part of the opulent urban development of Bordeaux that took place during the Age of Enlightenment.
Painted in the royal colours–blue, white and gold–the regal Grand Theatre Hall is the primary building of the National Opera of Bordeaux. Throughout its long history of theatrical performances, operas, and concerts, the Grand Theatre has hosted the most illustrious artists of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
In 1871, it served as the National Assembly of the French Parliament.
Today, it has the honour of being the oldest opera in Europe which hasn’t had to undergo any renovation works.
Audio 15 – The Basilica of Saint-Michel and La Flèche de Bordeaux
The Basilica of Saint-Michel is a crucial stop in this audio guide (audio guides) tour because it’s one of the most important Catholic houses of worship in the city of Bordeaux. It’s also been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998.
Construction began in 1350 and lasted for two centuries, hence the numerous renovations, such as the side chapels which were added on sometime after 1475. The flamboyant Gothic style ensemble stands out for its unique dimensions. In the first chapel on the right-hand side, you can see a statue of Saint Ursula who guards a thousand virgins in her cloak.
Interestingly, much like in the cathedral of Saint-Andrew, the bell tower stands independently next to the church rather than on top. Known by the people of Bordeaux as "La Flèche,” which means “The Arrow” in English, the imposing 114-metre bell tower is the highest in southern France and the second tallest in the country after one in Strasbourg.
Its base houses a crypt that served for a long time as an ossuary (where bones are buried), and later as an exhibit for the mummies unearthed in the 19th century.
Audio 16 – The Cannelés
Now the audio guide (audio guides) will allow you to discover the cannelé, a traditional Bordeaux sweet. It’s a kind of rich sponge cake, made out of flour, milk, eggs, sugar, rum, and vanilla. Soft and fluffy on the inside and hard and crispy on the outside, it’s best savoured with a cup of tea. The Baillardran dessert chain is famed for its flavoursome cannelés, and the best store to try one is located within the Les Grands Hommes shopping mall.
Audio 17 – Bordeaux wine
One of the peculiarities of the red, white, and rosé wines of Bordeaux is that they come from the pairing of two to five grapes with complementary qualities. In reds, cabernet and merlot are the main varieties, sometimes complemented by petit verdot or malbec. For whites, the main vine is semillon, which is primarily complemented with sauvignon, although sometimes with muscadelle.
Bordeaux wine varieties are defined by geographical factors and type. Basically, most Bordeaux wines fall within one of six different varieties. There are four varieties of red wine, which vary depending on the production region, and there are two varieties of white wine, which vary depending on the level of sweetness.
We’ll examine all these in our audio guide (audio guides).
Audio 18 – Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur Red Wines
These refer to the basic Bordeaux wines, which can be produced in any subregion of the area and constitute around 50% of cultivation. Bordeaux reds are usually balanced, fruity, and delicate; while Bordeaux Supérieur wines are more intense and alcoholic, produced in lower-yielding vines and designed to age.
Audio 19 – Côtes de Bordeaux Red Wines
These wines are produced in the vineyards on the right bank of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. They include eight Controlled Denominations of Origin wines in which merlot is usually the dominant variety in the coupage. These vineyards usually produce young and fruity wines, although they can vary significantly from one vineyard to another.
Audio 20 - Red wines from the right bank of the Garonne river: Saint Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac
These are also known as Libourne red wines due to the fact they’re grown in the land around this city. Together they form 10 Controlled Denomination of Origin wines that use a blend of merlot, as a base variety, and Cabernet Franc or, to a lesser extent, Cabernet Sauvignon. In general, they’re potent and highly concentrated wines with soft tannins that have been defined by the distinct character of Merlot.
Audio 21 – Graves and Médoc reds and the wines from the left bank of the Garonne River
These are the most emblematic wine areas of the Bordeaux region. Although in most cases they’re made with Merlot as a base variety, a good number of wines in the northern Médoc area use Cabernet Sauvignon as the dominant grape. In this family, we’ll usually find highly concentrated wines with a notable presence of tannins that are designed to age.
Audio 22 – Dry white wines
These are made throughout the Bordeaux region from the Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc varieties and encompass 12 Controlled Denominations of Origin. The dry whites are balanced, fruity, and aromatic wines, in some cases with an oak aroma. The most famous are those of the Graves area.
Audio 23 – Sweet white wines
These are wines made throughout the region from grapes of the sauvignon blanc, sémillon, and muscadelle varieties which have been affected by the Botrytis cinerea, a fungus that produces the so-called noble rot. This process results in partial passivation of the grapes to create concentrated, sweet, and fine wines. The best known Controlled Denomination of Origin are those of Sauternes or Sauternes-Barsac.
Audio 24 – A little wine history
The wine tradition of the Bordeaux region is ancient, and the industry has left its mark on the history of the city. Our audio guide will embark on a brief chronological tour:
In the 6th century B.C, Greek and Phoenician sailors brought wine to southern Gaul, as France was called in Roman times, by the port of Marseille via Greek and Phoenician navigators.
It was in 1152 when the marriage of Eleanor, the Duchess of Aquitaine, and Henry II Plantagenêt, the future King of England, bestowed Bordeaux with a bright wine-making future. The city established a monopoly on the production, sale, and distribution of wine to Britain, prompting it to prosper.
But the 100-Year War between England and France ended Bordeaux’s golden age as trade ceased between the two nations.
A new era of prosperity began in the 17th century, with the emergence of new clients: the Dutch, the Bretons, and the Hanseatic League, who were a commercial and military federation of north German cities and merchant communities that traded around the Baltic Sea.
Production doubled at the beginning of the 19th century and exports tripled. Later, the English once again started buying up French wines. Quality also increased thanks to the classification and labelling regulations established by Napoleon III during the Exposition Universelle in 1855.
Audio 25 – A tour through the Bordeaux vineyards
Next, our audio guide (audio guides, audio tour) will take us to the vineyards of Gironde, which cover an area of 118,000 hectares. Some 9,820 winemakers are responsible for the wine production in the region, which consists of 11% white wines and 89% red and rosé wines. Some of the wines produced here are among the most prestigious and expensive in the world, making Bordeaux a world leader in the wine industry.
It’s worth prolonging your time in Bordeaux to spend a day visiting the vineyards of the region. If you have a car, the surroundings of the city are within easy reach and are full of beautiful wineries to visit, which are known locally as Chateaux. Many wineries offer tasting sessions. Of the 8,650 Chateaux in the region, we particularly recommend the famous Pétrus, Yquem, Cheval Blanc, Margaux, Latour, Ausone, Lafite Rothschild, and Mouton Rothschild.
Audio 26 – A Getaway to Saint Emilion
A highlight of this audio guide tour (audio guides, audio tour) is the town of Saint Emilion. Besides being one of the most renowned wine production centres in the region, it’s also one of its most charming medieval villages. Located 40km from Bordeaux, the town is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The medieval architecture of its historic centre has been immaculately preserved, and from the top of the old bell tower you can enjoy a magnificent view of the town and its surroundings. Strolling around and getting lost in these cobble-stoned streets is a delightful way to pass the day. Vineyards envelop the town, and in its lower sections, we can find several smaller wineries.
Saint-Emilion is famous for being a pilgrimage site on the Saint James Way, and for having the largest monolithic church in Europe. A great treasure is hidden beneath its foundation because the church was built “downwards”, by working on the stone as it was being excavated.
The origin of the city dates back to the 8th century, when a man named Emilion, who was a Breton famed for his miracles, retired to meditate and focus on prayer. During this period, he became a monk and moved to Ascumbas, which was the original name of the city. He settled in a small hermitage-cave in the centre, where he spent the final 17 years of his life, and around which the town was built.
Audio 27 – The Dune of Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe
For the last stop of this audio guide (audio guides, audio tour), we have the most spectacular natural wonder in all of Aquitaine, and an essential excursion for any visit to Bordeaux: the incredible Dune of Pilat. It is undoubtedly one of the most impressive natural phenomena in France; a giant sand dune that towers over 100 meters high on the Atlantic coast just 70 km from Bordeaux.
You wouldn’t expect to find such a thing in Europe. If you stand at the foot of the dune and look up, you’ll feel as though you’re in the middle of the Sahara desert. Although the climb to the top is a little challenging, the views from above are spectacular with the dune below your feet, the ocean on one side and a lush forest on the other. It’s an incredible place to see while in Bordeaux!