The future is bright for France's sixth-largest city, enviably wedged between sun-drenched vineyards and the Atlantic Ocean in southwest France. With the once-blackened, limestone facades of 18th-century Bordeaux gleaming cream again after a scrub-and-polish in the 1990s, millennial Bordeaux is upgrading its riverbanks. Entire new 'hoods are mushrooming, new museums and art incubators opening, and wine tourism exploding. As every self-respecting Bordelais would proudly say (in a tongue only they invariably understand), c'est gavé bien (it's really good/cool)!
Take a walk on the wild side behind Gare St-Jean and you risk stumbling into a futuristic quartier yet to even be Google-mapped. A maze of cranes, urban planners are beavering away on the reconstruction of the riverbank wasteland between the central train station and the water. When complete in 2020, Euroatlantique (www.bordeaux-euratlantique.fr) will form an entirely new business and residential district, with dazzling glass-and-steel office towers, eco-smart skyscrapers, long-derelict abattoirs upcycled as shopping malls and a luxurious hotel. A steel bridge, the €125 million Pont Jean-Jacques Bosc, will link the new left-bank 'hood to the right bank, with a radically vast section of it reserved exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists to promenade at leisure. All told, the mammoth project will create 30,000 jobs and homes for 40,000 inhabitants.
The New Méca
France's centuries-old tradition of grands projets, whereby French political leaders sought to immortalise themselves through the erection of huge public edifices, only happens sporadically over the decades. Enter Méca, a staggering grand projet of an arts centre and incubator to open on the waterfront in 2019. The architecture alone – an asymmetric glass arch of staggering proportion, with triumphant views of Bordeaux's crescent-shaped river – is mind-blowing. Inside, regional cultural agencies, creative sectors and art-loving locals will unusually share the same space to create a groundbreaking mecca for arts in Bordeaux. Studios and incubators for some of the region's most talented young artists aside, the new Méca, or Maison de l'Économie Créative et de la Culture (House of Creative Economy & Culture), will have exhibition spaces, conference rooms, cinemas, a film studio, restaurant and cafe terrace. A brilliant collection of contemporary art, including Jeff Koons' New Hoover Convertible (1987), will be exhibited in the Frac Aquitaine (Fonds Régional d'Art Contemporain), also at home here.
Grapes of Gold
Wine tourism in France has never been so exciting or innovative – and its epicentre is in Bordeaux. Since the city unveiled its fabulously sassy, wine decanter-shaped La Cité du Vin on the Left Bank in 2016, wine-tourism has exploded. Be it motoring through Médoc vineyards in a Cabriolet convertible with an integrated GPS tablet as your bespoke guide, or approaching previously river-inaccessible wine estates aboard a custom-built boat, it seems anything is now possible.
Chic eateries are opening in Bordeaux chateaux, traditionally only the domain of winemakers whose daily existence has, for centuries, been charted only by the seasons and languid rhythm of nature. In Bordeaux’s prestigious Sauternes wine-growing area, 1855-classified Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey will ensnare a luxurious boutique hotel, restaurant draped in Lalique crystal and a spa designed by celebrity architect Mario Botta.
The trend for designer wine cellars continues apace, albeit with exciting new quirks. Boat-shaped cellars with tasting rooms by French designer Philippe Starke at Château Les Carmes Haut Briond have ushered in wine-tasting at source for the very first time in central Bordeaux. At Château Lynch-Bages in the Médoc, architect Chien Chung Pei – son of world-renowned I.M.Pei of Louvre pyramid fame – is the mastermind behind the prestigious winemaker’s sensational new wine-making and visitor facilities, ready in 2019. Innovative wine tourism is clearly Bordeaux’s new gold.
Progress at Port
From day one Bordeaux has understood the importance of its river, fondly referred to as the Port de la Lune (Port of the Moon) by locals who spend an inordinate amount of time admiring the moon-shaped crescent of water that flows through their city. Now, thanks to the construction of a new landing stage by Bordeaux Métropole Arena, larger boats and cruise ships weighing up to 3500 tons can admire it too as they dock in downtown Bordeaux. Waste left by the ships is collected and transported by river barge, thus avoiding polluting waste trucks driving through the city each day.
Redrawing the Regional Map
In keeping with countrywide reforms which saw France's original 22 administrative regions whittled down to 13 in 2016, Bordeaux is no longer part of Aquitaine. Rather, the Aquitaine region has joined administrative forces with neighbouring Limousin and Poitou-Charentes to form one, dramatically larger region called, oddly enough, Nouvelle-Aquitaine (New Aquitaine).