Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The Best Bordeaux Wine Holidays – The Port of the Moon and the Chartrons Quays

Bordeaux is a fabulous place to go on holiday, even more so if you love its wines. The historic city of Bordeaux is built on a bend of the River Garonne, and is divided into two parts: the right bank to the East and left bank in the West. Bordeaux is classified "City of Art and History". The city has been inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List as "an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble". Bordeaux has nearly 350 classified buildings and buildings listed as Historic Monuments, including 3 religious World Heritage buildings since 1998 as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France. In 2007 the cities of Bristol and Bordeaux celebrated the 60th Anniversary of their twinning.

From the 12th to the 15th century, Bordeaux grew in importance following the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to King Henry II of England. The city flourished, primarily due to wine trade, which is where Britain gained its love of claret from. Bordeaux was also once the capital of an independent state under Edward the Black Prince but at the end of the Hundred Years War Bordeaux was annexed by France. In fact Bordeaux did not officially become part of France until 1653 when King Louis XIV entered in the city.

The ancient port of Bordeaux is called the Port de la Lune (the Port of the Moon) due to the enormous curve of the river in the city centre. The Port de la Lune unites the heart of the city around its crescent shape - which inspired the Bordeaux coat of arms. While most of its commercial activity and installations have been transferred downstream to the estuary (the largest in Europe) to accommodate larger vessels, the harbour now attracts a growing number of cruise liners and pleasure craft. The old port offers a unique 5 mile long panorama of the 18th century building façades of aged white stone, most of which originates from the limestone quarries around Saint-Émilion.

The 18th century was the golden age of Bordeaux. Many down town buildings (about 5,000), including those on the quays, are from this period. Victor Hugo found the town so beautiful he once said: "take Versailles, add Antwerp, and you have Bordeaux". Baron Haussman, a long-time prefect of Bordeaux, used Bordeaux's 18th century big-scale rebuilding as a model when he was asked by Emperor Napoleon III to transform a then still quasi-medieval Paris into a "modern" capital that would make France proud. Bordeaux is divided into “Quartiers” or quarters, each with distinct characters and atmospheres.

Wine has undeniably left its mark on the city. The Chartrons Quays are a “must see” if you are visiting Bordeaux. The Quays take their name from the Chartreux Convent that was built at the end of the 16th century and owe their fine golden hued buildings to the wine trade. In the 18th century behind the fine facades of the wealthy wine merchants residences, warehouses and chais a whole crowd of sailors and workers contributed to the activity of the commerce among the piles of cases and barrels. River boats would pull up to the quayside loaded with the wares from the larger tall ships that were anchored in the channel. Lines of lime trees and two fountains gave the Quays a certain charm and made for an agreeable promenade.

The Chartrons have a roughly quadrilateral shape, and its limits are, to the south, the Esplanade des Quinconces, to the east, the Garonne waterfront. To the north, the limit is the Médoc and the Bacalan area, and to the west it is the Rue Frère and the Jardin Public. The architecture reveals the Chartons wine inspired past with "Pampres" (vine branches), grapes, Bacchus-like characters, elements of wine-growing and wine-making paraphernalia decorating gables, pilasters and bas-reliefs. If you close your eyes and use your imagination, you can almost smell the "chais", with their typical mixed fragrance of red fruit and wood-like tannins.

Nowadays you can find locals enjoying oysters with a glass of dry white wine before midday on Sundays at the quayside market, the Marché des Chartrons. The Chartrons is also called the antique district and has many charms. Old and new cohabit in an engaging mix of antique shops, boutiques, restaurants, and relaxed squares.
If you are interested in knowing more about the city of Bordeaux visit the Tourism site – it's a fountain of information!

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