By C. H. Kwak—
Type “Bordeaux” into Google and the all-knowing gods of auto-suggest will fill in “wine” for you. But I was inspired by my friend Emilie, a Bordelaise who doesn’t drink. She’d always told me there was plenty to do in Bordeaux that doesn’t involve red wine.
I recently spent a week in Gironde, the French region that includes Bordeaux—and Emilie turned out to be right. Here are five Bordeaux activities that won’t having you “wining” at all:
1. UNESCO World Heritage walking tour
Nearly half of the entire city’s surface is declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s easy to see why. With over 350 buildings classified as historic monuments, Bordeaux has preserved its classical and neoclassical architecture.
Yet it doesn’t feel stuffy. The ornate stone mascarons may cast their austere gaze, but the mood on the street is decidedly lively. Take a quick stroll down Rue St. Catherine and you’ll see how classic architecture can provide a backdrop to vibrant urban life.
2. Transit fun
Fellow transit geeks rejoice! To keep the city’s gorgeous skyline free of cluttering electric lines, the streetcars are powered by an underground power strip—the first of its kind in the world!
VClub, the city’s public bike system, is also a marvel. With numerous locations around the city, you can always find a bike when you need one, 24 hours a day—for €1. Not cheapo enough for you? The first 30 minutes are free. Read more on the VClub Web site.
3. Check out la Base Sous-Marine
Mussolini launched Italian naval crafts in an unsuccessful bid for world domination from this submarine base, built by the Germans in 1942. Today, its functions are far more benign. Converted into an exhibition hall, the cavernous space hosts large-scale installations.
4. Climb the “Dune de Pilat”
Flanked between the Atlantic Ocean and a pine forest one hour from Bordeaux, the crescent-shaped Dune de Pilat (or “Pyla”) is an imposing giant of nature. Reaching over 350 feet into the sky, the sand dune also happens to be the highest in Europe. (Read this site for practical info on getting to the Great Dune.)
I’m a city guy, but even I was blown away—literally, too, since it gets pretty gusty up there. So strong are the winds, in fact, that the dune continues to migrate eastward every year. Give yourself plenty of time to climb and explore the area, as the dune is about 3km long and 500m wide. You can spend a whole day marveling at its beauty—I did.
5. Visit Saint Emilion… on a weekday
The trouble with the medieval town of Saint Emilion is that it’s famous—too famous, in fact, for its wine trade. On weekends, the cobblestone alleys are packed with tipsy tourists.
I was lucky enough to see the town anew on a Monday morning, as the school kids marched up the steep streets and shop owners were sweeping the ground. The town is in the middle of vine-covered hills that stretch for miles all around. Whether you indulge in wine or not, the verdant fields that surround the town are worth exploring on foot.
If you go: make sure you first read our guide to cheap hotels in Bordeaux!