CAPC Musée d'Art Contemporain

Bordeaux’s Contemporary Art Museum occupies a vaulted old warehouse, the Entrepot Laine. The massive stone rooms are a wonderful backdrop for the art, which includes pieces by Christian Boltanski, Daniel Buren, Gilbert & George, Nan Goldin, Mike Kelley, Richard Serra and Wolfgang Tillmans

The museum has several pieces by British artist Richard Long, including the long White Rock Line, recently restored, that runs through the courtyard and a series of photographs that preside over the Andrée Putman–designed Café at the top of the museum, a great spot for breakfast, brunch or lunch pre- or after a visit. Closed Monday.

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Day Trip: Bordeaux Wine Region

With 54 appellations and some 8,500 producers, France’s largest wine-growing region hardly needs any introduction. Nearly 80% of the wines made here are red, and some of the world’s most fabled chateaux are assembled here: Lafite-Rothschild, Margaux, Lynche-Barge, Latour, Cheval Blanc, Petrus –names pronounced like prayers by wine lovers.

For centuries, Bordeaux was famously closed off to non-insiders, with winemakers stubbornly insisting they need not lower themselves to interact with mere locals. Though there remains a lot of old-fashioned snobbery, especially at the more traditional properties, many chateaux have also rethought their strategies, à la Napa, and are now welcoming visitors for tastings, tours and — quel horreur — even sur place purchases (buying at the chateaux was unheard of just a decade ago).

Three rivers define the Bordeaux area: the massive Gironde (an estuary that leads straight to the Atlantic); the Garonne, which flows through Bordeaux city and the Dordogne. The most famous appellations on the Rive Droite (on the right bank of the Dourdogne) are St. Emilion and Pomerol, while the Rive Gauche (left bank of the Garonne) holds Médoc and Graves. The area between is named Entre-Deux-Mers, hich translates as between the sea, since a high tide will make the rivers appear much wider. This region is celebrated for wonderful crisp white wines.

Some 4,000 wine estates are open to the public and coming up with a feasible itinerary, depending on interest, timing and price point is key to a successful visit. Many try to incorporate such quaint villages as St. Emilion into their itineraries.

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Aerial View-Day Trip: Chateau La Dominique ,Bordeaux, France

Day Trip: Chateau La Dominique

When St. Emilion’s acclaimed Château La Dominique, owned by Clément Fayat, was looking to revamp its classic winery, they chose a route that is increasingly but very slowly becoming popular in Bordeaux: contemporary. Fayat asked Pritzker Prize–winning architect Jean Nouvel, who had already worked on Chateau La Coste winery in Provence, and the resulting structure is nothing short of spectacular.

The entire winery is clad in reflective, stainless steel panels, all of which are colored a crimson red, creating a whimsical mirror play with the surrounding landscape. It’s bold and delicate at the same time; standing out in the verdant green surroundings while reflecting them back at the viewer at the same time. Another controversial but successful decision was to outfit the sleek vat room with a massive, floor-to-ceiling window that looks across the vineyard.

A tour starts in the restored 18th-century chateau that serves as the welcoming centerpiece to the property that also includes gardens and the wonderful restaurant La Terrasse Rouge. A tour takes about 30-45 minutes and wine tastings can also be arranged. Do not miss lunch at the congenial restaurant with gorgeous views and ask the staff to point out the famous neighbors, including Cheval Blanc (another modern winery with an eco-inspired roof garden) and Petrus, a modest structure sitting in the distance.

Chateau La Dominique is about a one-hour drive from Bordeaux city.

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Day Trip: St. Emilion

St. Emilion is the epitome of a cute wine town – stone buildings surrounded by scenic vineyards, check; a town plaza lined with cafés, check; a mysterious patron saint who inspired the name, check. But it’s also incredibly touristy (there are 200 locals residents and some 1 million annual visitors), so it’s worth going early or later in the day and planning to get off the beaten path.

Some tips:

  • Arrange for a guide to see the town’s hidden treasures: the catacombs, the impressive Monolithic underground church, and the cave of St. Emilion (all can only be visited with a pre-arranged appointment through the tourism board or with a guide).
  • The terrace of Hostellerie de Plaisance, a Relais & Châteaux, is a great spot for a coffee or tea break
  • Climbing the narrow, winding staircase of bell tower is well-worth it for the stupendous views
  • Lots of places claim to be selling authentic St. Emilion macarons (they are completely different from the pastel-colored concoctions of Ladurée), but the best are made by Nadia Fermigier, sold at 9 Rue Guadet.
  • There are 70 wine shops in town, one cuter than the next, but know that buying in this touristy town comes with premium
  • Skip lunch in the touristy restaurants in town and take the 10-minute drive to Chateau La Dominique to dine at La Terrasse Rouge
Interior View-Day Trip: Wine Blending Workshop ,Bordeaux, France

Day Trip: Wine Blending Workshop

Owned by wine magnate Bernard Magrez, the Chateau Pape Clement sits only a 20-minute drive southwest of Bordeaux city, in the Pessac-Léognon appellation. It’s a wonderful place to visit or spend the night (Read, A Chateau of One’s Own), but what’s not to be missed is a wine-blending workshop run by B-Winemaker adjacent to the chateau’s beautiful gift shop.

Budding winemakers arrive at a table that is set with a variety of glasses, test measuring tubes, cylinders and, of course, wine. The main ingredients for the novice are Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the classic grapes used to blend Bordeaux, though more advanced wine aficionados can also work with other varietals. The tasting, testing, drinking (or spitting) is overseen by one of B-Winemakers experts who can help identify flavors and aromas, but the point is to arrive at a blend that is best-suited to your palate (incidentally, the most classic Bordeaux blend is: 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet).

Once you've decided on your perfect concoction, you are given an empty bottle that you fill, cork and seal, then design your own custom label for a truly unique, personalized memento from Bordeaux. The only real challenge: aging the bottle for a minimum of three years, as is recommended by the experts. I predict, my self-dubbed Chateau Catherine (subtitle: Vive La France) will not make it past year one.

B Winemakers work exclusively at Bernard Magrez’s properties, which include three wineries in all.

Ecole du Vin

The two-hour tasting course at this city-sponsored school is a great preface to any wine touring in Bordeaux. The classroom resembles a high school science room, with individual work stations and spit sinks. The classes, which can be requested in English, take participants through a brief history of wine and explain how to identify aromas (with the help of scented markers – it sounds bizarre but it works). Afterwards, there's a tasting of four different vintages. For wine novices, it's educational and a lot of fun.

FRAC - Collection Aquitaine

FRAC stands for Fonds Reginaux de l’Art Contemporain and these state-sponsored collections were created in the early 1980s to de-centralize France’s art scene and offer support and publicity to young, up-and-coming artists throughout the country. The often-changing exhibitions are free and vary in style, subject and success. But for lovers of contemporary art, this exhibitions space, in the Bassins a Flot neighborhood, is a great place to explore, especially if you combine it with a visit to the Garage Moderne and the Vivre de l’Art. Closed Sunday.

Interior View-Garage Moderne , Bordeaux, France-Courtesy E. Derrier-Boddez

Garage Moderne

This non-profit, opened in 2002, is part exhibition space, part party venue and part car and bike repair shop. It epitomizes the cool Bassin à Flots neighborhood and makes an interesting stop for travelers interested in seeing Bordeaux’s contemporary side. Béatrice Aspart, one of the founders, also runs the nearby Bar à Marin, a local lunch spot with a secret garden setting, located down the street.

Interior View-Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux ,Bordeaux, France

Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux

If there’s an opera or dance performance at this grand opera house, designed in the 18th century by Victor Louis, it’s worth getting tickets to see the beautiful interiors – it's one of Europe's last and oldest wooden frame opera houses. Compared with Paris’ Garnier, it’s a small scale, which makes sitting close to the performers possible. Many of the productions are modern interpretations – a recent La Bohème was set in the 1960s with a cast that looked believably young for the classic love story.

Interior View-Indagare Tours: Bordeaux Walking Tour ,Bordeaux, France

Indagare Tours: Bordeaux Walking Tour

Get an overview of the city with one of Indagare’s preferred city guides, exploring such historic monuments as the Cathedral de Bordeaux, Tour Pey-Berland (which you can climb) and the impressive Place de la Bourse with Michel Corajoud’s permanent installation Miroir d’Eau, a reflective masterpiece.

Travelers interested in seeing the younger, more up-and-coming Bordeaux can also tour the hip Chatrons neighborhood, home of the Contemporary Art Museum, or the Bassins à Flot, an urban quarter that feels like a mini Berlin (street art and cutting-egde art spaces), where the impressive Musée du Vin is rising to be completed in 2016.

Editors' Picks

Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez

French wine magnate Bernard Magrez is a man of refined taste: great wine (he owns three acclaimed estates, including Grave’s Chateau Pape Clement); great food (he lured star-chef Joël Robuchon to Bordeaux); and great art, which he shares with the public at his Cultural Institute.

It’s a bit off the beaten path (about a 10-minute taxi ride from the Grand Hotel), but for art lovers, it’s a journey worth making. Housed in a stunningly restored chateau that dates from 1770, the permanent collection includes big names (Warhol, Hirst, White), and there are often temporary exhibitions.

With a two Michelin-starred restaurant Pierre Gagnaire, as well as a six-room boutique hotel, dubbed La Grande Maison, the chateau is a coveted base from which to explore Bordeaux city and beyond.

Aerial View-Jardin Public ,Bordeaux, France

Jardin Public

This gorgeous garden is not as vast as Paris' Jardin du Luxembourg, but on a beautiful day, it's a fantastic spot for a stroll, picnic or exploring with children. There's a wonderful old-fashioned carousel, a playground whose main centerpiece is a massive wooden pirate ship and a puppet theater (France's famous guignol). You will also find one of Bordeaux's two Botanic Gardens here and some large lawns shaded by trees that are perfect for picnics and reading.

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