I love this time of year, when the vineyards turn a thousand different colours and the town is once again draped in dazzling lights for the end-of-year celebrations. Here’s a rundown of what’s on in Bordeaux at the moment, and what you can get up to over the winter period.
On 26 November, the traditional Allées de Tourny Christmas market will open its doors to the public for one month. I’m sure you can already smell the enchanting aroma of hot wine, roasted chestnuts and gingerbread! The market’s iconic merry-go-round and 150 wooden cabins make it a must-visit location for the end-of-year celebrations, and you’ll find it between the Grand Théâtre and the recently renovated Place Tourny.
For something more original, why not check out the I.Boat floating Christmas market? I.Boat is well-known for their electro nights, but it has so many other tricks up its sleeve. On the other bank, you’ll find an eco-friendly and sustainable market called écosystème Darwin which is well worth a visit. Foodies, take note: be sure to check out the new organic chocolate shop, where you can see them making bars of chocolate in front of your very eyes!
Brand-new exhibition in Parc Bordelais
There’s something new happening this year. The installation of 500 huge sculptures, made from metal frames covered in silk, is transforming Parc Bordelais. They’re actually traditional lanterns, which were made in France by Chinese artisans. There are thirty or so differently-themed scenes for you to discover, from nightfall on 12 November to 2 January, between 6 and 10pm.
The Lumières Légendaires light show will immerse you in a fantasy universe full of giant sweets and all kinds of animals. The mythical creatures were my favourite, especially the dragons and unicorns. Some of the animals are staggeringly realistic, like the bees collecting pollen, the deer in the underbrush, or the jellyfish tunnel. It’s a world of wonder which is sure to astound adults and children alike.
Rue Sainte-Catherine, Cours de l’Intendance, and other beautiful avenues of this Gironde capital will be lit up during the same time period.
Bassins de Lumières
Since opening its doors in 2021, the Bassin de Lumières has seen an endless stream of visitors. This unlikely cultural space will present you with a cultural experience like you’ve never seen before: a sound and light show projected onto the anti-bombing walls of this submarine base! The show is reflected by the very water where Italian and German submarines were stationed during World War Two. One of the short opening cinematics gave me shivers, because you see one of these submarines return to its old berth.
Until 2 January, come and experience the magnum opuses of impressionist painters such as Monet, Renoir, Chagall, Pissarro… Their paintings have been deconstructed and set to music as part of a show revealing all their fine details, as well as the genius of their creators. Gustave Klimt and Paul Klee are at the reins of the night-time performances each evening, which generally take place on Friday and Saturday nights as well as during the school holidays.
At the beginning of the new year, there’ll be some new exhibits on show here. This immersive journey into some of the most beautiful works of art is sure to leave a lasting impression, even on regular museum-goers.
Flavours of the South West
Not far from the Bassin de Lumières, you can go Christmas shopping at the Halles de Bacalan. There, you’ll find the best products from Nouvelle-Aquitaine, such as foie gras and poultry from the south west, and even oysters from Arcachon Bay. And don’t forget the famous Bordeaux cannelé! This dessert was created when nuns began using leftover egg yolks (as the whites were used for clarifying wine), and they’d flavour their recipe with rum and vanilla from the West Indies.
Just opposite, the Cité du Vin is full of great gift ideas, such as ZETA trainers, which are made from the remains of grapes used for wine production (and of course, these trainers come in a wine box). Every time I visit, I can’t help but buy a bottle from their impressive wine cellar, which contains hundreds of different kinds of wine from all over the world.
From there, you can continue your shopping trip along the Bord’eau Village quays (formerly Marques Quay). There are some cut-label boutiques and a local produce grocery (called L’Échoppe de la Lune), along with some restaurant bars. It seems that this time of year, hot chocolates from Lindt are all the rage (as my wife will happily confirm).
Golden hour on the quays
There’s no shortage of passers-by admiring the sun setting over the Garonne, and the magnificent Jacques-Chaban-Delmas lift bridge. But the best place to watch the show is from a boat. Just hop on Bat3, a public transport boat which connects different pontoons along the two banks (Stalingrad, Quinconces, Les Hangars, the Cité du Vin, and Lormont). It’s an economic way to take a trip along the river.
Port de la Lune Cruise
For a romantic soirée, however, I recommend booking a dinner cruise aboard the Sicambre. All the food on this veritable floating restaurant is prepared onboard using fresh, local produce. Settle in for a two-hour river tour alongside the illuminated façades of the city of Bordeaux, which has been classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Did you know that this stretch of the Garonne is affected by the tide? It’s a reminder of how close by the Gironde estuary and the Atlantic really are. The wealthiest part of the city was built along these curved banks, earning it the nickname ‘Port de la Lune’ (or Port of the Moon). I like to think about the large sailboats and steamboats who would offload their wares here, before loading up barrels of local wine to export to the rest of the world.
These days the actual commercial harbour is further downstream, and the only boats who get to experience such a view are cruise ships. The locals are happy to have the quays to themselves again, as they can stroll, have picnics, run, and cycle between the two banks. In June each year, a big river festival or wine festival (it alternates each year) takes place between the Miroir d’Eau and the Hangars. Prepare to see some exceptional boats turn up for the occasion.
As you wait outside for your chance to celebrate, how about visiting a glittering candle-lit concert? It’s something many big cities around the world have started doing, but in Bordeaux it’s been a big hit. The magnificent Palais de la Bourse will soon host a homage to Michael Jackson (on 22 December), Vivaldi (29 December), and Mozart (30 December). But Candlelight concerts also take place in other exceptional locations such as the Faïencerie and the Notre-Dame Church. Make sure to keep an eye on the schedule, because they happen all year round.
Ocean of Lights
There’s nothing like a steamy, 34-degree outdoor bath to warm yourself up in the middle of winter. But the experience becomes even more enjoyable after nightfall, when you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of shimmering lanterns. We suggest visiting the Calicéo baths in Bordeaux-Bruges during their night sessions on Thursday evenings from October to March. It’s a bit outside of the city centre, but it’s the perfect way to relax.
Afterwards, enjoy a Turkish bath with eucalyptus essential oils to relax your skin and lungs, which are put through the mill this time of year. Then, I’d recommend wrapping things up with the sauna, so you can warm up and get some deep relaxation. If you’d rather avoid thermal shock though, opt for the Sanarium, as the heat is a bit more forgiving.
Even during winter, Bordeaux never ceases to entertain us. Some say the ideal way to discover the city’s golden stone architecture is in the opaline quality of the light this time of year. It probably won’t snow, but such a festive and food-loving city is sure to leave you spellbound.