Need a reason to move to France? Bordeaux’s a vibrant, cosmopolitan, elegant and historic city surrounded by miles of vineyards producing some of the world’s best wines.
The city of Bordeaux, the capital of Aquitaine in the département of the Gironde, was declared an UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007 with an incredible 350 historic monuments. But it’s so much more than that. Sure, it’s got a history that stretches back to the third century when it was founded by the Gauls; and you can still see the influence from when the Romans came and put their mark on the place.
The city centre also has glorious stone buildings with highly decorated façades and wrought iron balconies from the city’s golden age in the 18th century (all nicely cleaned up now after a massive regeneration project started in the 1990s).
A family-friendly city
But it’s also a sophisticated and diverse city with smart shops, chic restaurants, top class museums and a lively cultural life that somehow manages to retain a laid-back atmosphere – oh, and a warm and sunny climate. It’s also got a reputation for being a family friendly city. At weekends it seems like the whole world is walking in the pedestrianised Place de le Comédie or rollerblading along the wide quays beside the Garonne river.
You can divide the city into three areas: ‘Old Bordeaux’ or the vieille ville (old town), the anciens faubourgs (the old suburbs) and the outskirts.
A lot of the picturesque Old Bordeaux (cobbled streets, old houses and churches) dates from the 18th and 19th centuries. According to estate agents, St Pierre is currently the fashionable part, while the cosmopolitan and newly renovated St Michel area is up-and-coming.
A stress-free vibe
The boulevards and barrières (turnpikes or tolls) in the anciens faubourg are popular with families. Sarah, who teaches business studies in a private school, owns an échoppe, a property that was once an old shop in the quartier Victoire. It’s a small stone house with low ceilings that “goes back and back and back” from the street, a little like a corridor, with a courtyard outside “just big enough for some pots and a table and four chairs so we can eat out outside as much as possible”.
She bought it in a “more un-loved than un-renovated” state for about EUR 200,000 and is currently doing it up. Further out in Pessac, Bouscat, Talence or Merignac (near the airport), you’ll find larger houses with bigger gardens, and with Bordeaux’s excellent tram service, you can get into the city centre within minutes.
For Sarah, living in Bordeaux ticks all the boxes: “There is a stress-free vibe about Bordeaux, from the wide, pedestrianised streets to the tram system that means you can leave your car (and parking hassles) at home.
It is a great mix of ancient and modern, from the Roman amphitheatre to free Wi-Fi in the centre, and of course truly magnificent restaurants, bars and wine. And if the crowds in the summer get you down, you’re only half an hour from the epic sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast.”
Best wines in France
Live here and you’ll find some of the best wines in the whole of France on your doorstep (the region has 113,000 hectares of vineyards and 57 appellations producing 800 million bottles of wine every year). The Atlantic coast is close by: The almighty sand dunes of the Bassin d’Arcachon lie immediately to the south-west. You’re only three hours away from the Pyrenean ski slopes or Paris, two hours from Spain – and the rest of the world via Mérignac airport.
For expats who have children, the Bordeaux International School offers a bilingual programme for students aged from 3 to 12.