Bordeaux has been accommodating Irish fans for several hundred years, and if you want the evidence, check out the Irish names on wine bottles at its latest visitor attraction, Bordeaux Grand Vins experience: Lynch, Kirwan, Barton, right down to Lochlann Quinn of Château de Fieuzal.
Most of us think of a wine rather than a city when we hear the word Bordeaux, and with good reason. The region has 6,000 cheateaux and 57 appellations.
Most of these châteaux are open for visitors, which means you can set out every morning and find somewhere interesting to drink, lunch, and discuss Martin O’Neill’s options for Saturday’s Group E clash with Belgium, Cristiano Ronaldo’s latest strop and the lingering injustice of how France failed to win the 1982 World Cup, with three locals in the lineup.
Escorted tours are available from the city for about €40 for a half day and €65 upwards for a full day. Winelands by river is one of the fast growing attractions in Bordeaux.
French ambassador in Dublin Jean-Pierre Thébault says that Bordeaux is a city betting on the future but building on its historical past.
The winelands and the sandy beaches of the Cote Argent to the west were better known than the city as a visitor experience but €4bn of infrastructural improvements has helped change that, and trebled the number of tourists coming to the city from two to six million.
Don’t underestimate the cost of travelling to and from Bordeaux. The motorway network is excellent but it will cost €77 in tolls to get from Bordeaux back to Lille.
The stadium is one of the finest of the tournament, designed by the Beijing Bird’s Nest stadium architect Pierre de Meuron, but has a smaller capacity, at 33,000, than a fixture like Ireland v Belgium should have been accorded.
Bordeaux’s solution is to fit out Esplanade des Quinconces with a fan zone to accommodate 60,000 fans, the second biggest fan zone of the championship and one that is probably worth visiting even when there isn’t a match on.
Bordeaux Grand Vins experience celebrates the place of wine, not just local, but wines form all over the world in culture and civilisation.
In many ways it is a small city. You can walk most of the city that you want to see. It is not unlike Dublin, in that the heart of the city transformed by the €4bn regeneration, is a wonderful place to spend a couple of days.
You can walk to the pubs and restaurants, and you walk down the river, which is one of the most exciting rivers in any European city.
Outside the city are two star attractions that are effectively part of the Bordeaux experience. St Million, 32 km away is not just a famous wine label, it is one of the nicest towns in Europe. Arcachon, one of the nicest beach resorts in Europe, is 75 km away and, for those with enough energy, worth cycling to. There is a ribbon of beach resorts along the coast, with big churning waves beloved of surfers.
Rugby fans will already have discovered just how Irish the city is. Catholics used to send their children her to be educated in penal times. In the 19th century, Bordeaux was Ireland’s largest export market, showing the traffic was not just one way.
There are more than 1,500 restaurants so finding a table should not be a problem.
For a €25 treat it is worth checking out local culinary icons such as Bistrot L’Exploit, Restaurant Cote Rue, Le Pressoir D’Argent. Hotels are more problematic. The city is under supplied so fans may have to shift out to the suburbs or the campsite of the Atlantic coast. As with al of France, pre-fabricated motels at motorway exits are a cheap and clean, if basic, option.
The Formule 1 hotel brand is cheaper than campsites, built in shower in the room and polystyrene cups but hey, you pay €19 for a bed and get free WiFi. Find them in industrial parks off motorways, always next door to McDonalds.
It has one of the highest concentrations of Irish pubs in France. A generation of rugby fans have made the Connemara their headquarters but there are others, The Blarney Stone, Black Velvet Bar, Casey’s and Molly Malone’s amongst them. Two Bordeaux monuments were lit in green for St Patrick’s Day.
Stephan Delaux, deputy mayor and president of the Bordeaux Tourist office says that Bordeaux” is not just a city or a wine, it is a lifestyle, a heritage, and Irish fans will discover quickly they are part of that heritage.”
The author is the editor of www.travelextra.ie
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