This article originally appeared in VOGUE, which I wrote and photographed.
What happens when you take Paris—with all its famous fashion, swoon-worthy architecture, and romance—shrink it down, nix the tourist flocks, and quiet the bustle? Say hello to beautiful Bordeaux, aka the stylish local’s answer to a mini Parisian paradise. And while outsiders may know Bordeaux only for its namesake wine region, there’s far more to this riverfront city than a good glass of vino. With grand buildings, gorgeous gardens, trendy boutiques, cozy brasseries, and old-fashioned copper streetlights, this under-the-radar hot spot is a must-visit for authentic French charm and Parisian cool. Here, eight reasons you need to pack your bags and head to France’s stunning southwest.
Forget every other Old Town
Unlike nearly every European city with bite-sized Old Towns, Bordeaux’s historic center is huge—you could spend days meandering its narrow cobbled streets; ogling its ancient stone buildings, and discovering delightful finds like Librairie Michele Masson’s rare bookshop with texts so beautifully aged, it doesn’t matter if you can’t read a smidge of French. Warning: Don’t be surprised if you catch yourself daydreaming about living in a Belle Époque apartment above the fountain-strewn squares lined with umbrellaed cafes.
Parisian street style found
If you want to snag Parisian “it girl” style, fashionable French boutiques abound on ever corner and hidden alleyway—all independently owned with facades so old-world charming you can’t help but be drawn inside. Not to mention an influx of hip new haunts on the scene: Backstage, which opened in June 2015, stocks well-curated vintage and second-hand designer frocks and accessories. Nearly one-year-old Petrusse is a must for wool and silk scarfs in every luxe shade and design. And on recently revitalized Rue Saint-James near La Grosse Cloche, one of France’s oldest bell towers, Mieux is the fashionista’s new one-stop shop for chic handbags, clothes, French papery, and sundries à la mode. While newcomer Apache doubles as Bordeaux jewelry designer Charlotte Guillard’s workshop where she weaves metal and cord into a rainbow of statement-making pieces with a Native American bent.
Hello, French garden paradise
One of the most picturesque gardens ever, Jardin Public is a flower-filled fairytale with 25 acres of impeccably manicured grounds, centuries-old trees, winding pebbled walkways, small ponds with quaint bridges, romantic fountains and stone statues. It’s the ideal spot for an afternoon picnic, followed by al fresco drinks at Restaurant L’Orangerie’s open terrace.
Furniture, paintings, objets d’art, you name it: In the Chartrons district, the cobbled Rue Notre Dame brims with antique galleries and bohemian shops. Highlights include Hello Vintage’s retro curiosities from the 1950s-70s; Cabanes & Chateaux’s wild mix of aircraft parts, taxidermy, and industrial furnishings; and O Design’s hub of pristine Scandinavian-meets-French finds. But the best is just meandering the streets and soaking in the endless charm.
Gorgeous Garonne River
Flanked by majestic golden-hued buildings with wrought iron balconies, the Garonne’s sprawling riverfront promenade is a beaut with miles of serene strolling. For the ultimate vistas, make your way to the 18th century Place de la Bourse with its magnificent palace, Three Graces fountain, and the riverside miroir d’eau, a ginormous misting granite pool that brilliantly reflects the monuments at night.
Wine, wine, and wine
And we’re not just talking Bordeaux wine country. Outdoor cafes-cum-wine bars like Café Cito and Michel’s dot the village-like streets where you can people-watch the stylish locals and sip vin rouge. Or to shake things up, head to L’Alchimiste, which opened in late 2013 as Bordeaux’s first cocktail bar serving up creative aperitifs to the Bordelaise in-crowd.
Ready your fork
It’s hard to walk two cobblestones in this city without bumping into an adorable eatery like Belle Campagne with its green-hued façade and farm-fresh ingredients; locally faved Le Petit Commerce’s delicious seafood; or La Brasserie Bordelaise’s steak frites. But the biggest buzz is the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux’s just opened Le Pressoir d’Argent where celeb chef Gordon Ramsay puts his spin on classic French cuisine complete with a silver lobster press and sumptuous 19th century décor.
For an experience straight out of French fantasy, the six-room La Grande Maison, which opened in December, spares no expense from its perfectly preserved 19th-century palatial exterior and idyllic grounds to its over-the-top suites decked in Napoleon III floral furnishings, silk wall coverings, and Hermes bath amenities. For dinner, Michelin-starred chef Joël Robuchon turns French recipes into plate–licking art like his signature duck foie gras with truffles.
Better yet, make your dreams a reality and move into this light-flooded designer Airbnb with industrial chic furnishings and original, exposed stonewalls. Plus, it’s just a short walk to Palais Gallien’s ancient ruins and Jardin Public.
Check out my VOGUE article for eight reasons why you need to pack your bags and head to France’s stunning southwest.