Maybe a town whose nickname is La Belle Endormie (“Sleeping Beauty”) just needed a power nap. Thanks to savvy urban planning, Bordeaux — a faded provincial backwater just 20 years ago — has emerged as France’s second-favorite city after Paris. Longtime mayor (and former French prime minister) Alain Juppé gets credit for transforming it with striking new architecture and a pedestrian-friendly urban plan. With freshly scrubbed building facades, the entire cityscape — from streets lined with 18th-century limestone townhouses to stately Haussmannian squares — looks rested and refreshed. What’s more, a new high-speed train hurtles there from Paris in just two hours (sncf.com).
Renowned as home to some of the world’s top vineyards, Bordeaux has a 2,000-year- old wine-making tradition that goes back to Roman times. Learn the history — and sample a glass or two — at one of its newest attractions, La Cité du Vin (laciteduvin.com), a museum of wine with a spiraling aluminum-and-glass facade (designed by XTU Architects) inspired by the swirling of wine in a glass.
Bordeaux has top-notch brocanteurs — secondhand dealers of furniture, fashion, and ephemera — whose prices are below their Parisian counterparts. You’ll find them at the market around the Passage Saint-Michel. Several dealers have a permanent home in the Village Notre Dame (61– 67 rue Notre-Dame). Among them: L’Oeil de Marianna, who offers Arne Jacobsen lighting and Bruno Gambone ceramics, and Sylvie Fourrel de Frettes (www.proantic.com), for 18th- and 19th-century gilded consoles and Napoleon III chairs.
For centuries, the canelé — a petite pastry with a rich, custardy, rum-flavored interior surrounded by a dark, caramelized shell — has been a Bordelais favorite. The fluted treats are displayed like jewels in red-lacquer cases at Baillardran (baillardran.com), a chain of bakeries, and come in three sizes at La Toque Cuivrée (la-toque-cuivree.fr), another local chain. Meanwhile, an upstart treat has taken the city by storm: decadent pastry puffs filled with cream and dusted with sugar, from Dunes Blanches (7 rue de la Vieille Tour).
How to get around in Bordeaux? This compact city is eminently walkable, but if you’re in a hurry, do as the locals do: Take a tram. They carry visitors and citizens alike from the Golden Triangle — an intersection of three boulevards in the city center — to the edgy Bassins à flot district, where docks and warehouses have been reinvented with arts spaces and floating nightclubs.
39 rue Bouffard, madd-bordeaux.fr
This museum’s paneled walls, grand staircase, and chandeliers re-create the ambience of life under the Ancien Régime. The period rooms are supplemented by exhibitions that chronicle the history of design up to the present day.
Boulevard Alfred Daney, www.bordeaux.fr
Easily the city’s most unusual attraction, this 129,000-square-foot World War II–era German U-boat pen now boasts some of the most exciting art exhibitions in town. An up-close view of the concrete docks is a sight out of a James Bond film.
Landscape architect Michel Corajoud devised the striking fountain, fed by a massive underground tank. The plaza-wide pool reflects the spectacular facade of the Place de la Bourse, which was built in the 1700s during the reign of Louis XV.
44 allées de Tourny, id-garance.com
Vintage Jean Royère Polar Bear chairs and lighting by Hervé van der Straeten are part of the sophisticated edit of European design at this by-appointment showroom. Owners Marc Dauberte and Pierre Bîme are go-to decorators for modern lofts and castles in nearby wine country.
15 rue des Bahutiers, belle-campagne.fr
With its flea-market decor and townhouse setting, this cozy Saint Pierre restaurant feels like a private home. The strictly locavore menu is in Gascon, a dialect of the region, and features charcuterie, seafood, and the restaurant’s signature duck-fat French fries.
14 rue Paul Louis Lande, cote-rue-bordeaux.fr
An open kitchen and eye-catching abstract art contrast with the 18th-century architecture in this stylish outpost of new-wave Bordeaux cuisine. A seven-course tasting menu features dishes as artfully composed as the setting.
2–5 place de la Comédie, bordeaux.intercontinental.com
With 130 rooms lavishly decorated by Jacques Garcia, this hotel occupies a 1789 neoclassical mansion with a columned facade that mirrors the opera house across the street. In-house: a luxurious spa, complete with a double-height Roman bath, and Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin-starred Le Pressoir d’Argent, home to a spectacular sterling silver lobster press.
108 rue Abbé de l’Épée, yndohotelbordeaux.fr
This intimate hotel in a former 19th-century hôtel particulier is a passion project for its owner, Agnès Guiot du Doignon. She has Filled its 12 guest rooms and grand salons with a who’s who of contemporary design — from Hubert le Gall to the Campana brothers. She also personally makes the small-batch jams served with the included continental breakfast.