Bordeaux is considered a very tolerant and relaxed place - no one will bother you about your political beliefs, religion, or sexual orientation. The cultural, artistic, and music scenes are very vibrant. The city was ruled by the English for a long time, which is why Bordeaux seems to have an "English flair".
Bordeaux is often referred to as "Little Paris" and the rivalry between the "Bordelais" (people from Bordeaux) and "Parisiens" is a hot subject, so you may experience some heated arguments on the subject during your stay.
Bordeaux is a flat city, built on the banks of the Garonne River. It is also the largest French city by area and geographically one of the largest in Europe. The Garonne merges a dozen kilometers below the city with another river, the Dordogne River to form the Gironde Estuary, which is biggest estuary in France.
The city center is located west and south of the Garonne. To the east are a few hills - the only ones in the vicinity. These hills mark the beginning of an industrial zone and suburbs. Because it is a flat city, bicycles make excellent modes of transport, especially as the city has more than 580 km of cycle tracks. Bordeaux is among the most economically dynamic cities in France.
Due to the weakness of the subsoil, there are no skyscrapers in Bordeaux, which explains its sprawl. The center of the town has retained its traditional stone mansions and smart terraces, hence the reason behind the city being called "Little Paris".
Modern buildings can be found to the west (administrative center) and south (university) of the city.
There are a lot of interesting things to see close to Bordeaux.
- North: The Medoc region, where some of the famous Bordeaux wines are produced. The first growths Château Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Château Margaux and Chateau Mouton Rothschild are all located in the Medoc. If you are planning a tour to a chateau, keep the following in mind: (1) call ahead and make a reservation; (2) Chateau Latour generally only accepts serious collectors and professionals; and (3) Chateau Mouton Rothschild is closed for renovation during 2010, the chai is a five-meter hole as of this writing.
- West: To the west, you will end up at the Atlantic Ocean, with over 250 kilometers of golden sand beaches accompanied by a sea of unspoilt pine forests; there are a lot of very nice-looking little towns close to the sea, including Arcachon, sea-side town, noted for its oyster production. You can take a train from Gare de Saint Jean in Bordeaux to Arcachon for around 7 euros, the train takes between 40 and 50 minutes. The Hourtins' Lake, the biggest fresh water water lake in France, is located there. In summer, its a paradise to go swimming or cycling in the pine-tree woods of that area. Near Arcachon is the biggest sand dune in Europe– very interesting, especially when you travel with small children.
- East: Here you will find Saint-Émilion, a well known AOC (c.f. Saint-Émilion AOC) surrounding the UNESCO Heritage village by the same name (c.f. UNESCO World Heritage List). Here, the most famous chateau are Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc. Nearby, in the Pomerol AOC, lies Château Petrus. In addition, the Entre-deux-Mers between the Garonne river and the Dordogne river has a large variety of old castles and wineries that produce Bordeaux Superieur wines.
To reach those places, you can use either the regional railways (TER) or inter-city bus lines (which often go where trains do not). By car, all these areas are less than an hour from Bordeaux.
The whole region is covered with well organized bike or walking trails which let you discover the countryside.