Take a weekend break at this fabulously French hotel – and discover there’s much more than wine to this up-and-coming city
As a destination for a long weekend with children, the centre of the world’s wine industry might not seem like an obvious choice. But to think that Bordeaux is simply about its most famous (and fantastic) produce would be a terrible mistake. For this slower-paced little sister of Paris, which is less than a two-hour flight from London, is quietly gaining a reputation for its beautiful architecture, rich history, fantastic food and a host of family-friendly activities and attractions, as we were to discover on our weekend break there.
The hotel's plush Orangery, which is open day and night for drinks and relaxation
Sitting opposite the Grand Theatre on the city’s main square, Place de la Comédie, Grand Hotel de Bordeaux very much lives up to its name, in style and pedigree. The majestic listed building dates back to the 18th Century and was originally built as a townhouse to mirror the neoclassical style of its theatre neighbour, before becoming a hotel in 1902 and expanding into adjoining buildings.
The décor by interior designer Jacques Garcia is very much reflective of that history, even if the hotel only opened in its current guise in 2007 after an eight year regeneration project following a long period of neglect. From the plush lobby of golden chandeliers, red velvet and giant globe, to the elegant prestige suites with their own glamorous bar areas, this five-star establishment is unashamedly French and fabulous.
Prestige suites come with a bar area so you can relax with a bottle of wine bought at a tasting
The family junior suites have plenty of space for two adults and two children
Guests with children will be very happy staying in the large family junior suites, offering a main bedroom and sliding doors into separate living area with double sofa bed, plus two marble bathrooms. The tapestry walls, heavy drapes and plush sofas in 18th century shades of orange and peach felt extremely luxurious – like something out a Napoleonic palace. A nice touch is the Bonpoint gifts for every small visitor – bracelets for girls and a pin for boys – plus robes and slippers, and welcome snacks.
The spa that occupies the top three floors is particularly unique, with a striking Roman baths-inspired cross-current swimming pool of black marble surrounding by rich orange columns and floor to ceiling windows, plus sauna, steam and relaxation areas, and a huge range of treatments on offer. It also has its own seasonal roof terrace bar known as Night Beach, or you can enjoy an evening cocktail in the Orangery or Victor Bar. Babysitting services are available if you fancy slipping out for an hour or two.
From the moment we arrived, the service was second-to-none, with staff only too happy to help and smiles plentiful. Our family were made to feel very special but at the same time, extremely comfortable – it’s a hard balancing act, but they pulled it off.
The Roman baths inspired spa of black and orange
The Bordelais take their food as seriously as their wine. So in September 2015, the hotel opened its Le Pressoir d’Argent restaurant (named after a rare solid silver lobster press that takes pride of place inside) with no less than Gordon Ramsey at the helm. With a Michelin-starred menu, it’s perfect for a special dinner although is aimed more at the adult market. Families are welcome to dine there with children of 12 and older though.
Instead, we dined at the perfectly lovely Brasserie, part of the original building which was a café from 1850 and frequented by the likes of Victor Hugo and Toulouse-Lautrec. It’s open for a superb buffet breakfast, plus lunch and dinner, with a menu French bistro classics and local dishes. Set over two floors, with arch windows looking out onto the square and doors that open onto a terrace in warmer weather, it’s cosy and relaxed, with all ages made to feel very welcome, as is the French attitude to dining out.
Both the long lunch and dinner we took there were wonderful, with my husband raving about the local oysters and his sirloin steak. My deconstructed Caesar salad was delicious, as was the snow crab ravioli, and we all developed a post-meal passion for the local delicacy of canelés – little scalloped cylindrical cakes with a custard centre and caramelised crust made from egg yolks. It wasn’t the only sweet treat that left an impression – we enjoyed the spectacle of a baked Alaska on the good advice of our waiter.
Enjoy a post-lunch Cafe Gourmand, an espresso with petit fours, including a local canelé (left)
Children’s menus are available for all meals, while on Sundays the Brasserie offers a family brunch from noon to 3.30pm. There is a wide selection of regional and seasonal specialities on offer – as well as a large choice of cakes and pastries – while ‘little gourmets’ of 3-12 years old are able to enjoy colouring, face painting, games, books and more as parents eat.
With its flat, quiet streets and UNESCO World Heritage Site architecture, Bordeaux is wonderful for just walking and we saw plenty of young families enjoying a Saturday stroll in the sunshine as we explored. There are plenty of pretty squares and parks to stop for a coffee, and the Saint-Andre Cathedral is charming, with its separate Pey-Berland bell tower that you can climb.
The city's cathedral with its Pey-Berland bell tower to the left
Multicoloured macarons - one of many delicious treats on sale at the Sunday food market
The river Garonne, with its crescent shaped port, runs through Bordeaux and there is a pleasant promenade to stroll along, which leads to a fabulous food market on Sunday mornings (snack on galettes, oysters and canelés to your heart’s content!). Bordelais families flock here in huge numbers for the foodie treats and to give skateboards, bikes and scooters a run out at the city’s large Chartrons Roller Skate Park.
Just a little further along is Cap Sciences, a museum in a hangar on the waterfront, offering all sorts of child-friendly science and technology exhibits and activities, which is currently home to an interactive video games exhibition (ends 28 February 2016).
Be sure to stop at the city’s most modern (and photographed) momument, Water Mirror (Mirior d’Eau), opposite the fancy facades of Place de la Bourse. This reflecting pool by landscape artist Michel Courajoud is a stunning sight and a great spot to cool down in summer as it alternates between water and mist. Other attractions include Rue Saint Catherine, the longest shopping street in Europe and a stone’s through from the hotel. In fact, Bordeaux offers shoppers everything from haute couture designers like Hermes and Cartier to independent homeware and high street names. Our favourite, though, was delicatessen Le Comptoir Bordelais, a treasure trove of quirky tinned fish, flavoured salts and unusual oils.
Bordeaux's Water Mirror is the perfect spot for a family photo
Le Comptoir Bordelais delicatessen is a treasure trove for foodie families
It’s all very manageable but if little legs get tired, there is a modern tram system or water taxis (batcubs to the locals), both reasonably priced. If you invest in a one, two or three-day Bordeaux Metropole CityPass, you can enjoy unlimited public transport, free admission to numerous museums and monuments, a guided walking tour and a sightseeing bus tour, plus discounts on other attractions. Prices start at €25.
Naturally there are plenty of wine tours of varying lengths available, with the hotel offering a Wine Concierge Service to tailor a trip to your needs and interests, from private helicopter transfer to visits to normally inaccessible estates. If it all sounds a bit grown-up, many chateaux are happy to host families with children, even offering grape juice tastings for little ones.
However, keen to maximise our limited time in the city itself, we popped into Max Bordeaux, a wine gallery and cellar close to the hotel where you can load credit to a card to try sips of a whole range of local reds and whites, from famous producers to the up-and-coming. There, we treated ourselves to a two sip serving of €543 a bottle Chateau La Conseillante for €25. It was just a shame my husband had brushed his teeth shortly before we left the hotel!
Try a sip of the region's most expensive wines at Max Bordeaux
And while Bordeaux does have much more to it than vino, it appeal will only increase when the city’s Wine Civilisations Centre opens this June, an institute dedicated to the wine communities of the world through the ages. Set in a sweeping glass building beside the river, it promises to offer the perfect panoramic view of this thoroughly charming corner of France.
Rooms from £170, Ghbordeaux.com/uk
Find out more about the city’s attractions at Bordeaux-tourisme.co.uk
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