Description
Description
Description
Description
Description
Description
Description
Best of Bordeaux
Best of Bordeaux

Published FT June 14, 2008 

Main Photo T Sanson


Two things surprised me about Bordeaux. The first was the breathtaking beauty of the place. The second was the warmth of the welcome from the Bordelaises. They seemed less prone to that haughty froideur that can sometimes greet you elsewhere in France. “Perhaps it’s the wine”, I thought, as I drooled over a city centre bar’s list full of world famous chateaux names. Wine, unsurprisingly, is abundant.


 In 1308, for instance, the annual export to England was 900,000 hectolitres. Today the region produces 6,000,000 hectolitres of wine and in the department of the Gironde one in six people earns their living from the wine trade with more than 11,000 estates, 400 shippers and 130 brokers.


However, the removal of much of the machinery of the trade has allowed the city to scrub up and emerge gleaming in the Aquitaine sunshine carrying its municipal prize – recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site. With 347 listed historic buildings, the magnificence of its 18th century buildings and the architectural coherence of the city centre, it is obvious what prompted the listing. Last June 1,810 hectares of Bordeaux received this special accolade – the largest urban area in the world to have been granted it. A four and a half kilometre croissant-shaped stretch of the river Garonne – the Port de La Lune – is now free of the warehouse buildings that once littered the quays and the elegance of the buildings behind is revealed in its full glory.


Bordeaux in the 18th century was the second largest port in the world, grown fat but beautiful on wine, sugar and slaves. Nowadays it is pleasure cruises that moor on the quayside, as the cargo port has moved downriver.


 “In the 1960s, when I first saw it, all the buildings were black with grime. It wasn’t beautiful,” says Tony Laithwaite, a wine merchant. Today, most of each vintage travels to its destinations by lorry. A vast project of civic improvements got under way in 1995. Former French prime minister Alain Juppe, now re-elected Mayor of Bordeaux, continues to be a significant force behind the project, recently opening a new car share point. Now Bordeaux enjoys one car-free Sunday a month. The idea behind the project was to improve life for the 670,000 inhabitants of “greater” Bordeaux. New parks, the creation and restoration of public squares and heavy investment in a tramway system was the solution.


The completion of the opening phase of works means that it is now possible to stroll around without bumping into a building site. And it’s quite a stroll. Hundreds of decorative carved stone faces gaze down from stone balconies and wrought iron balustrades that are, to many, the finest features of French architecture. Several other planning zones are in the pipeline. There’s to be a new business district near the station as the city readies itself for the arrival of the full TGV line to Paris in the next few years, bringing journey times down to two hours. More than 2,300 residential units could be created near Le Lac, with a further possible mixed use zone around the concrete world war two submarine docks that, to date, have proven too costly to demolish. Other developments springing up across the river in La Bastide will be connected by a river crossing.


“The Bordeaux property market has a classic pattern,” says Francoise Tsoutsis of estate agency Maxwell Properties. The important Bordeaux families used to swap houses and flats with each other as they moved up towards a big family house and then downsized to an apartment for genteel retirement. In the past few years, however, there has been an increase in foreign buyers as well as from other parts of France. Prices in Bordeaux have cooled since the start of the credit crunch and showed a 2.7 per cent annual growth rate to the end of the first quarter 2008 according to figures from the National Estate Agents Federation. The chicest residences are inside the estate agents’ golden triangle, between the Grand Theatre, the Esplanade des Quinconces and the Jardin Publique. They can be found in particular streets, such as the Cours Xavier Arnozan with its splendid curved stone balconies. A three-bedroom apartment of 184 sq metres sold for €1.1m in this street at the beginning of the year. Prices for apartments across Bordeaux average €2,800 per sq metre. But in the old centre are nearer €3,500 per square metre. Last year a spectacular 600 sq metre panelled apartment with views of the river sold for €1.3m. For a hôtel particulier (private town house) near the historic centre, €1-2m is not unusual.


 Estate agency Emile Garcin has a 450 sq metre stone townhouse with modernised interior complete with ground floor gymnasium for sale at €1.75m. In Chartrons, an area just outside the centre, a younger crowd has moved in; so-called bobos – bourgeois bohemians – with leftwing values but a fondness for caviar. Here a hôtel particulier of 450 sq metres with a view of the Garonne is for sale through estate agency Demeures et Vignobles for €1.8m. Le Bouscat and Caudéran are two other popular residential districts, with smaller two-storey buildings available, with gardens, garages and perhaps swimming pools as you climb the scale.


 “€600,000 is the starting price for a family house”, says Anne-Valerie Deveze of Demeures et Vignobles. “But an average would be nearer €850,000.” These houses, called les échoppes Bordelaise , tend to have a garden behind. Vegetable growers would work the potager and sell their produce in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Now gentrified and much sought after, with their attics converted into accommodation, they are preferred by families. A younger, more cosmopolitan crowd is to be found around the area surrounding the churches of St Michel and St Pierre, closer to both the train station and the university. With 1,000 restaurants and 140 flights a day to 60 cities in France and abroad, the city attracted 2.5m tourists last year, making holiday rentals a lively market.


If your property dreams involve tending your own vines, there are always châteaux for sale. On the market for €15m through Emile Garcin is one designed by Victor Louis, the 18th-century architect responsible for Bordeaux’s Grand Theatre. He only got as far as one wing when work was interrupted by the French Revolution but with more than 180 rooms and a surrounding 77 hectares, it doesn’t want for space. Built in the same creamy stone as Bordeaux city centre, it has views across the vineyards to the river, both of which have been much of the source for the region’s wealth for so long.

$SIGNUP$
$VALIDATION$
Working... Please wait