Bordeaux

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The new millennium was a major turning point for the city long known as La Belle Au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty), when the mayor, ex-Prime Minister Alain Juppé, roused Bordeaux, pedestrianising its boulevards, restoring its neoclassical architecture, and implementing a high-tech public-transport system. His efforts paid off: in mid-2007 half of the entire city was Unesco-listed, making it the largest urban World Heritage Site. Bolstered by its students and some 2.5 million tourists annually, La Belle Bordeaux now scarcely seems to sleep at all.

The city centre lies between the flower-filled place Gambetta and the Garonne River. From place Gambetta, place de Tourny is 500m northeast, from where the tourist office is 400m to the east. Bordeaux’s train station, Gare St-Jean, is about 3km southeast of the city centre.

Bordeaux Monumental (Tel 05 56 48 04 24; 28 rue des Argentiers; h9.30am-1pm & 2-7pm Mon-Sat, 10am-1pm & 2-6pm Sun Jul & Aug, 9.30am-1pm & 2-6pm Mon-Sat, 10am-1pm & 2-6pm Sun May, Jun, Sep & Oct, 10am-1pm & 2-6pm Mon-Sat, 2-6pm Sun Nov-Apr) Specialist tourist office dedicated to the city’s history. Cyberstation (05 56 01 15 15; 23 cours Pasteur; per hr €2; h9.30am-2am Mon-Sat, 2pm-2am Sun)

Laundrette (32 rue des Augustins; h7.30am-9pm)

Main Tourist Office (Tel 05 56 00 66 00; www.bordeaux-tourisme.com; 12 cours du 30 Juillet; h9am-7.30pm Mon-Sat, 9.30am- 6.30pm Sun Jul & Aug, 9am-6.30pm Mon- Sat, 9.30am-6.30pm Sun May, Jun, Sep & Oct, 9am-6.30pm Mon-Sat, 9.45am-4.30pm Sun Nov-Apr) Runs an excellent range of city and regional tours.

Police Station (Tel 05 57 85 77 77; 23 rue François de Sourdis; h24hr)

Train Station Tourist Office (h9am-noon & 1-6pm Mon-Sat, 10am-noon & 1-3pm Sun May-Oct, 9.30am-12.30pm & 2-6pm Mon-Fri Nov-Apr) Small but helpful office outside the train-station building.

The Unesco-listed Cathédrale St-André is almost overshadowed by the gargoyled, 50m-high Gothic belfry, Tour Pey-Berland (adult/student €5/3.50; h10am-1.15pm & 2-6pm Jun-Sep, 10am-12.30pm & 2-5.30pm Tue-Sun Oct-May). Erected between 1440 and 1466, its spire was later topped off with the statue of Notre Dame de l’Aquitaine. Scaling the tower’s 232 narrow steps rewards you with a spectacular panorama of the city.

Bordeaux’s museums offer free entry for permanent collections. Gallo-Roman relics are the highlights at the Musée d’Aquitaine (Museum of Aquitaine; Tel 05 56 01 51 00; 20 cours Pasteur; h11am-6pm Tue-Sun), while more than 700 post-1960s works are featured at the CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain (Museum of Contemporary Art; 05 56 00 81 50; Entrepôt 7, rue Ferrére; h11am-6pm Tue & Thu-Sun, to 8pm Wed, closed Mon).

The evolution of Occidental art from the Renaissance to the mid-20th century is explored at Bordeaux’s Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts; Tel 05 56 10 20 56; 20 cours d’Albret; h11am-6pm Wed-Mon), while faïence pottery, porcelain, gold, iron, glasswork and furniture are displayed at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Museum of Decorative Arts; Tel 05 56 00 72 50; 39 rue Bouffard; hmuseum 2-6pm Wed-Mon, temporary exhibits from 11am Mon-Fri).

The only remains of the Roman city of Burdigala are the crumbling ruins of the 3rd-century amphitheatre, Palais Gallien (rue du Docteur Albert Barraud; admission €3; h2-7pm Jun- Sep).

The Jardin Public (cours de Verdun) was established in 1755 and reworked in the English style a century later. There’s been a Jardin Botanique (Tel 05 56 52 18 77; admission free; h8.30am-6pm) on this site since 1855.

Cassolette Café (Tel 05 56 92 94 96; 20 place de la Victoire; menu €11.90, individual dishes €2.60-7.60; hnoonmidnight) Fun, friendly and fantastic value, this lively place serves up cassoulets (casserole dishes) cooked on terracotta plates, created from ingredients you tick off on a checklist.

L’Entrecôte (Tel 05 56 81 76 10; 4 cours du 30 Juillet; menu €16.50; hlunch & dinner) Opened in 1966, this unpretentious place doesn’t take reservations, and it only has one menu option: succulent thin-sliced meat, heated by tea-lights, cooked in a special shallot sauce and accompanied by homemade frites.

On Sunday mornings head to quai des Chartrons’ bio (organic) market; otherwise, stock up at Marché des Capucins (place des Capuchins; h6am-1pm Tue-Sun).