Our mouths watered as we strolled past the displays of fish, fresh produce and pâtisserie at the Quai des Chartrons market. The air rang with the raucous cries of the fishmongers as they broadcast their wares, while wielding filleting knives and oyster openers. This is one of the must-do things in Bordeaux on a Sunday morning – and le tout Bordeaux was there last Sunday.
The market is held alongside the river in front of the elegant townhouses for which the quay is famed. The whole riverfront has been cleaned up and restored in recent years. Take the tram from the town centre to the Chartrons stop and walk back along the market. Your eyes will feast not only on the market stalls but also on the terrific view of central Bordeaux and the River Garonne.
It’s a tradition to buy a plate of Arcachon oysters, accompanied by a glass of white Bordeaux, and eat them in situ at the riverside tables. Not being that keen on oysters, I let the SF indulge while I just had the wine and people-watched.
Every town has its signature foods. I had already heard of cannelé – cakes with a custard interior surrounded by a caramelised shell – which are a favourite Bordelais snack. But at the market and on a restaurant menu I came across something hitherto unknown called “grenier Médocain”, literally “attic of the Médoc” (the wine-growing area downstream). This is pork belly seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and spices, rolled up and cooked in broth. Not for the faint-hearted, I suspect.
Museums and galleries
Our stomachs full after a lunch at one of Bordeaux’s many brasseries, we decided it was time to move on to intellectual sustenance. Bordeaux is full of museums, galleries and monuments. We saw a fair few of them during our two-day visit.
First up was the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum), close to the Hotel de Ville and the cathedral. It has an excellent collection of paintings and sculptures from the 15th to the 20th century, displayed in the two separate wings of the museum. It includes works by Titian, Breughel, Frans Hals, Corot, Picasso, Matisse, Zadkine and many others.
We also enjoyed the Musée d’Aquitaine (Aquitaine Region Museum) – at least until we got to the Roman exhibits, when our feet and our attention started to give out. The prehistoric section was fascinating, though. The region contains a number of caves with paintings, such as Lascaux, and many excavated prehistoric sites. I found particularly interesting a film which recreated the process of flint cutting and bone whittling.
Centre Jean Moulin
But, for me, the best visit was to the Centre Jean Moulin, named after the Resistance hero. In addition to being a museum that focuses on Bordeaux and Aquitaine during World War II and the occupation, it also contains the regional resistance archives.
The Centre is laid out over three floors covering the Resistance, Deportation and the Free French Forces. We spent two hours there and only got to the ground and first floors before a Rosa Klebb clone turned us out 15 minutes before the official closing time. We were in the middle of watching a poignant film about the deportation of Jews and other “undesirables”, with commentary by people who had been detained in concentration (effectively elimination) camps but had somehow survived.
Another visit is certainly in order, both to Bordeaux and specifically to the Centre Jean Moulin. I have to admit to an interest here. My next magnum opus will be set partly in Occupied France.
And we never did the wine museums.
For more about Bordeaux, see the Tourist Office website.
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