It may be known as the region of wine but, to me, Bordeaux is all about the water. The sweet nectar of the vines may be its biggest export but the French city lives – and seems to literally breathe – by the water.
Let’s start with the river: the majestic Garonne. Although Bordeaux is one of the most spread-out cities in Europe, all streets seem to lead towards the river. It is the heart of the urban sprawl, with is connected by the veins of the roads. And it is on this river that Bordeaux was able to build its wine empire, with easy transportation by boat straight out to the Bay of Biscay and into the Atlantic or around into the Mediterranean.
The name ‘Bordeaux’ doesn’t translate perfectly into English, but it essentially means ‘water by the river bank’. I can’t think of a better way to capture the essence of the city during the summer month I visited. Walking along the riverbank, the sun drawing closer to the horizon, the promenade was bustling. Bikes weaved their way between joggers, families, couples and tourists enjoying the warm afternoon and the cooling breeze.
It’s peaceful. And then you come across the Water Mirror. The large reflection created by the thin layer of water and the mist being fountained up from it. It looks like the boardwalk is breathing up to us. And as the evening descends, it catches the light in such a perfect way it looks dreamlike.
It’s not so much a reflection but a window into the soul of the city. Children play; an elderly couple walks hand-in-hand; a man in a wheelchair rolls himself around even though he can’t feel the cool moisture splash between his toes like the others around him.
I walk along the river for a bit longer and, leaning over the fence, see some beaver-like animals building a home for themselves on the bank – much like the first humans did here in about 300BC.
I cut up into the town and, wandering past a fountain, see a slightly destitute woman swimming in a fountain to collect coins that luck-wishers have thrown in.
And then, around another few narrow twists and turns, I come across a public artwork with water weeping out like tears and trickling down onto the tiles.
When people try to compare Bordeaux to Paris (which they constantly do, in the global tradition of city rivalry), it is always the wine that is mentioned. For good reason, many times. But let’s not forget the water in any future discussions. It is all through the city and it’s what binds the animals, the children, the locals, the visitors – and even the vagrants. It is the lifeblood for all, including the surrounding vineyards themselves.