For most travellers, Bordeaux instantly brings to mind opulent red wines with aromas of black currants and plums. However, on a trip to this famed wine region, I learned that there was much more to this southwest French city than crushed grapes, including the local produce, high-tech museums, and, most importantly—its commitment to “smart tourism.” I was glad to learn of the versatility of this romantic region, as I’m over nine years sober and cannot partake in the celebrated alcohol offerings.
Bordeaux was one of two chosen by the European Commission as the European Capital of Smart Tourism 2022—awarding outstanding achievements by European cities as tourism destinations in the four categories of cultural heritage, sustainability, accessibility, and digitalization. I could see why as I explored sites featuring advanced digital technologies, eco-friendly innovation, accessibility, and more to enhance the travellers’ destination experience.
I flew into Paris directly from Los Angeles on French bee. Their convenient Air + Train package included a shuttle to the train station for a comfortable and scenic two-hour ride to Bordeaux. My hotel for the trip was the neoclassical InterContinental Bordeaux—a landmark building dating back to the 1700s in the historic city centre. After a long journey, I luxuriated in my marble-lined bathrooms fitted with bergamot and French lavender-scented Agraria soap. The hotel is committed to the circular economy; unused soap is recycled and donated to those in need.
Digital art at the Bassin des Lumières
I woke up to morning views of the Place de la Comédie, enjoying a coffee and a creamy canelé, a local specialty, on my balcony before rushing out for the day. Getting around the city is easy from the InterContinental as the tram is located steps outside the hotel, and it’s designed with sliding doors with step-free access, making it 100% accessible. It whisked me on a 30-minute trip to the Les Bassins de Lumières exhibit.
Upon entering, my eyes adjusted to transforming patchworks of dazzling art from Monet, Renoir, Chagall, and more. Les Bassins de Lumières—the largest digital art centre in the world—translates into “pools of light” and features over 500 pieces of artwork digitally projected onto 40,000 feet of floor-to-ceiling room walls. I’ve visited countless digital art galleries worldwide, but this ambiance differed entirely. The art reflects from the cavernous multi-room exhibit’s 360-foot cooling pools of water. The exhibit’s repurposing of this 1940s German-built submarine base is a stellar example of smart tourism.
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High tech wine tasting
Next, I zipped south to the Garonne River. The curvy building burst into the skyline as if in mid-spin as I approached the La Cité du Vin wine museum. Designed with swirling wine in a glass as inspiration, vertical streaks of gold panels dapple the silvery building overlooking the river. Inside displays were equally striking; the museum incorporates smell diffusers, holograms, and 3D interactive exhibits. Even though I’m sober, I could still enjoy even the wine-tasting presentation! Although the display didn’t actually serve wine, the “tasting” of wine was demonstrated through all the five senses except for taste. Instead of imbibing, I sampled aromas and learned to make wine and food pairings via touchscreen displays.
Afterward, lunch was at the museum’s Michelin-recognized restaurant, Le 7, on the seventh floor. Over panoramic views of the city and river, I tried my first white asparagus dressed with a perfectly poached egg and Sturia Caviar. Offering the wine list, the waiter pointed out that over 65% of Bordeaux’s vineyards have received environmental certification, as have many wines served at the restaurant. Le 7 is also a FiG (Food Index for Good) recognized restaurant committed to carbon reduction and using seasonable, local ingredients.
Treasure hunting on an app
I biked east to Floirac next to the Garonne River on my last morning in Bordeaux. I popped open the Tèrra Aventura mobile app for a fun open-air scavenger hunt touring the area’s heritage sites with a series of puzzles to solve along the way. After parking my bike, I got lost in Floirac’s nature-filled green spaces on a wooded trail while the app guided me through Parc du Castel up the Fil Vert walking path for stunning views of the river and city.
At first, I wasn’t sure how I would enjoy a city with a name synonymous with wine. However, I was surprised to learn that Bordeaux is a feast for all senses, not just taste. The city’s commitment to accessibility, sustainability, and high-tech tourism was just a cherry atop an iconic destination.
Lead photo credit : Bordeaux was the capital of Smart Tourism in 2022 © shutterstock
By Kaila Yu
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