'A dark, sad city'
The first takeaway is the hard work and skill required to pull off such a big project. Bordeaux is France's fifth-largest city, and in 1995 it was a dying jumble, its beauty covered by black grime as old as the Industrial Revolution. It wasn't on any tourist maps. Visitors avoided it on their way to the vineyards.
Vintner de Lambert remembered it well "as a dark, sad city. There was debris everywhere."
Vintner Bruno de Lambert of the Chateau de Sales winery at his booth at the Tasting. Photo Credit: William Nash
Juppe took on the whole city at once -- no piecemeal tinkering -- in a French version of Boston's Big Dig. The people of Bordeaux were engaged from the start. Stephan Delaux, the city's deputy mayor, told me that the key to good tourism is to do your planning for the people who live there, for the citizens, and if that is done well, then the visitors will be happy.
It helped that Juppe, a former French prime minister and national figure, could use his connections to push through projects and find financial support.
His vision was classic: Open up the city to the best of what it was and what it can be. Filth was scraped off the 18th-century buildings, revealing many as architectural masterpieces. Roads and highways were torn up, and the city's grid was re-engineered for walking and the easy flow of traffic. Pedestrian-only areas opened up the city center. A sleek, modern electric tram system tied it together, further reducing car traffic and absorbing the growing tourist traffic. Bordeaux became the first official bicycle city in France.
Recovering the Garonne River was the masterstroke. The decaying warehouses and wharves blocking the riverfront were cleared away. In its place, the city laid an elegant promenade that follows the crescent shape of the river quays from one end of Bordeaux to the other. At its widest, the promenade is as far across as a four-lane divided highway. A water mirror and gardens center the promenade in front of the Palais de la Bourse. All told, the project reclaimed 7 million square feet of the old waterfront.
Fruits and vegetables at the Sunday market along the Garonne. Photo Credit: William Nash
River cruise and small ocean-cruise ships dock on the quay, with ample space for tour buses. (The city might consider electric power sources for the ships while they are docked, which would greatly reduce air pollution.)
A world-class skateboard park anchors one end, sports courts are at the other end with green spaces in between. People jog, bike, roller-skate and amble up and down the promenade from sunrise to midnight. At times, the play of light on the water and sky against the city's neoclassical silhouette resembles an impressionist painting by Claude Monet.
What is missing is also remarkable: There's no clusters of T-shirt and souvenir stands, no neon signs or outsize billboards. Signage and lampposts are discrete and elegant.
In 2004, the city hired Sophie Gaillard to create its wine tourism.
"Bordeaux was closed," she said. "It wasn't clear how to visit properties, how to discover wine. We were very late to wine tourism, and we have the best wine in the world."
A big part of her job was to convince the tradition-bound Bordeaux wine establishment that tourism could help the vineyards. Inviting visitors to a chateau or offering wine at a tasting in the city could raise the wine's profile and prices, expanding the world's market for Bordeaux wine.
On a visit to Chateau de Sales, de Lambert told me that he was one of those late to tourism, having finally hired a full-time employee for it just four years ago.
A fog had settled on the rows of the dark, pruned vines, and de Lambert was in a nostalgic mood. This was his last harvest. His son was taking over as director in a few weeks, and he allowed that it was a blessing beyond measure.
"The price of land is so high, if we sold we would all be wealthy," he said.
Foreigners, especially the Chinese, have been offering huge sums for nearby vineyards. But the younger generation -- all 14 cousins -- voted to keep the vineyard in the de Lambert family. Wine tourism will help.
He said he realized the truth of the saying Faire bonne et faire savoir (Make good wine and let the world know.)