When King Henry II of England wed his French cousin, Eleanor of Aquitaine, in 1152, Bordeaux was part of the arrangement – and so began the British love affair with the region’s wine.
For 300 years, the city was under British rule, until the French won the Hundred Years War.
Although there is little evidence of Anglo-Saxon influence in Bordeaux today, the British are still the world’s biggest importers of its wine.
Many vineyards in the Bordeaux region, such as Chateau Palmer (pictured) can be visited by prior appointment
As an Irish film producer, I have come here to research a film about the ‘wine geese’ – Irish landowners dispossessed by William of Orange.
They fled to Bordeaux and established such illustrious vineyards as Chateau Phelan Segur, Chateau Lynch-Bages and Chateau Leoville Barton.
And so my first port of call in Bordeaux is the magnificent new museum, the Cite Du Vin, designed to look like a swirling glass of wine. Costing more than €80 million (£70 million), it pays homage to the joys of wine from every region in the world.
It has been described as the ‘Guggenheim for grape lovers’ – or, more mischievously, a ‘wine theme park for adults’.
The focal point of the city’s historic centre is the Golden Triangle, with its confluence of three beautiful boulevards and their stunning honey-coloured stone buildings. The roads meet at the Place de la Comedie, where the Grand Theatre stands.
It is home to the Bordeaux National Opera, where tickets are available for as little as €5 (£4.30).
The Medoc Marathon runs through Bordeaux, a race which proudly combines ‘wine, sports, fun and health’. Fancy dress is compulsory and there are 23 wine stops
The stylish (and reasonably priced) restaurant on the ground floor, La Quatrieme Mur, is operated by Philippe Etchebest, the French equivalent of Gordon Ramsay and the host of the country’s version of Hell’s Kitchen.
Appropriately perhaps, across the square Ramsay has opened Le Pressoir d’Argent restaurant inside the grande dame of Bordeaux hotels, the five-star Belle Epoque-style Intercontinental Le Grand. The hotel, which is steeped in history, is perfect for a romantic getaway.
But it is time for me to visit some chateaux with Irish connections, and soon I find myself in the beautiful drawing room of Chateau Phelan Segur in St Estephe, which overlooks a tapestry of green vineyards.
Bordeaux is ten times more compact than Paris, so it is easy to walk everywhere
The route of the Medoc Marathon runs through here. The race proudly combines ‘wine, sports, fun and health’. Fancy dress is compulsory. There are 23 wine stops, handouts of foie gras, cheese, steak and ice cream and, at the 23-mile mark, oysters!
No wonder race organisers have more medics on duty than any other marathon. A couple of years ago, it got so hot that runners jumped into Chateau Lafite Rothschild’s lake to cool off.
Back in Bordeaux, the helpful concierge at Le Grand recommends the closest vineyard to the city centre. A mere ten minutes later, I am at the Chateau Pape Clement in the suburb of Pessac.
It is one of the oldest Grands Crus in the world – the first harvests happened in the 13th Century. In 1305, its owner, Bertrand de Goth, became Pope, taking the name Clement V.
After a wine-tasting session under a scene-stealing chandelier in the drawing room, visitors can follow in the papal footsteps and stroll through the delightful gardens to admire the glasshouse designed by Gustave Eiffel, or even stay the night in one of five historic rooms.
Chateau Kirwan (pictured) dates from 1751. It is named after an Irishman, Mark Kirwan, and offers a free tasting to everyone who shares his surname – or any resident of Kirwan, Australia
Visitors can also take a relaxing minibus tour with local company Bordovino. It offers two chateaux visits and tastings, and its website even boasts that a tasting class will make you ‘an expert in 20 minutes’.
Many vineyards in the region, such as Chateau Belgrave, Chateau Palmer and Chateau Lascombes, can be visited by prior appointment.
But if a vineyard visit feels like too much trouble, one of the most popular wine bars in the city centre is Aux Quatre Coins du Vin, which offers more than 200 wines, 32 of which can be tasted from automatic dispensers. Its glamorous owner, Chloe Allano, sources a delicious selection of charcuterie, cheese, foie gras and bread locally.
Bordeaux’s Garonne river provides a great gateway to explore the vineyards.
Companies such as Viking River Cruises offer itineraries where guests can disembark at picturesque villages such as Pauillac and have a romantic dinner at the lovely Chateau Kirwan, which dates from 1751. It is named after an Irishman, Mark Kirwan, and offers a free tasting to everyone who shares his surname – or any resident of Kirwan, Australia.
Bordeaux is ten times more compact than Paris, so it is easy to walk everywhere – there’s also an excellent tram system – and its entire historic centre is a Unesco World Heritage site.
The Bordelais must be the friendliest and most welcoming of all the French, and the city is only a 90-minute flight from the UK, or just two hours by TGV from Paris.
As for the wine, you’re sure to be tempted to ship a case or two back home.
But it is unlikely anyone will ever match Edward II’s order of over a million bottles for his wedding in 1308. Now that was a celebration.
A votre santé!
Voyages SNCF (voyages-sncf.com) offers return fares from London St Pancras to Bordeaux from £111.
The Intercontinental Le Grand Hotel (bordeaux.intercontinental.com/en/) offers rooms from £218, including breakfast.
Frank Mannion’s movie, Marie Curie: The Courage Of Knowledge, opens on November 7 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of her birth.