Good news: Bordeaux is more about soaking up ambience than specific sights, and needn't cost a centime. Check out energetic, immigrant St Michel district's mediaeval streets, towers and old churches. Its covered market, Marche des Capucins (marchedescapucins.com), provides mouth-watering lunchtime baguettes, cold cuts and cheeses ($15). Rent a bike (vcub.fr; $2) and pedal the Garonne riverbanks, lined by glorious 18th-century buildings, flowerbeds and promenades. Detour to the fine Napoleonic-era Musee des Beaux Arts (musba-bordeaux.fr; free). Tuck into a dinner of oysters and sausage at La Boite a Huitres (36 Cours du Chapeau Rouge, $28). Want to party on? Head out to the converted warehouses of the newly hip Bassins district, where locals party into the wee hours. Stay at Acanthe Hotel (acanthe-hotel-bordeaux.com, $109) for compact comfort downtown.
EASY DOES IT
Rise early and perambulate through the city centre. At 10am, embark on a Bordeaux River Cruise (croisiere-bordeaux.com; $151) to admire the city's sweeping riverfront, before heading down the Gironde into vineyard country. Enjoy a wine degustation and regional food on Patiras Island, before returning to the city by bus along the famous Medoc wine route past chateaux renowned for their grands crus. You will still have the evening for the city. The area around Place de la Comedie and Place du Parlement is fabulously lit at night, and its maze of streets and squares is jammed with lively eateries and bars. Dine at upmarket brasserie Le Mably (le-mably.com, mains $40), particularly noted for its duck dishes and extensive Bordeaux wine list. Stay at Quality Hotel Bordeaux Centre (qualityhotelbordeauxcentre.com, from $143) for a central location and helpful staff.
Bordeaux's greatest luxury is its many pedestrian streets - Rue Saint-Catherine claims to be the world's longest - and hundreds of listed buildings, so start walking. The city centre is a masterpiece of 18th-century design. Visit arty Chatrons district for its public gardens, antique shops and chic boutiques. Call in at CAPC (capc-bordeaux.fr; $7), a contemporary art museum, whose busy rooftop cafe (cafeandreeputman.com, $30 menu of the day) provides lunch with a view. In the afternoon, explore Bordeaux's wine history with a three-hour guided Bordeaux Walking Tour (bordeauxwalkingtours.com, $108, including tastings). Indulge further in a seven-course degustation menu with matching wines at Le Chapon-Fin (chapon-fin.com, $210). Stay at Grand Hotel de Bordeaux & Spa (lhw.com, from $467), a neoclassical palace in the heart of Bordeaux and member of Leading Hotels of the World.
The writer travelled courtesy of Viking River Cruises and Leading Hotels of the World.