Château de Sours, just southwest of Pomerol, is now in the hands of Martin Krajewski, an English businessman who has added several large and immaculate guest rooms, regional cooking classes, and a freestanding art gallery filled with John Hoyland and Terry Frost canvases. Krajewski continues to produce the estate’s fine rosés, but he’s begun developing reds with three young Bordelais enologists who can boast, unusually, of professional experience in South Africa, Morocco, Chile, and the United States.
Just to the east of the Bordeaux region proper (about 90 minutes by car from the city), Château les Merles is making a name for itself thanks to the interior decoration of Joris van Grinsven, whose family runs the hotel’s day-to-day operations. Here you’ll sit on Louis XV seats upholstered in lime velvet or Ghost chairs by Philippe Starck and dine on a menu of seasonal ingredients from the Dordogne.
Then there’s Château Rigaud, about 20 minutes outside St.-Émilion, which is owned by a young couple, Anna Barwick and her husband, Andrew, who also run a financial marketing business in London. With claret-colored walls, Ren bath products, and a screening room with faux-fur-lined couches, Rigaud caters to people exactly like its owners—professional Brits. So does Château de la Bourlie, a 14th-century castle about a two-hour drive from Bordeaux. “Five years ago, when we first opened our house to renters, we mostly received bankers and English MP types,” notes Cyril de Commarque, who, along with his family, has just unveiled five spacious, high Modernist rooms to go with the more traditionally luxe offerings in the main house. “Now we’re getting people my age, in their mid-thirties, who work in the arts and advertising, and are cash-rich and more bohemian.”
When the weather is fine, as it often is in southwestern France, the city of Bordeaux is jammed with young families splashing around its quays. Residents spill out onto the vast Place des Quinconces in the city’s center, and the only care anyone seems to have is whether they’ve applied enough sunscreen. The Jardin Publíque, Bordeaux’s flower-packed answer to New York’s Central Park, is ringed by moats filled with tame geese and swans, and people are allowed to sit on its expansive stretches of lawn, unlike at the majority of the grand parks in France, where loungers must keep off the grass.
The Place St.-Pierre, in the southern part of the old metropolis, has the kind of earthiness found in Paris’s “transitional” neighborhoods, like Parmentier or Pigalle, but with double the charm. “Yes, we have the old bourgeoisie and royalists here, but I find the regular people in Bordeaux to be lovely and open,” said Anne Dienée, a worldly 24-year-old who recently returned home from Manchester and was seated one table over from me at the unpretentiously stylish seafood grill Le Petit Commerce. The inexpensive fresh-fish-only menu here, and the traditional dishes at nearby La Tupina (think duck-fat kettle frites and impeccable côte de boeuf ), suit this part of town well. The hipster folk duo in skinny jeans that filled the room at Le Petit Commerce with the strains of “Rolling on ze Reever” and other mangled Creedence Clearwater Revival hits does too.
Earlier that afternoon, just down the street at the Église St.-Pierre, one of the smaller Gothic gems in town, an annual neighborhood street fair was going on. Under a vast shade tree on the cobblestoned square, a line of 10-year-old boys of French and North African descent gathered for an impromptu cancan while a goofy brass band played Donna Summer covers. Grandmothers bought treats at the bake sale for their granddaughters in face paint, and at one of the outdoor cafés that line the square, a couple of students dove into a warm-weather make-out session. A few blocks away, on the Place Camille Jullian, another troupe of leisurely bohemians clustered around the patio of the Cinéma Utopia to sunbathe.
A resolutely art-house multiplex, the Utopia has three theaters with elaborately hand-painted interiors, surprisingly good seats and sound, and a tableful of fliers advertising kinetic-sound yoga classes and seminars on how to live in a tree. So much for an obsession with tradition.