Weekender: Bordeaux

To really get a feel for a culture, get out of the city and see what the country has to teach you. So when deciding where to go for a little getaway on a recent trip to Paris, there was really only one choice in my mind — Bordeaux. (If I’m going to learn, I’m doing it over a glass of wine.) Only a three-hour train ride from Paris, Bordeaux immediately slowed down the pace and it was easy to settle in to the joie de vivre as only the French know how— over good drink, good food and good company. I never felt the urge to exercise (aside from the walking), the need to count calories or the desire to do something “productive.”

I only had two days in wine country, but it’s probably good I didn’t have much time, given that I managed to purchase 12 bottles of wine in one day. I was swept up by the passion of the winemakers, the charm of the small village of Saint Emilion (where I chose to stay) and yeah, the wine tasting didn’t hurt.

PJ Pants: Upon arrival in Bordeaux, I had been in Paris for a week and a half, so it was time for a little R&R. Walking all day in rainy, frigid, yet still beautiful Paris is no joke! Naturally, as a seasoned traveler, I knew this moment would come and pre-booked a half-day of Vinothérapie® treatments at Les Sources De Caudalie (a little over $200 per person). I opted for the 100% Grape (when in Bordeaux) which included a facial, a crushed cabernet body scrub and a massage where they rubbed me down with grapes. Um, yes.

TIP: Bring a suit. There’s a very inviting pool in the waiting room, but it’s co-ed and no one was taking a dip in the buff.

Bordeaux is a larger city and since we were in search of country life, we chose to stay in Saint Emilion — a quaint, walled city that dates back to prehistoric times and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our digs, the remote Chateau Hotel & Spa Grand Barrail, were recommended by our wine tour guide and did not disappoint. If you have a little extra cash, stay at the Hostellerie De Plaisance located in the village center.

TIP: Getting from Bordeaux to Saint Emilion is hard to figure out so we went through the frustration for you. If you don’t have a car, take the train to Libourne from the Bordeaux station – a cab from there to hotels is only about 20 Euros. You’re welcome.

Fat Pants: After our first wine tasting, we stopped at Logis de la Cadene for lunch – one of the oldest restaurants in the town and apparently the place to be for seekers of wine. In summer, I imagine the terrace would be ideal seating. For this trip, we warmed up inside by a window over a delicious soup of foie gras, egg and bacon. SO good.  

Hostellerie De Plaisance is also home to a one Michelin star restaurant, where the food is art and the service is a well-choreographed dance. It was Thanksgiving, so why not? Our four-course tasting menu started with a trio of Foie Gras and ended with a perfectly chilled sorbet. My favorite dish was the octopus carpaccio and oh, the bread. I’m still full.

Before leaving for Saint Emilion, we walked around Old Town Bordeaux and then meandered through the Marché des Capucins gazing at all the mouthwatering seafood, olives and cheese before finally deciding on a lunch of bread, cheese, charcuterie and wine (my favorite meal in France) at one of the local stands.

Ants in Your Pants: You guessed it. Wine tasting. If you don’t learn about wine when in Bordeaux, why would you even go? It’s important to book a guided tour, so I started researching early and as soon as I got the initial itinerary from Tasty Side to Life Tours, I got really excited. It’s expensive ($600 per person for a full day – yikes!), but I rationalized the price given that I had used credit card points to pay for all my hotels. (See, still rationalizing).
Wine tasting in the U.S. (and Portugal for that matter) is MUCH different than that I experienced in France. The crème de la crème, winemakers are very passionate and in most cases, the secrets of a Château are passed down from generation to generation. I learned so much – that Bordeaux is always a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes, how to tell the age of a wine by holding it over a white surface and what soil is best for what types of varietals.

Our guide, Henri, was an amazing teacher. And it was so nice to have a driver after navigating the streets of Paris. No thinking required. Here are the highlights:

  • Château Clos Puy Arnaud – A small organic, biodynamic producer, without the frills but with great wine at great prices you won’t find on menus stateside.
  • Château Figeac – A large producer with amazing wine; we tasted a 250 Euro bottle from 2001 that changed my life.
  • Château Beau-Sejour Becot – This was my favorite: I loved the maze of underground wine tunnels with bottles dating back to the 1800s and the tasting room with breathtaking views.

I Just Bought These Pants: There are two things you should buy in Saint Emilion – wine (hello) and the simple yet out-of-this-world almond macarons. If you want to ship some bottles back, simply conduct a tasting at one of the wine merchants in the village; I finished my day at La Grande Cave.

Tip: Shipping for 12 bottles is 95 Euros compared to the 25 Euros per bottle I was quoted by the wine tour company.

France, as always, j’ai eu sous votre charm.