One of France’s best-know wine areas, Bordeaux has everything you could ask for in a fabulous holiday – food, history, shopping, art, nature – and, of course, wine and wine country.
In the City of Bordeaux
We started in the city of Bordeaux. You can fly there or, maybe better, take the TGV from Paris. Our hotel (the Hotel Burdigala, a very classy place with easy parking and an over-the-top breakfast) was just a couple of blocks from the downtown’s “walking district”. This huge area is chock-a-block with restaurants, great shopping, and museums.
From this beautiful old gate and running for about 10 blocks or so to the river’s edge, is the heart of the city, full of tourists and locals alike.
At 5:00 pm on a typical day, the streets are packed and the energy is exhilarating. We had wonderful weather for our entire visit, but from the looks of this street art – hundreds of umbrellas – maybe they do get wet once in a while!
It’s a dream world, the wine estates here are like castles.
Into the Medoc Region
For our first foray, we drove our rental car west and north, to the Medoc region (there are dozens of appellation-controlled wine districts within a two-hour drive). It’s a dream world, the wine estates here are like castles. Unlike a casual tour to the Okanagan though, we found that drop-in wine tastings are not the French way.
These wineries have been going for centuries and apparently you are just supposed to “know” about them – or have the sense to book ahead for a tasting. So we did not buy any wine but we sure enjoyed the scenery!
We spent a couple of days wandering the city, visiting parks and museums, and generally enjoying life, accompanied at all times with excellent food and wine.
Then we headed east to St. Emilion…
For this part of our adventure, we booked a tour through Rustic Vines Tours (www.rusticvinestours.com). We chose a full-day bike tour of the area. Their driver – a very knowledgeable wine expert as it turned out – picked us up in town just a few blocks from our hotel, and drove us the quick 45 minutes to St. Emilion, teaching us about the wine history of the region along the way. There were only five of us on the tour, so it was a very personal experience.
In St. Emilion, we picked up our e-bikes and had a quick lesson on how to get the most from our bike, followed by a few minutes practice in the parking lot. The e-bikes are easy to get used to and a real blessing as we immediately learned heading uphill through town to the rolling hills of the vineyards.
Chateau St. Georges
Our ride, led by the same tour guide who was our driver, took us on a truly gorgeous route on paved roads with next-to-no traffic, surrounded by vines and wineries. We rode for a bit less than an hour (coasting downhill, electric assisted uphill, and pedalling only on the flat bits!) to our first winery, Chateau St. Georges.
There, we met the vintner, had a tour and a Q&A in the fields (who knew that mature vines can have roots 10 metres or more deep?), a tour of the facility including the tanks and barrel rooms, followed by a tasting. There was the opportunity to buy wine and have it shipped home, but absolutely no pressure to do so.
We rode another 45 minutes or so to our next stop (Chateau Yon-Figeac, a much younger winery dating from 1880) where the whole process was repeated – but this time when we came out of the tasting, our guide had set up a lovely buffet lunch al fresco, with wine, of course. And cheese, all local.
After a suitable rest period, back on the bikes and another 45 or 50 minute ride back to the town of St. Emilion for a walkabout, ending at a local wine shop (St. Emilion Boutique Wines) for another tasting. The shop owner, Mansur Kambarov, really knew everything about all the wineries within the area, and had wines in stock from all of them. We tasted several, and enjoyed the depth of knowledge and tasting notes he provided, learning more along the way. Like our experience at the wineries themselves, we had a totally unrushed experience and absolutely no pressure to buy anything, just a nice experience.
Then it was back in the van and back to town in time for another fabulous French dinner with a bottle of Bordeaux, in Bordeaux.
I can’t recommend a trip to this area enough. In our five days there we barely scratched the surface and have already planned a return visit. So many wineries, so little time …
Following our experience in Bordeaux we wandered south through Biarritz to Spain (Saint Sebastian, Bilbao, Pamplona) for another few weeks, including a two-week painting retreat at Juseu in the mountains of Andorra followed by a stay in Barcelona (with visits to the fantastic Picasso and Miro museums, among others).
When I got back home to my studio I was already working to be “looser” in my paintings.
About the Author
Sue Daniel was born in Hungary and came to Canada during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. As an abstract artist, freedom and independence are critical components of her work. Having travelled for work and pleasure, she now makes her home in West Vancouver with her husband of 30 years. https://www.suedaniel.com
Photo credits: Tom Dodd unless otherwise noted