Will Ottley visits the French City of Bordeaux and discovers exemplary organic wine.
Bordeaux became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. Synonymous with the French wine trade, the city has 376 listed monuments dating from the 17th to the 19th century. Bordeaux underwent a renaissance in recent years including a new state of the art tramway system and the cleaning of historic building stone facades. The result is a cultural joy for visitors to perceive, just 12km from Bordeaux-Merignac airport.
Driving into the city from the airport is straightforward. An excellent boutique hotel with parking is the Petit Hotel Labottiere (petithotellabottiere.fr). Built between 1783 and 1788, this discreet and conveniently located town house has been carefully restored by the current owners to its original splendour. With only two guest rooms you are advised to book early. The hotel’s romantic charm is enhanced with a delightful breakfast in the garden. You might also be treated to a guided tour to learn about the history of the house. An alternative is The Grand Hotel Bordeaux (ghbordeaux.com) situated right in the centre at Place De La Comedie.
This elegant city is very accessible by foot, taking in the Cathedral Saint-Andre, numerous churches, public gardens, Roman ruins, art and history museums. The Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, inaugurated in 1780 is an excellent place to begin your visit to the city. As well as operatic and ballet performances, the theatre has daytime exhibitions, which are not to be missed.
The graceful Pont de Pierre, erected in 1822, spans the Garonne River and can be enjoyed as part of a quayside walk, past the sweeping 18th century stone facades facing the river.
The capital of the Aquitaine region in the south-west of France, Bordeaux is world-famous for its wine. With this in mind, be sure to visit the CIVB Bar A Vin (baravin.bordeaux.com), the headquarters of the Wine Council, situated across from the tourist office. The entire Bordeaux range of reds and whites, as recommended by a competent team of sommeliers and wine advisors, can be tasted with cured meats and cheese plates at very reasonable prices.
A local culinary institution for steak lovers is L’Entrecote (entrecote.fr), situated across from the CIVB wine bar. There are normally queues forming outside this restaurant equally loved for its homemade profiteroles. If your preference is for oysters, then be sure to visit La Boite A Huitres (36 Cours du Chapeau Rouge), which offers a broad selection, served with a dry Bordeaux white wine.
The rooftop bar at The Grand Hotel Bordeaux, offers excellent views of the city.
St Emilion Village
The Bordeaux wine region boasts over 296,000 acres (120,000 ha) of vines with more than 8,000 châteaux. The idyllic image of a French château, for many, conjures up fairy-tale castles with immaculate grounds. The top Grand Cru classes may bear some resemblance to this, but in reality these châteaux are serious commercial businesses, competing against the very best New-World wines. The true value of a château is not in the historic buildings, but rather the terroir including the quality and age of the vines, leafage systems, topography, soil type and microclimates.
Visiting a local château for a wine tasting tour is highly recommended. Saint-Emilion village to the east of Bordeaux is very accessible and well worth the visit. Despite crowds of visitors, the village retains a unique historical charm. For a wine tasting experience away from the crowds, I would recommend the award-winning Château Coutet (chateau-coutet.com) less than 1km from the village. A certified organic winery, the château forms part of the UNESCO Saint-Emilion wine-growing region. Growing a blend of Merlot, Bouchet, Pressac, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, this Château provides exemplary quality organic wines.
A Dune with a View
Schedule permitting, a visit to the sandy beaches on the Atlantic coast, 60km south of Bordeaux, would enable you to see the largest sand dune in Europe. The true size of the colossal Great Dune of Pyla, (dune-pyla.com) cannot be truly appreciated until you attempt to climb the 107 metres to the top. Without the aid of ladders, the effort of stepping through sinking sand in the midday sun quickly becomes a feat of endurance. Eventually you will be rewarded by the most stunning Atlantic views from the top, and well-earned rest.
Getting there and away
You can fly to Bordeaux direct from London. Economy prices start from £30 return with Ryanair (ryanair.com), Easyjet (easyjet.com) and British Airways (ba.com).
About the Author
Will Ottley is a freelance travel writer and author of the inspirational fable, “Mountain Garden”, but does not work with or for any of the parties mentioned in this article. Follow Will Ottley on: www.mountaingarden.co.uk