The beautiful city of Bordeaux with its tall 18th century limestone buildings, wide streets and attractive river-front is undisputably the world’s wine capital. It is the heart of the largest wine region in France (produces one quarter of all wine in France) and stretches over 110,000 hectares. In the past this wine region of 8000 châteaux has been criticised as being closed and unwelcoming. Things have certainly changed and the stiff châteaux doors are wide open offering a wealth of options ‘autour du vin’; cooking lessons, tasting old vintages, wine and cheese and blending your own wine. More than 3 million tourists each year visit Bordeaux and its region. With such choice available of what to see and do, it can be a little daunting. Here are some tips from a resident wine lover guide to make the most of your visit.
When Best to Visit?
Temperatures start warming up at the beginning of April. Avoid the ‘Primeurs’ (1st week April) and mid June in odd years to avoid the 400,000 members of the world wine trade that descend on Bordeaux city centre.
The best time is from around the flowering of the vine Mid May to mid July. For the next month it is hot and is holiday time for many though châteaux geared up for wine tourism will stay open. Most people are on holiday in the first week of August.
The first week of September is the ‘rentrée’ of the children to school and life restarts again. It is a very busy time and producers start to prepare for the harvest (dry white harvest is around this time – Péssac-Léognan, Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux Blanc). The month of September is a good time to visit as temperatures are less hot and there is a buildup of excitement before harvest.
Harvest is around start October. Producers will be very busy but it is a very interesting time to visit if you can. Many properties will not receive visitors during this time so it is best to check.
It starts getting cold around mid November so visiting cold cellars is not that much fun, but do-able if you are really into wine.
It is possible to visit all through the year.
What to wear?
Visiting the vineyards and cellars of wine properties is not a fashion show.Wine is an agricultural product and you are there to understand how it is made. Cellars are around 16°C throughout the year so make sure to bring along a light pashmina, jacket, cardie however hot it is. Wear comfortable suitable shoes without high heels so you can get around without falling over.
How long to stay?
If you can try and stay at least 3 days; one day for the Médoc, one for St Emilion and one to spend in the beautiful Bordeaux city centre.
Where to stay
The City of Bordeaux?
The city of Bordeaux is a great place to visit, full of beautiful buildings and history. It was designed by Tourny who cleverly made the streets particularly wide which gives the city plenty of light and space. Since Alain Juppé became Mayor in 1995 the city has had a facelift. Its stone facades have been cleaned to reveal the creamy tints of the limestone quarried from nearby St Emilion. An efficient tramway glides through the city and the quayside (previously frequented only by the city’s prostitutes) is accessible to all and has come alive with restaurants, cafés and shops.
For a fun insight into this beautiful city join Patricia or Hela (www.bordeauxwalkingtours.com) for an hour or two rambling the streets listening to the story of the city’s rich history (inextricably linked with wine) as you see visit its key sights and monuments.
My favorite places to stay in town;
Hotel Majestic (nothing special but ‘correct’ and well-located) www.hotel–majestic.com
La Chambre en Ville
L’Avant Scene Hotel (used to be the best jazz spot in town) www.lavantscene.com in the wine chartrons district
Le Boutique Hotel hotelbordeauxcentre.com
Hotel Particulière www.lhotel–particulier.com
Petit Labottiere www.petithotellabottiere.fr
The Best Bed & Breakfast in the Vineyards
To get a real feel of Bordeaux…in amongst nature, overlooking the vineyards.
Places to stay in or ‘near’ to St Emilion
I live on the right bank and these two chambre d’hôte are exceptional, as luxurious and trendy as any top hotel but set in breathtaking locations and family run wine château to boot.
Château Le Sèpe (20 minutes south of St Emilion set in rolling countryside called the Tuscany of Bordeaux) www.chateaulesepe.com. Here are two photos of this amazing place to stay in the heart of a real-working wine château.
Château La Vielle Chapelle (this organic wine property is located 25 minutes west of St Emilion, tranquill setting on the banks of the Dordogne, tastings and dinners in the 12th century Vieille Chapelle) near to Lugon (Fronsac) www.chateau-de-la-vieille-chapelle.com
If the idea of making an historic wine producing château your home for a few days then Château Richelieu is for you. Located 20 minutes from St Emilion in the small village of Fronsac. Swimming pool as well! You get the keys to the front door so you need to be a little independent.
A beautiful peaceful chambre d’hôte in Fronsac; http://www.lebassindutertre.com
In the heart of St Emilion:
Wonderful chambre d’hote in the centre of the medieval town of St Emilion www.maisondelacommanderie.com and Les Logis du Roy.
Logis de Remparts this hotel is built into the remparts of this amazing medieval village.
These two B&B lie in a secluded valley not far from St Emilion in St Laurent des Combes;
la Petite Madeleine http://www.la-petite–madeleine.com
Le Moulin de la Grangère
For something very different;
Visit the vineyards of Bordeaux and stay in the heartof nature itself, in a tree hut overlooking the vineyards or in a ‘pod’! 20 minutes from St Emilion; Cabanes de la Romaningue Tree Huts cabanes.laromaningue.fr
Château Pey Latour www.chateaupeylatour.com in the Entre Deux Mers in-between Bordeaux and St Emilion overlooking vineyards and pool owned by Bordeaux wine merchants Dourthe.
Medoc; Château Meyre (wwwchateaumeyre.com) in the hear of the Medoc.
Pessac Leognan; www.hotel-bordeaux-raba.com in Pessac Leognan outside of Bordeaux (can tram in easily)
With 60 appellations which are the best to visit?
For a more indepth answer to this important question; http://bit.ly/1lEn7wz
If you had to choose one, the best area to visit are the vineyards of St Emilion with its the beautiful medieval village.
If you are on foot, you can even take a train and there is a 10 minute walk to the medieval village. There is a tourist office and they can point you in the right direction. For 12€ each you can visit Grand Cru Classe Ch Villemaurine (in the centre) with its atmospheric cellar tour through the quarries. ‘Bar l’Envers du decor’ www.envers-dudecor.com is a good restaurant or there are many that offer simpler dishes. There is a good tour of the underground monolithic church too if you are into that sort of thing.
The other, not-to-be-missed, wine region is the Médoc with its magical Route de Vin up the D2 to pass by the most famous wine châteaux in the world.
The region of Péssac-Léognan has it all (particularly if you arrive at theairport). Beautiful château, rolling vineyards and the most elegant of wines. Château Haut Bailly (www.chateau-haut-bailly.com) offers a range of activities, a shop and an exquisite setting (c Haut Bailly).
What else to visit?
Going West…the beautiful sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast runs alongside the Médoc so 30 minutes from the D2 route de château! The world’s largest dune ‘Dune de Pyla’ is near Arcachon, a beautiful sea-side town full of seafood restaurants and an attractive amble along its promenade. The best view ever is to be had from ‘La Coorniche’ restaurant and Philip Starck hotel near to Pyla. www.lacoorniche–pyla.com
Visit the fashionable Cap Ferret for the best mussles at Chez Hortense. The horse-shoe shaped bassin is alive with oyster sheds and little bays and harbours.
Going East…the Dordogne with all of its history, beautiful buildings and prehistoric caves
Going South …les Landes with its famous foie gras and armagnac
Going North…the Charentes, the world of Cognac and historic navel city of La Rochelle
What to do when you’re not wining or dining?
Antiques markets at St Michel or Chartrons and also don’t forget the marvellous local markets particularly Libourne (Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays) and the less rustic Marché Domenican (Sundays!) on Bordeaux’s Quays.
Where best to sample the food and wine of Bordeaux in the City?
La brasserie bordelaise www.brasserie–bordelaise.fr is a must for regional food and wine. It is trendy and dynamic, run by a young team. Otherwise l’Entrecote (next to tourist office) but arrive on time as there are queues every day. No choice just steak, chips and its famous secret sauce – need to be hungry! Croque Loup for something finer/romantic www.croc loup.fr
And then there are the top restaurants with a bevy of up-and-come young chefs (but that will be another blog article)
The Best Restaurants in the Vines
St Emilion: Château Candale www.chateau-de-candale.com
Troplong Mondot www.chateau-troplong-mondot.com
Pessac Leognon: Part of the Sources de Caudalie (Hotel and Spa) concept the brasserie Le Lavoir www.sources-caudalie.com
Sauternes: Restaurant Les Sarment www.lessarments.fr
The Best Wine Bars in Bordeaux – Bar à Vin
Quite a new development the wine bars of Bordeaux are all the fashion now. Aperitif at the CIVB Maison du vin (opposite the tourist office), Bar à Vin or at Bar à Vins Rue Bahutiers (near old town) or at Aux 4 Coins du Vin. Not forgetting the ultra modern Max Bordeaux in Cours de l’Intendance with your card help yourself to first growths and others from 1€/25ml to 25€ for the tops! www.maxbordeaux.com
CIVB Wine Bar