Bordeaux, UNESCO registered since 2007, is undoubtedly the world’s wine capital. It is well worth visiting along with its vineyards which are France’s largest with 60 different appellations and around 10,000 châteaux. The best way to visit is with a local wine expert to show you around ‘the best of Bordeaux’, peeking behind the scenes and to make it a trip of a lifetime.
Here are some tips from a local wine lover guide to give set you on your way and give you a taste of this wonderful region.
What do you need to know? There is not a pre-requiste ‘savoir-faire’ before visiting the vineyards of Bordeaux, just an interest in wines and a desire to learn more. Not only will your guide be able to give you the background behind winetasting itself, the vineyards, the different wine villages, the Bordeaux wine trade and the process of winemaking wich will help to make your château visits come alive, they will also take you behind the scenes to see what the average tour does not. Wine is about people and meeting those that make the wine gives a visit another unforgettable dimension.
When is it the Best Time of year to Visit Bordeaux’s Vineyards? Temperatures start warming up at the beginning of April.
To Avoid the ‘Primeurs’ (1st week April) châteaux are busy with their futures tastings to the professionals. Avoid mid June in odd years to avoid the 400,000 members of the world wine trade that descend on Bordeaux city centre for the world’s largest trade fair Vinexpo.
Châteaux are mostly closed on the many Bank holidays so check.
The best time in the Spring/Summer is from around the flowering of the vine Mid May to mid July. August is hot and it 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 (apart from between Christmas and the New Year).
What should I 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. You will see there is no pretention in the châteaux, people are very down to earth.
With over 8000 châteaux in Bordeaux which ones are the good ones to visit? With so much choice it is worth doing some research. Some châteaux are geared up to receive tourists and are open even at the weekends (though there is less choice). For a more personal visit where you get to meet the winemaker themselves it is interesting to visit smaller family properties
When do I need to start planning? Most châteaux will need to be booked in advance. It is not possible to just turn up in Bordeaux as it is in the Napa Valley. The top châteaux get booked up months in advance. If you want to visit the most famous, you need to be thinking about it a year in advance! Here is a list of my favorite ones.
How many days should I spend in the vineyards to get a good idea? 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. If you really want to see it all a 3 day wine tour will ensure that you get to see the historic and beautiful region of Graves and Sauternes.
With 60 appellations which are the most important régions to visit?
It is important to make the most of your time when in Bordeaux. Very generally there are two key styles of wine made here; left bank and right bank! So ideally you could visit both very different régions, different in landscape, terroir and grape varieties.
If you had to choose one, the best area to visit are the rolling vineyards of St Emilion with its beautiful medieval village founded in the 8th century by the hermit monk Emilion with its cobbled streets, steeped full of history.
St Emilion has a number of different terroirs so try to visit at least one on the limestone plateau (where you will see the amazing underground tunnels) and another on more sandy, clayey area.
If time permits try to see the underground monolithic Church, carved out from the limestone by the monks over 300 years. Organised by the St Emilion tourist office.
The other, not-to-be-missed, wine region is the Médoc with its magical Route de Vin up the D2 past some of the world’s most well-known wine villages such as Margaux, St Julien and Pauillac, home to some of the most famous châteaux in the world; the neoclassical Château Margaux, the fairy tale castle of Pichon Longueville and the dumpy tower of Château Latour. These are members of a prestigious club, the 60 or so Grand Cru Classé elite.
The region of Péssac-Léognan has it all (particularly if you arrive at the airport). Beautiful châteaux, rolling vineyards and the most elegant of wines. Château Haut Bailly offers a range of activities including cooking courses, a shop and an exquisite setting.
Where to stay?
The City of Bordeaux is the best base for wine tours being equi-distant from both St Emilion and the Medoc. The city of Bordeaux is beautiful full of limetone buildings and history. It was designed with its streets particularly wide which gives the city plenty of light and space. Its old town behind the ‘Palais de la Bourse’ with its cobbled streets and corners to discover. 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 become alive with restaurants, cafés and shops. It has been UNESCO world heritage site registered since 2007. My favorite places to stay in town; Hotel Particulière, Petit Labottière, Ecolodge des Chartrons, Le Boutique Hotel.
What is the best way to get from Paris to Bordeaux? The best way to get to Bordeaux from Paris is by train which brings you to the Gare St Jean 10 minutes from the centre of town. Get your guide to pick you up or take a tram into the centre (Quinconces). *
Bordeaux City What to Watch out for in the future 2016: new centre of wine and vine culture is to be opened and the *TGV will only take 2 hours from Paris (currently 3 and a half) due to new high speed links that are being constructed currently.
The Best Bed & Breakfast in the Vineyards – To get a real feel of Bordeaux…in amongst nature, overlooking the vineyards.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 châteaux to boot. Château Le Sèpe (20 minutes south of St Emilion set in rolling countryside called the Tuscany of Bordeaux) – see photos below.
Château La Vielle Chapelle (this organic wine property is located 25 minutes west of St Emilion, tranquil setting on the banks of the Dordogne, tastings and dinners in the 12th centuy Vieille Chapelle)
Stay in your own cosy appartment in the setting of one of the region’s most historic château, Château Cadillac (Cadillac en Fronsadais) with one of the most beautiful views onto the Dordogne River. Located 30 minutes from St Emilion and 45 minutes from . Infinity swimming pool and sauna as well!
Wonderful chambre d’hote in the centre of the medieval town of St Emilion – Maison de la Commanderie
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.
What else is there to visit in the Bordeaux region? 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.
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
Where best to sample the food and wine of Bordeaux in the City?