I have spent over 30 years here in Bordeaux helping people put together their own wine tours that tick off the key things to see here or guiding wine lovers by the hand around the region as a wine specialised private wine guide (www.wineguidebordeaux). I have summarised the best of my advice in recently published Wine Guide Book (Bordeaux Sip by Sip Sudouest) which is a handy guide at your fingertips. The Bordeaux region is still quite new to wine tourism, it is very large and there are more and more offers. How to make the most of your time here in this prestigious wine region. It still has a few peculiarities. Most châteaux close down at the weekends (yes this is France!). There are many ‘must-dos’ and thigs to avoid – see below for a list of ever faithful châteaux that are open on the many bank holidays too in France.
My Guide book specialising in the Small Producers of Bordeaux and all to know on how to plan a tour here
Tasting area in Château Gruaud Larose St Julien
It is possible to visit the ‘Firsts’ (Margaux, Lafite, Mouton, Haut Brion (not Latour) but dont expect the same experience you might at a smaller producer
- When to plan your Trip: You can visit all year but the best is between May and October. The summer months or July and August are sunny and slow but there are plenty of properties open. It is always cool in the cellars! It is possible to visit during harvest which is 1st and second week of October usually – some larger châteaux are open so you can see the picking of the grapes and their journey into the vats. Best to avoid last week of April as this is the future’s week and most of the larger châteaux are closed to public visits focussing on their professional wine buyer and press clients (they come to taste the new baby vintage ageing in the barrel).
Bordeax – Unesco World Heritage site and a beautiful city, the 8th largest in France.
- Where to be based? Bordeaux city is the best place as it is around 40 minutes from the key wine regions Haut Medoc, St Emilion & Pomerol and 30 minutes from the Graves region.
- How to get to Bordeaux? – the best is to train down from Paris on the TGV (2 hours). Many of my clients love the authenticity of Bordeaux and enjoy a few days here as a contrast to Paris. Many also combine a wine tour in Bordeaux with a few days enjoying San Sebastien (Spain not far away by train and three hours by car) and its food culture. The city is Unesco World Heritage site and is worth spending a day ambling around and soaking up the atmosphere.
- Where to be based if you prefer the countryside? St Emilion is the best place with its many restaurants and cute medieval streets and many historical monuments (there is a train station with a ten minute uphill walk or a taxi is about 100€ from Bordeaux). If you have a car you can benefit from being outside the village that gets very busy during the day.
The beautiful landscape of St Emilion
- Which wine châteaux can you stay in? If you are determined to stay in an actual wine châteaux there are a few of the best; Left Bank – Margaux (Le Tertre), St Julien (Beychevelle) Right Bank – Pomerol (Beauregard), Troplong Mondot (St Emilion), Bellefont Belcier (St Emilion).
- Pre-booking your Tours- don’t wait until you’re here! Make sure to have made your appointments to visit the châteaux before you leave home (by email via their websites cost is around 15€pp). The distances are large and there are thousands of choices so best leave it in the hands of an expert – private wine guide with 30 years of experience and personal contacts – such as myself!
The D2 Route de Châteaux in the Medoc
- How many days? At least 2 to see both the Left and Right bank to understand the two main red styles of Bordeaux. A third day means you get to see it all including the historical region of the Graves with its woods, impressive châteaux and the sweet wine district of Sauternes.
Seeing how wine is made…
- What else is there to do if I want to add another day or two? The beautiful Atlantic coast is an hour or so away. A day tasting oysters in the little oyster fishing villages in Cap Ferret is a great addition – with fresh white wine too of course. Cognac is 2 hours to the North of Bordeaux and Armagnac is one hour south.
Oysters on the coast or on the ‘Bordeaux sur l’Eau oyster boat in Bordeaux
- What if I want to get a little physical during my wine tour? Electric bikes are a great way to see the vineyards and can be booked here.
- Where to eat lunch? I like to organise meals or picnics in the châteaux themselves at the table with the family or winemaker. These are my two favorite restaurants that are simple, great value, where the local wine people go. I love the way they add a twist to beautiful seasonal and local food from small producers. My favorite restaurant in the Medoc: Le Bontemps Chef Damien Moquais, Cussac Fort Médoc (village before st Julien). My favorite restaurant in St Emilion: Reserve de Presbytère Montagne St Emilion Chef John-François Roberts
- Which châteaux are open Weekends and Public Holidays? Most châteaux close the weekends but there are a few excellent properties that are open ‘all hours’ (but you will need to book in advance). Medoc: Margaux (its the closest to Bordeaux so handy) – Ch Ferriére (and shop), Ch Marquis de Terme (plus restaurant), Ch le Tertre, Ch Siran. Pauillac – Hourtin Ducasse Ch Chasse Spleen (Moulis)
Château Chasse Spleen with my guides
- Graves: Ch d’Eyran (Pessac Leognan), Ch Pape Clement (in Bordeaux itself) and Ch Smith Haut Lafitte (Hotel Caudalie and restaurants here too) St Emilion: Ch Guadet, Ch de Ferrand, Ch Troplong Mondot, Tour St Christophe Sauternes: Ch d’Yquem
Château Guadet open throughout the year where the winemaker family host the visits
- Finally which châteaux to choose from the 1000s? The Grand châteaux or the smaller family ones… Here are some of my favorites from the 6000 châteaux in Bordeaux. There are only 200 or so of the ‘Grand Cru Classé’ these are the elite and usually have impressive châteaux buildings and prices to match. It is important to see but it is important to really get the feel of the real Bordeaux, to get off the beaten track and see the SIPS (Small Independent Producers) many are detailed in my Book Bordeaux Sip by Sip. It is visiting these smaller family properties that will enable you to meet the family and the winemaker often and enjoy these value wines in a beautful setting.
- Here is a mix of my favorites of both MEDOC: Ch Gruaud Larose (St Julien) for tasting and seeing old vintages (back to 1815). Château Camensac (near St Julien) for the best picnics. Ch Lafon Rochet for tasting from the barrel Ch Angludet for tasting of grape varieties explained by Daisy Ch Hourtin Ducasse for a green visit with sheep Ch Siran for the most wine artefacts history Ch Phelan Segur for the best vertical winetasting (3 vintages)
Château de Cérons, rare wine rare experience at this family home picnic in the garden
- GRAVES: Ch de Cerons for its beautiful picnics in the family garden & where you get to go into the château family home and taste the rare sweet Cérons wine Ch Haut Bailly (Pessac Leognan) for the most beautiful semi-underground modern winery.
Château Panet, perfect for kids
- ST EMILION: Ch Panet best for small kids with its lake and picnics. Ch Beausejour Becot for going underground and seeing the 1000s of bottles (under reovation) Ch Coutet for the most organic visit and family history back 14 generations Ch Camarsac for its medieval castle and view from the top Ch Béard la Chapelle to meet the winemaker and sip wines overlooking the vineyards
Just hanging out overlooking the vineyards at Béard la Chapelle, St Emilion
- FRONSAC Ch George 7 for chilling out in a beautiful valley tasting and brunching
- SAUTERNES/BARSAC: Ch Doisy Däene for the best tasting of a range of white wines dry and sweet with the winemaker
Choosing the right châteaux and the experiences they offer gives you a well-balanced view of Bordeaux
Oyster boat private tour with Bordeaux sur l’Eau