Updated: Feb 12, 2019
It’s the most famous wine region in the world... one of Europe’s most beautiful cities… and Bordeaux is just an hour’s flight from London. Better yet, if you jag a ticket for 28 quid, like we did, it makes for a fabulous French getaway – particularly if you can bribe a friend to look after your kids while you escape for the weekend.
A couple of years ago, Bordeaux bagged the title of Europe’s best destination and it’s easy to see why – half the city is a Unesco World Heritage site. But Bordeaux also has a laid-back style that somehow combines with French fashion and food, that’s cutting-edge. All the top-end boutiques are here dotted amongst some pretty fancy Michelin starred restaurants.
We strolled along the banks of the Garrone then admired the architecture of the Triangle-d’Or and its surrounds – all the while drinking in the sunshine and blue skies that London so badly lacks at this time of year. But the real reason we were here was for the wine. And my favourite red was a 40 minute drive away.
Saint Emilion is a beautiful little town sitting on a small hill surrounded by vineyards – some of which have been owned by the same family for four or five generations. We booked a wine tasting at Chateau Guadet, where the owner spoke passionately about the unique soil (sand, clay and limestone) that makes this region so famous. He showed us his cellar – a cave underneath the chateau- where we found wine from the 1920’s right through to 2017. We got valuable insight into grape-growing and the wine-making process, then learnt how to taste various vintages.
This is a man who has devoted his life to wine. He tells us to, “treat an older bottle of wine the same way you’d treat an older person – give it time to think, space to breathe – respect what it is trying to tell you.”
I was intrigued but have to admit, as much as I love good wine, as soon as the price per bottle creeps past 40GBP – I don’t appreciate it enough to make me worthy! You can get plenty of memorable drops in Saint Emilion much cheaper than that – the wine here rarely disappoints.
The food too is fabulous and you can dine on a three-course meal for about 35 GBP. With the kids back in London, we splashed out on accommodation and booked a couple of nights at Chateau Hotel & Spa Grand Barrail. It’s on a vineyard, just outside of Saint Emilion. We were here in Winter so got a great deal of satisfaction watching the sun set on the grapevines outside, whilst remaining warm and cosy inside - wine and cheese in-hand.
We arose at sunrise for a bike ride through the vines and villages then checked out Saint Emilion’s monolithic church, which as the name suggests, is carved out of one stone underneath the village. Once underground, I was blown away by its size but also its sophistication. Its ceilings are 12m high, with a huge dome and bell tower emerging from the top. Underneath though, is a centuries-old drainage system - a maze of gutters that act like pipes to drain away any water from the vulnerable limestone. The artwork inside the chapel dates back to the 13th century and is surprisingly pagan - preserved by chance from a layer of smoke that protected it from sunlight for hundreds of years.
Our most memorable meals were La Terrasse Rouge and L’Auberge Saint Jean, on the Dordogne River. The former has a brilliant view of the vines and a unique pool deck vibe – except instead of a pool filled with water, there’s a pool filled with red pebbles. I think they’re meant to look like red grapes.
Where we stayed: Chateau Hotel & Spa Grand Barrail - Highly recommend!
How we got there: We hired a car and loved driving around to all the different wineries and restaurants
What worked: All the food and wine. We also stopped off at a supermarket and stocked up on Mont d’Or cheese.
What didn’t: we only had hand-held luggage and couldn’t bring any wine back home!