Girlfriends Getaway: Bordeaux Wine Region By Nneya Richards
Have you ever heard of noble rot? Maybe by it’s more elegant name, botrytis? It’s a form of grey fungus affecting wine grapes that has to be timed just right to develop a delicious sweet wine like the internationally renowned French sauterne. Timing, climate, moisture and picking-time has to be just so, or the whole harvest is ruined. There is no better time of year to visit Bordeaux and see this delicate process — pourriture or pourriture noble in French — in action and taste the delicious wines than autumn (so pencil in a trip for October now). And want a novel way to do it? Via a cruise along the Garonne river and it’s estuaries! This isn’t your grandmother’s way of cruising. A cruise is actually the perfect way to vineyard hop in style while in this picturesque region — and without any worries of “who’s going to drive!” Round up the squad, and let me show you how to have the perfect Girlfriend Getaway in Bordeaux.
How to get there:
Bordeaux is located in the Southwest region of France. You can fly into Paris catch a connecting flight into Bordeaux’s airport, Bordeaux-Merignac. OR you can take a lovely 3hr and 15minute train ride from Paris to Bordeaux. Great news though, coming in July 2017 there will actually be an even faster option: a 2-hour train from Paris to Bordeaux that’s sure to create an influx of visitors and commuters for this city that’s already gaining momentum as the place to be. Another great thing about booking with a cruise is they figure out a lot of these logistics for you in case planning is simply not your thing.
Where to stay:
But let’s take a step backwards. Maybe you won’t have to figure out these logistics at all depending on your accommodations. My suggestion? Go with the cruise. Think of your favorite luxury boutique hotel, add a dash of that booze cruise you and the squad went on with an unending supply of rum punch and sprinkle in the elegance of when travel by ship was at it’s peak with the fun of a jazzy steamboat barreling down the Mississippi and you have Uniworld Cruises. Before this experience, I “didn’t do cruises” they were for my grandparents. Well come to think of it my Grandma Hazel was a woman who appreciated the finer things in life and knew how to live it up better than most people I know. Pack beautiful patterned silks for elegant dinners — you can even rent a private room and do a multi-course wine pairing and chef’s tasting — Instagram worthy looks for touring castles & biking through vineyards and your best sun hat for mornings on the deck. And if you’re Tamu fit, pack your work out clothes too because there is a gym and classes on board. Doing the Uniworld Bordeaux cruise is definitely a great option for exploring this region.
The best thing about a cruise is that you can do as much or as little as you like in terms of activity and often times you’re docked over night giving you the chance to explore Bordeaux and other cities’ night life. I ended up at a hookah bar with a friend across the river from Bordeaux’s historical district! Here’s how to spend a great few days in the region of Bordeaux.
Your first stop is naturally the port city of Bordeaux. Spend a day touring the historical city and check out all it has to offer. I’d recommend borrowing a bike from the ship or renting one. The city dates back BC Celtic Roman times but the golden age of Bordeaux (besides the one clearly about to pop off) was during the 18th century and many of the preserved buildings that you’ll see downtown are from this time. The city walls, main gate, Porte Calihau dating back to 1495,and beautiful bridges are still standing and a beautiful site lit up in the evenings. And it’s winding French back streets open up to charming squares that are ideal for spending the afternoon enjoying white wine and Oleron oysters (a go-to snack there). If you happen to be in town on a market day take some time to enjoy the sites and sounds of a French market: fresh oysters, local small vintners, yummy roasted chicken, vintage copper ware, it’s definitely a can’t miss. And sample sample sample! I actually spent a market day in the nearby town of Blaye under the town’s citadel and it was magnificent.
So now that you’ve sampled all of that wine, once youre properly loose, it’s time to do some shopping. Bordeaux is a young city and has lots of cool vintage shops like Duke’s Vintage on rue du Loup. Vintage shops not your thing? As I said, there’s something for everyone in Bordeaux! Right on the newly refurbished boardwalk on the Garonne are outlets! Stock up on classic French labels like Little Marcel and Princess Tamtam.
Bordeaux also has a new wine museum, La Cité du Vin. For 20 euros entry you can explore the culture and universal heritage of wine. Afterwards, toast to all you’ve learned at The Belvedere the wine museum’s rooftop bar and the highest point in the city of Bordeaux with spectacular views.
While in Bordeaux, a day trip to the UNESCO world heritage site of the prehistoric town of Saint-Émilion is a must. This town has had Roman vineyards from as early as the 2nd century — so you know the wine is good. St Emilion is also impossibly charming: the monolithic church, winding cobble stone streets, colorful locals that have lived in the area for generations. Spend the morning relaxing here and the after delicious local wines, take a walk and take through the vineyards surround the town — it’s the first time that landscape was named a UNESCO world heritage site.
While in Saint-Émilion, take a french cooking class with chef Jérome Oillic at Château Ambe Tour Pourret Cook a delicious 3-course lunch and celebrate your accomplishment with several glasses of wine pairings!
No wine weekend would be complete without bike rides through quaint French vineyards like the Medoc. The weather is kind of perfect here in this region along Gironde (an estuary of the Garonne) — this microclimate bubble is what allows for pourriture noble.
Chateaux that are a must visit?
Château d’Yquem, a château that fashion conglomerate LVMH has a majority stake in, is the only sauterne to be designated a superior first growth by the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. The height of sophistication, time slots for a viist to the chateau go rather quickly so I would recommend making an appointment.
For a wonderful contrast, another old house to visit, marked First Growth by the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, Château Guiraud, is doing things a little bit differently: the organic farming route. Using methods such as plants with simbiotic relationships, like tomatoes and marigolds or roses on vines to signal disease in the grapes it’s pretty cool to see an old house with new ways.
Another place you must stop on a bike tour through Blaye? Chateau Royal de Cazeneuve. It’s well known that Thomas Jefferson was an absolute Francophile; he was the US’s Minister to France. Local lore says that Jefferson was a big fan of wines from the Bordeaux region and order 30 dozen bottles of Chateau Royal de Cazeneuve for himself and George Washington. What a turn up, huh?
Stop for lunch at Château de Roquetaillade and explore the family history through architecture.
Here’s a classically French thing to do…
Cognac is actually Dutch brandy. A 17th century king couldn’t figure out grape disease and called in the Dutch who introduced a distilling process that created their brandy, the Dutch brandy. However, when the area was designated as Cognac, and with the Treaty of Versailles, the Cognac name was restricted only for use with grapes from the region. Plan a tour of one of the famous cognac houses like Remy Martin or Hennessy. And maybe arrange how to get back home before?
At this point, having toured all over why not end your vacation with a boat day. (If you’re on a cruise like I suggested). This is the day to pull out the cruise collection and sun on the deck after having a head to toe massage.
In the Gironde estuary, L’Île Patiras, marked by it’s white lighttower is a magnificent place to have a cocktail and watch the sunset. The lighthouse has exceptional views of the river and the Medoc vineyards.
At some point, make sure to:
Enjoy the sunset (or sunrise) over a shared bottle of wine at the Bordeaux skate park.
Overlooking the Garonne, this is one of the most picturesque skateparks that I’ve ever scene. It officially closes a little after dark so there’s nothing like sharing a bottle of wine with friends as the sun’s reflection sparkle on the ramps and the city lights come up.