Part 3: Bordeaux, France

There are some cities that are perfect in the rain. When I am in Greece for my 31st birthday am I thinking this? Absolutely not. However, in a romantic, land-locked city such as Paris or Bordeaux, there’s something about a grey, drizzly day that makes the atmosphere even more dreamy – if that’s even possible! You have to walk closer to your lover to huddle under a shared umbrella, and the dull, grey skies makes the city’s hues splendidly vivid. You can’t spend too much time outside, so you don’t feel guilty for sleeping in, and spend your days hunkered down inside some of the most charming old stone buildings sipping a cold beer (or perhaps something a bit stronger!) by candlelight. Yes, I am an optimist and a romantic, but I love a good gloomy day every once in a while! And while our friend trip to Bordeaux wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of romance, we had been treated a glorious days of sun, and so on our last day in town, when it rained, I didn’t bat an eye but merely grabbed my rain coat and umbrella, and headed out for an adventure! We had spent a day in the city and a day exploring the seaside, and so on our final day in Bordeaux, we had to do the wine thing!In addition to being a stunning world heritage site, Saint Emilion is also one of the most notable wine regions in Bordeaux. With a history that dates back to the Romans, Saint Emilion is a charming stone village surrounded by thousands of acres of vibrant green vineyards.

We parked by the visitor’s center and ran from the car up to the main road in the rain. We weren’t sure where to go first, but were sure glad we had a vehicle with us – many of the surrounding wineries are a 10-15 minute drive away, and we would have been VERY wet had we decided to embark on foot. At the visitor’s center we were given an awesome brochure that became our wine bible for the rest of our trip. It very clearly mapped out attractions in town, wineries within the region, and what each vineyard was known for and what you might find there. There are more than 1,000 estates in Saint Emilion all offering different services, ranging from free tastings and tours to grander sit-down dinners with wine pairings. We plotted out a few potential chateaus and cellars to visit, and then strolled through town towards our first stop.The town felt like wine Disney Land, with a different wine-themed attraction on every corner. We had found wine heaven!
Big door . . . . . . . little door . . .  . . middle door!The first winery we stopped at, Château Villemaurine, was waking distance and had a free English cellar tour in addition to snacks. We were sold!
We arrived and booked into the next English tour, and enjoyed some nibbles upstairs before heading down into the cellar.The snack options were wine, cheese, bread, oysters, and sausage, which I am pretty sure I could eat in various combinations again and again and for the rest of my life. Also, who can say no to 12 oysters for €7?? Not only does this town know wine, they know good seafood as well!!
I have to say, the downside of going on a cellar tour on a rainy day is the cold – the cellars are designed to be naturally cool, and on a dark dreary day, they are especially so! The power at Château Villemaurine was out during our visit (can you believe?!) so we were guided through the endless cellars by candlelight. It was eerie and beautiful, and at times felt like a buried art museum versus a large storage area for aging wine. When you first enter the cellar, you walk past all of the heavy machinery where the fermentation takes place. Things started out bright and sterile enough, but as we ventured into the network of caves, the floors became rugged, the temperature dropped, and some of the rooms became utterly dark. Our tour guide held a candle and we used our iPhone flashlights (very romantic!) to see the way.The cellars of Château Villemaurine are especially impressive, as they were originally clay-limestone quarries that have since been abandoned and now make up a vast network under the château for cooling and storage. The caves extend for 7 hectares (17 acres) and run across four different levels.Each room held a different vintage, alongside preserved statues and art from eras past.
When the tour was over, we were taken into a small room at the end of the cellar with open bottles for sampling. We were then treated to a splash of five different wines from the vineyard, which were all delectable. I bought a few bottles, and we also picked up some sausage and cheese for a big family dinner later in the week.When we emerged from the cellar, the sun was almost shining (well, the clouds had cleared and there were patches of blue in the sky!) and we got to see Saint Emilion with a tad of sunlight, which was a very pretty sight! We walked to a few restaurants in hope of finding a more substantial lunch, but as most were closed for the awkward hours of 3-5pm, we settled on a wine bar that was serving snacks and treated ourselves to yet another feast of meat and cheese.Slightly wine-buzzed and ready for our next adventure, we walked (hopped) to the car in search of the next château. Take one . . . 

. . . . take two . . .  . . . . nailed it!!I don’t have any more photos to share from our visits to the vineyards because something really sad happened next. We drove to two different wineries that the map said were open, only to find them boarded up and closed. We then drove to a third winery that promoted an afternoon BBQ, only to find the coals cold and no one around. Instead of hopping back into the car in search of the next vineyard, we decided to wander around a bit to find out what was going on. After a bit of roaming, we found a winemaker who explained that two days before there had been a devastating frost that killed almost half of the region’s crops. Some of the chateaus had insurance, while others brought in candles, heaters, and helicopters to try to combat the cold – but the vast majority of the wineries lost a huge portion of their crops (if not all) along with their profit for the season. The winemaker told us this tale and others over numerous glasses of wine, eventually inviting us back to his place for dinner. While we were flattered by his generosity, we had other plans, which included visiting this adorable nearby bistro for a proper French meal:Le Bistrot des Vignobles has an ultra cozy atmosphere with classic French dishes and an amazing selection of local wine. And while their patio is adorable, the interior of the restaurant was warm and welcoming – just what we were looking for after a day in the rain. The waiter translated the daily menu for us (which was scribbled on a human-size chalk board!) and we happily opted for all of the classics – cheese, pate, steak and fries, duck, tartare, and squid. We were all delighted with the quality of the food, and the prices were quite reasonable as well! While we ate inside due to the chill and the rain, the patio was beautiful and I’d happily come back on a sunny day to sit outside and enjoy a warm lunch in the garden.Stuffed on perhaps too much wine and every mouth-watering French delicacy you could imagine, we squished back in the car once more for our short drive home in the pattering rain. As a wine enthusiast, I can’t believe I have lived in Amsterdam for almost eight years and never ventured down to Bordeaux! It’s beauty has won a special place in my heart, and I am already looking forward to our next Bordeaux trip!

xo Ali

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