We arrived in the city of Bordeaux at night on a holiday Monday to quiet, deserted streets. It made for a romantic first introduction to the city. We were staying in the Chartrons neighbourhood just east of the city centre. With a history of being the original major hub of Bordeaux’s wine trade, now the area is home to start-up businesses, antique shops, and artists. Every building had the air of a wine cellar (including our very musty, but cool hotel). We weaved through some of the dead streets and found the main square bustling with families enjoying evening al fresco dining. We shared charcuterie and an awesome bottle of wine at a Basque-style restaurant called Le Grat. The poor young server was running mad off his feet but was in good spirits.
We woke the next morning to some sun…finally! We took advantage and enjoyed a run along the Garonne. The city is definitely alive during the day with a bustling downtown. Practically every other storefront is a wine shop but would you expect anything else in Bordeaux? There is also the longest pedestrian street in Europe, Rue Sainte Catherine, jammed with shops and people. We spent the afternoon in a beautiful public garden with a bottle of wine and some sandwiches studying our wine materials to learn about the appellations, grape varieties and wines we had to look forward to in the week ahead of us.
We found dinner at a seafood restaurant along the river, and paired it with a 2-for-1 rose wine special. If only they served 2-for-1 bottles of wine at home! That would be trouble.
Oh Bordeaux wine country…where to start?! After two days in the city of Bordeaux we rented a car and headed to our B&B in the heart of wine country. There is so much to share about this adventure when we get home, but for now, here are some of the many highlights.
We stayed at a chambres d’hote called Domaine L’Amourette in Tizac-de-Curton, a small village just outside St. Emilion in the Entre-Deux-Mers region. Our warm host, Alexandra, had recently moved from Paris with her husband Arnauld to Tizac-de-Curton to renovate and run L’amourette. The original house was built around the 14th century, and had sat abandoned for 40 years. Alex and Arnaud have spent the last year and a half turning it into a charming, stylish and welcoming place to stay. We loved this place! Alex provided everything we could have possibly needed…a friendly welcome, breakfast with homemade cakes and jam, two very friendly dogs to play with and countless recommendations on what to do and where to eat in the area. Following Alex’s advice was the best thing we could have done as all of her tips provided memorable and authentic experiences.
St. Emilion is the ancient village at the heart of St. Emilion wine region. It’s named after a monk who settled there in the 8th century, although initial vines were planted by the Romans in the 2nd century. It sits on top of a hill overlooking vineyards as far as the eye can see, and is home to about 2000 residents (most of whom work in the village or the vineyards), and a continuous influx of tourists. You can understand why with its cobble-stoned streets, central clock tower, church ruins, beautiful old buidlings, 200km of underground pathways and caves, gardens, and of course, tons of wine.
My favourite experience in the village was enjoying a bottle of Cremant de Bordeaux (sparkling wine), settled in the gardens and church ruins of an old cloistre called Cloitre des Cordeliers (thanks Alex for that suggestion!). We also did a tour of the underground caves: the cave of Saint Emilion himself and a monolithic church.
This is where you put your empties
Night Market in Castillon la Bataille
On another great recommendation from Alex we drove into Castillon la Bataille to a night market for dinner. Four Thursdays in July and August several local food and wine producers set up stalls along the Dordogne River, a DJ sets up, and the town comes out for a night of festivities. We were lucky to catch the market on its last night and it was packed. Given our love of duck we headed straight for the duck man. Our order: Fresh grilled duck breast topped with grilled foie gras. I repeat: Fresh grilled duck breast topped with grilled foie gras. This was no ordinary market We enjoyed our plate of duck and salad with a 4EUR bottle of rose at sunset on our own little cement picnic table along the Dordogne River. It doesn’t get any better than that! For dessert (how we had room I don’t know), we shared a cup of fresh raspberries topped with whipped cream. We saddled up with the locals at one of the big long tables in the centre of the market, ordered another bottle of wine and spoke really bad French with some new friends who spoke even less English. Turns out my French gets better (and worse!) the more I drink. This was one of our favourite nights in this region and we’ll remember our friends in Castillon la Bataille for years to come.
Hmm, such a difficult choice
The weather had been getting increasingly hot and stifling so on a Saturday we headed to the Ocean to Arcachon. What should have been an hour’s drive took much longer in traffic…everyone else was headed to the beach too. Arcachon was a nice (touristy) spot, with street markets, bistros lining the beachfront, and plenty of beach for sunbathers. We took a 30-min ferry in some choppy water to Cap Ferret to check it out, see the oyster farms, and try a few at a tasting hut.
Only thing on the menu is wine, beer, shrimp and oysters… c’est tout!
On our way out of Arcachon we drove south a bit to check out the other beaches. They were less busy and more beautiful and we wished we’d spent the day there. We stopped at Les Dunes de Pyla which are these massive sand dunes sandwiched between forest and sea. We climbed up to the top for the magnificant view.
With the weather maintaining at about 38 degrees we sought refuge at a local ‘lake’ Alex told us about that was 10 minutes from Tizac-de-Curton. This place was the neatest little phenomenon. It was a man made little lake, with a beach and sandy bottom and by mid-afternoon it was jammed with locals also looking to cool off. We couldn’t stand more than 15 minutes at a time on the beach before we had to dip in the water. There were kids everywhere, lots of splashing and man-wrestling in the water, topless grandmas loving up the sun and water. It was a memorable afternoon. There was a little concession/beach bar too, but not with the typical burgers, hot dogs and ice cream menu we’d see back home. The menu, in addition to sandwiches, frites, and icecream, served duck confit, melon and jamon, escargots etc., along with wine and beer. I thought it was quintessentially french and perfect that duck confit made it onto a tiny beach hut’s menu. Blasimon was a great little gem in the middle of nowhere, and saved us from the ridiculous heat that day!
Aperitifs at the Church
Right next to L’Amourette was a small old church and cemetery with an awesome view of the neighbouring valley of vineyards in Entre-Deux-Mers. On evenings we were home for sunset we’d enjoy apertifs here, a glass of rose for me and Mitchell with a Ricard. Sigh…so beautiful. We still have many amazing places on our travel itinerary ahead, but I know Tizac-de-Curton will always have a special place in my heart.
Mitchell under the walnut tree
Quiche with Alex
On our last night in Tizac-de-Curton Alex invited us to join her for dinner. She taught me how to make a traditional quiche with lardons, egg and cheese, and then a second quiche with her favourite ingredients of tuna, tomatoes and feta. It was so nice to spend our last evening with Alex who had helped make our week in Bordeaux so special. I hope some day her travelling adventures will bring her and her family to Vancouver for a visit.
Mitchell and his new French friend, Monsieur Pastis
Rachel and Vador having a moment
All that adventure and we haven’t even started talking about wine yet. More to come soon!