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2 week trip to Southwest FranceAuthor: llindac
Date of Trip: May 2010
Map in hand, we set out the next day to do some tasting and touring. Most of the places we visited were small family run wineries. Wine here is primarily Merlot/Cab Franc/Cab Sauvignon blends. It is cheap and tasty at the small places. These are wines meant to be enjoyed early and not stored. The drive is beautiful with each turn revealing a gorgeous chateau or a quaint village. We got turned around quite a bit, but that was part of the adventure. One crazy turn brought us to the gorgeous church in the tiny village of Ste-Etienne de Lisse. Down the road, we happened on La Rose Mouteron winery run by a young family on a small plot of land. They lived and worked there, plus he was a winemaker at several large wineries so he knew his stuff! Their daughter was celebrating a birthday and they all came in to greet us. This is how we learn so much about wine- we meet the owners and they love to share their passion for the work. My advice to visitors is to check out St Emilion's website for info on the specific wineries they want to visit. We didn't really have a plan, but would have done better perhaps. There's always next time. As opposed to tasting rooms in California, most wineries here want to offer a tour (short) a visit to the grapes and then a taste. It's quite fun to do that, as we noticed that every one was different. Some picked by hand, some used machines. Some crushed grapes, some used entire grapes. Some were produced only in steel, others are aged in wood. I could do pages on this, but seeing and tasting and asking questions is the best way to understand wines from any region.
One side trip was a visit to the town of Libourne. It was bustling with activity on a Saturday with a street festival and music fest going on. They have reasonable shops for clothing and a good variety of stores. We had a very good lunch (moules frites) at the L'Orient Brasserie and enjoyed the street festivities. Oh those French do love their frites!
We heard a forecast of iffy weather for the week, so rather than drive to our next Chateau , we got an early start and drove to the coast to the town of Arcachon. We arrived on a Monday and it was not overly crowded. We found a spot near the beach to park and walked to our restaurant, Diego Plage, where we sat right on the beach under sprawling trees. It was a lunch for the senses watching people stroll by, smelling the food, sipping wine, watching palms sway and catching glimpses of topless women. Okay, that was Rick's moment. Our total was 118 euro! That was 2 huge platters of shrimp, 2 kinds of fish, a half lobster tail, scallops, two half bottles of expensive wine and a chocolate cake for Rick. How he ate that, I have no idea. We ate nothing the rest of the day! We enjoyed beach walking, shopping in the pretty town and walking by the sprawling mansions built in the late 1800's where the rich and famous lived and played. The oysters gathered here are as large as my hand and they are popular!
Later we drove to Bordeaux and arrived at Chateau Grattequina, a gorgeous place quietly set on the banks of the Dordogne away from noise and city bustle. Our room was beautiful with views of the gardens in the back and the river a few feet away. The property had a nice swimming pool as well.
Our first day was spent enjoying the city of Bordeaux, though parking was very difficult. Once we found a place and paid our 2 hour minimum price, we went exploring. I never saw a meter maid, so after the two hours we trusted fate that we wouldn't be towed. For a large city, I really loved Bordeaux! The Cathedrale Saint-Andre is on my top 4 list. It's huge and has so much history in it. I am a church nerd, I visit every one I see. Bordeaux has at least seven in walking distance of each other. The many little "places", or tiny squares, each have individual charm and a plethora of cafes. We made a stop at the Bar du Vin for an interesting and reasonable tasting. They also had some good reading material on Bordeaux wines.
The next day was overcast, so we planned for a long day at La Winery, a new concept for this part of France! The facility was built by a wine marketer to promote wine and all aspects of the elixir. It's large and modern with interesting art and sculpture. They are teamed with a local chateau should you want to visit a winery and the vineyards. They sell wines from all over the world, but mainly focus on French wines. There is a tasting bar and they also feature single wineries at specific dates. You can buy a bottle and take it to lunch at their LeWy restaurant on site (a very good bargain- no mark up!) We had a delicious lunch there and trusted our server to help us pair wines. I suggest that you make reservations both for your selection of "class" and for the meal. It was rather busy on a slow day. We wanted to do the terroir tasting, but it was full. Instead, we did the "wine type" where you are given a wine profile. It was a blind tasting of 6 kinds of wine. A hand held calculator registered your likes and opinions. Some questions concerned food and smells. Very interesting! My profile was slightly different than my husband's, but that was expected. We then shopped for some bottles to bring back and they were very helpful. I thought this place might smack of “'tourist” or “wine snobbery” but was not at all. The range in prices was a few dollars to over a thousand and they never pressured you to spend. There are 8 people who taste and run the tastings and such and they are well trained, friendly and lots of fun. It was a great day!
We tried to book Chateau Margaux a month early, but couldn't get in. Chateau Haut-Brion was closed, but they offered us a tour of the sister winery across the street, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion. We arrived on a windy day under blistering blue skies to this amazing Chateau which was once run by monks. To our surprise, the lovely Laetitia Dubos gave us a private tour complete with an English intro in the ancient chapel. The winery is gorgeous and the tour was unique. At the end, we entered a palatial tasting room and enjoyed tasting 1994 vintages of The Mission's and Haut-Brion's wine. What a treat! They don't sell at the winery, but are planning to open a shop in the future. After all that, our tour was free! Our hotel arranged a tour of the Chateau Pape St Clement close by. We arrived to find a group of 4 Americans touring with us. The chateau dates back to 1250 when it was owned by the Got family. Their son Bertrand was Archbishop of Bordeaux from 1299-1305 when he was appointed Pope and became Clement V. He then was given the estate which he named Pape Clement. The tour is another great one with many religious relics and vestments scattered through the rooms. We had an informative, if slow, tasting. They were really busy with locals coming in to get cases. That's a good sign. We splurged (I mean it) on a bottle of 2007 Clementin which we will cellar for a few years. With no plans for dinner, we followed some signs to Port LaGrange, a little seafood restaurant on the river. We were the first guests, but a party of 25 soon followed. They were in their 60's and they were having a blast. They sent their best English speaker to talk to us (funny) and I used my best French on them. The food was great, even though the communication wasn't perfect. I ordered an appetizer without knowing it, but it was good!! We had many laughs with our new friends and we serenaded them with "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" before leaving. We ended up there the next night and it was just as good, but quieter. The owner was already our buddy and we had fun with the staff. We had spent most of the day touring the beautiful countryside with the magnificent Chateaux. I've never seen anything quite like it. Accept a word of caution, however. The French take two hour lunches but drive like madmen on the tiny roads. They tailgate like crazy.
We turned our car in at Bordeaux and took a flight connecting at CDG. Flying from CDG, the plane was quite late for no explanation. We arrived in Montreal with about an hour, but at the kiosk Rick checked in, but mine was over the 45 min. mark by a few seconds. We had to deal strictly with Delta to get us home, they weren't too helpful. We arranged a flight to Atlanta which put us home 5 hours later than expected. Going through customs and security in Montreal was a joke. It took 50 minutes to move about 50 people. Everyone was complaining. I won't fly through Canada again, even though it did save us about 800 dollars.
The French people are warm, gracious and fun loving. After all, they coined the term joie de vivre! We never met a stranger. We were treated so well and helped whenever we faced adversity. Southwest France is a playground with so many wonderful things to see and do. It's a great place for visitors of any age. Merci et au revoir , la France!
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