Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bordeaux, part une

France: the land of wine and cheese! My goal this past week was to show the visiting parents-in-law a slice of our life in France. With tours of Clermont-Ferrand, a climb of Puy de Dôme and marché shopping crossed off the list, the focus turned to food and drink. Over the week we sampled at least ten local cheeses and a few wines. Our tour guides from the Université Blaise-Pascal were a trés informatique on local cheeses, but other than a few books on wine I wasn’t able to provide much information on vin and the different areas of wine production. Roberts and I had not yet been to Bordeaux (we drove around it on our way home from Fort Louvois but did not stop), and I decided what better way to learn than a trip to perhaps the most famous wine region in the world.

With the tourist season and grape harvest over, we were guaranteed a calm visit, however we lucked out with the weather. Sunny, clear skies and warm temperatures complemented the scenery, and I remarked often that the vistas seemed taken from a photography book. We arrived Friday night just in time for a dinner, and then continued to our château. Saturday we started the day off with a degustation at the local winery, Château L’Hoste Carney.

Lestiac-sur-Garonne is a tiny village on the north bank of the Garonne river, southeast of Bordeaux. The grapes for the rosé wine were grown just behind the wine chateau, while the rest adorned the hillside up towards our lodgings, no doubt enhancing the scene I had admired just twenty minutes before. The host led us through the entire selection of wines, from the rosé to the dry white, two reds and finally a sweet white desert wine. We learned in detail where the grapes were grown, what blends were used and which meals to serve with each wine to complement the wine. We left with several boxes of our favorites and a new appreciation for each of the thousands of tiny wineries throughout the region.

Examining the vines with grandma

Nearby we stopped in the city of Rions, a small fortified town entered through the 14th century Porte du Lyyan with all its original defensive features intact. The ramparts were impressive, as were the old houses. Next, Cadillac, with the remains of the 14yth century walls still visible. We had just missed the morning market, and the vendors were busy dismantling their stalls in the narrow cobblestone streets. The Château de Cadillac was prominent right in the town center as well as a beautiful little church. Several cafés and ice creams later we were back in the car, continuing southeast along the Garonne river.

I had been looking forward to Ste-Croix-du-Mont ever since I had read about its caves in the Michelin Green Guide (tMg). Hollowed out from a thick fossilized oyster bed that dates to the Tertiary Era, one has been turned into a cave de degustation where visitors can sample the various white wines which have made the reputation of this little village. However, it was not meant to be; the caves were a steep hike down from the parking lot and the tasting cellar was also closed for the season. I swallowed my disappointment as we piled back into the car and headed north.

In the hallow of a valley are the remains of the Benedictine Ancienne Abbaye de Blasimon, an old abbey which was once encircled by fortified walls with one remaining tower. The church, built in the 12th and 13th century has the most intricate carvings I’ve seen to this point here in France above the main doorway. We relaxed and enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air; Roberts and Lauris found a spot in the meadow with grandpa to soak in some rays while I photographed the abbey and wildflower meadow planted next to the ruins.

The one remaining tower

Our final stop of the day was St-Émilion, the renowned wine center north of the Dordogne river. Surrounded by vineyards the town is a maze of steep, narrow streets, stairways and small squares that merits a return visit. We started with a walk along the ramparts admiring the scenery, before heading into to the 12th century Église Monolithe (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the largest monolithic sanctuary in Europe to be carved from a single solid block of rock. The view of the town and surrounding area from this point was fantastic. On our return trip we will have to explore the town further; we only saw the belfry but the side of the cliff is filled with caves, catacombs, a hermitage, a chapel and an underground church. At the foot is Place du Marché, the main square and market place circled by wine shops and restaurants, at one of which we ate dinner. Le Bouchon was suggested by tMg, and with its central location, reasonable prices and outdoor veranda turned out to be a great choice. My in-laws really liked the food, I wasn’t as impressed with my plat but did agree that the service was impeccable and the cuisine traditional and fresh. The chocolate crêpe to top everything off made up for any shortcomings…

Dinner in the Place du Marche


  1. I am learning so much from your posts. How long will your parents be there?

  2. Looks like it was a tres fantastique day! I spent nearly a week in Paris in 1998 with Lane and when we took the train from Paris to Germany, the French countryside was so beautiful and I wish we had time to stop and check it out. Maybe one of these days we'll get back to France and hit wine country.

  3. Thank you for the information on the area. We will be traveling there soon!


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