The combination of wine, culture and cycling proves a winning one for Lara Dunn as she visits La Perle d’aquitaine
Enjoy the famous wines – and much more – on a stay in this vibrant city.
Ilove wine. But I don’t really know wine. Hence a trip to Bordeaux for a long weekend of education in the ways of the grape seemed like an excellent idea. The plan was to spend a couple of days at the vineyards and châteaux of Bernard Magrez to learn a little about the more luxurious side of Bordeaux and its wines.
Following that, I would stay in Bordeaux itself, visiting the recently opened Cité du Vin and exploring the city, old and new, by bicycle. After all, Bordeaux, a Unesco World Heritage site that was voted number one in the Top 10 Cities in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017, is also known as being great for cyclists.
There is something truly memorable about being met from the airport by a chauffeur-driven Rolls-royce, an experience undiminished by the flight having been easyjet rather than private jet. Pulling into the drive of Château Pape Clément in Pessac, an almost disappointingly short distance from the airport, did nothing to dispel my feeling that wine has long been soaked into the foundations of Bordeaux, and the city’s grandeur is built on vines. Simultaneously managing to be architecturally impressive, elegant and yet welcoming, the château gives a glimpse of that classic French château chic and the liquid wealth behind it. This was to be our base for the 48 hours of vineyard visits, wine tastings and a few extras, all part of the menu of activities on offer from the Bernard Magrez Luxury Wine Experience, from as little as €20, for a wine tasting and tour (luxurywineexperience.com).
With Magrez being the only owner in Bordeaux with four Grands Crus Classés, there is a visit, experience and, of course, wine, to suit all tastes. Enjoying lunch at another of his domaines, Château Fombrauge, was just like dining at home, if your home was sumptuously decorated
in classic French style, your furniture elegantly turned antiques and the glasses from which you sipped your dessert wine imported from Murano in Italy.
After lunch, I was treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the winery and cellars, and the unmissable chance to blend my own bottle, a surprisingly tricky business after the extensive tasting that went before! Later, back in Château Pape Clément, a further treat awaited in the form of a tutored session in pairing wines with different types of Sturia caviar. Normally accompanied by champagne or even vodka, the extravagant piscine delicacy married surprisingly well with different wines, and a white from Magrez’s own vineyards in Japan proved particularly intriguing.
Arriving in Bordeaux itself, I was struck by a fascinating blend of 18th-century grandeur with a modern and vibrant city going about its daily business. Far from being a tourist trap, Bordeaux has retained its identity while slowly starting to ramp up its appeal to visitors with recent renovations and developments. The effect is captivating for those who love a city break.
Jumping on to a Vcub city bike with a guide, I soon discovered the elegant buildings that are the legacy of the wine industry’s might, but also the medieval city gates, such as the instantly photogenic Porte Cailhau. Cruising along the bike paths on the promenade beside the River Garonne gave an insight into how much the city has changed under the mayoralty of Alain Juppé, as the area used to be largely occupied by warehouses and is now one of its recreational hubs. Crossing over the Pont de Pierre, the development became even clearer, with fashionable new areas such as Darwin making their mark in a similar vein to east London.
Soon, I was crossing back over the spectacular Pont Jacques Chaban-delmas, the longest vertical-lift bridge in Europe, going from one marvel of engineering to yet another, the eye-catching Cité du Vin. It was time to abandon my wheels in favour of an audio guide.
If my wine education in Bordeaux had started as very ‘lips on’ in the world of the winemakers, then the Cité du Vin helped to fill in the gaps, with its innovative multimedia displays and interactive exhibits documenting everything from the nitty-gritty of wine production through to its origins in the mists of time. Several hours passed swiftly and yet there was still plenty to see. Locals stress that it is worth regular visits to appreciate it piecemeal. Sadly, time was pressing as I needed to return to the centre of the city for dinner, travelling along the now-floodlit waterfront again, this time by tram.
Taking the TGV back from the Gare Saint-jean (currently undergoing major refurbishments) the next morning, I reflected on the incredible food and wine I had enjoyed during the previous couple of days, as well as the buzz of the city and the wealth of its culture and history. Really, though, I had barely scratched the surface of everything that Bordeaux has to offer as a short-break destination. I am now looking forward to the new faster trains later this year.
In Château Pape Clément, a further treat awaited in the form of a tutored session in pairing wines with different types of Sturia caviar
By rail: Lara travelled to Bordeaux from Gatwick with easyjet, single fares from £29.99 (tel: 0330 365 5000). She returned to London via Paris with Voyages-sncf, single fares from £63, return fares from £111 (tel: 0844 848 5848, voyages-sncf.com). See page 29 for more travel information.
Bordeaux is a perfect size to discover by bicycle, and the city is criss-crossed by segregated bike paths and quiet back streets. Nearly 1,500 Vcub city bikes are available for a €1 access fee and a €200 deposit each, then are free for the first 30 minutes of each journey. The automated hire process is not as straightforward as some, but it is worth persisting with (vcub.fr). The old city and waterfront are easily explored on foot, while the excellent network of trams covers longer journeys for just €1.50 for a single journey or €4.60 for a one-day travel pass (infotbm.com).
WHERE TO STAY
Lara stayed at: Château Pape Clément 216 Avenue du Docteur Nancel Pénard 33600 Pessac Tel: (Fr) 5 57 26 38 38 bernard-magrez.com/ en/wines/chateaupape-clement Just a short drive from the airport, this stunning château offers a refined and relaxed atmosphere in beautiful grounds, as well as classic vineyard views. Doubles from €230 including breakfast.
Hôtel de Tourny
16 Rue Huguerie 33000 Bordeaux Tel: (Fr) 5 56 81 56 73 hoteldetourny.com A modern, design-led, 12-bedroom hotel that is central, yet quiet, and combines stylish decor with all the amenities required for a comfortable city stay, at a decent price. Doubles from £121.
WHERE TO EAT
Lara ate at: Pierre Gagnaire Gastronomic Restaurant La Grande Maison de Bernard Magrez 10 Rue Labottière 33000 Bordeaux Tel: (Fr) 5 35 38 16 16 lagrandemaisonbordeaux.com Part of the hotel La Grande Maison de Bernard Magrez, this stands on its own feet as a superb fine-dining restaurant. With renowned chef Pierre Gagnaire and his right-hand-man Jean-denis Lebras at the helm, at least one Michelin star is surely looming. À la carte or tasting menus available. Three-course lunch menu €65.
14 Rue Paul Louis Lande 33000 Poitiers Tel: (Fr) 5 56 49 06 49 cote-rue-bordeaux.fr Located a short way from the main tourist eating areas, this restaurant is a real find. For exquisitely flavoured dishes, in a relaxed yet sophisticated setting, it’s hard to beat. Make sure to book! Seven-course tasting menu €56, lunch menus from €25.
WHERE TO VISIT
La Cité du Vin 134-150 Quai de Bacalan 1 Esplanade de Pontac 33300 Bordeaux Tel: (Fr) 5 56 16 20 20 laciteduvin.com Bordeaux’s pride and joy opened last June and delivers a fully interactive experience that lies somewhere between a viticulture theme park and a museum. An audio guide is freely available, making it perfect for all nationalities, and the views from the top floor are unmissable. Admission €20 adult (including a 50cl glass of wine on the Belvedere viewing floor).
Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez
16 Rue Tivoli 33000 Bordeaux Tel: (Fr) 5 56 81 72 77 institut-bernardmagrez.com Situated just across the road from La Grande Maison de Bernard Magrez, this gracious building houses the owner’s personal art collection and features permanent exhibits, along with a temporary space for local artists. Admission from €8.
FACING PAGE: Cyclists and joggers beside the River Garonne in Bordeaux; ABOVE: Impressive wine cellars at Château Pape Clément in Pessac; RIGHT: Vcub city bikes near the Cité du Vin
ABOVE: La Grande Maison de Bernard Magrez in Bordeaux seen from his cultural institute. In the foreground is a Jaguar car from the winemaker’s collection, decorated by American graffiti artist Jonone; TOP: The Le Clos des Songes room at Château Pape Clément