Châteaux Tours, Out Amongst the Vines

Op­tions when vis­it­ing Bordeaux châteaux used to be lim­ited. Now the choice is not just where to go, but who to go with and how to get there!

Bordeaux J'Adore - - Contents - ✒ CARO­LINE MATTHEWS

OF THE 10 MIL­LION OR SO WINE TOURISTS WHO VIS­ITED FRENCH VINEYARDS IN 2016, 18% CAME TO BORDEAUX, mak­ing it the num­ber one des­ti­na­tion for this au­di­ence. Per­cep­tions that the re­gion is closed and un­wel­com­ing are ob­so­lete. Châteaux have re­acted to the growth in this in­dus­try by open­ing their doors and adapt­ing the of­fer be­yond a stan­dard tour and tast­ing, in an ef­fort to ap­peal more to gas­tronomes, fam­i­lies and those with in­ter­ests com­pli­men­tary to wine.

The num­ber of for­eign­ers over­all is also on the rise, rep­re­sent­ing over 40% of tourists seek­ing to visit winer­ies and stay amongst the vines. Given their propen­sity to spend more than the av­er­age vis­i­tor, there has been a no­table de­vel­op­ment in châteaux in­vest­ing in an­cil­lary ser­vices, as a means of at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing these clients for longer pe­ri­ods. In par­tic­u­lar, the sweet wine re­gion of Sauternes will ben­e­fit from a num­ber of these ven­tures dur­ing 2018, with the es­tab­lish­ment of restau­rants and a lux­ury ho­tel at clas­si­fied growth es­tates.

Art and Ar­chi­tec­ture

Other clas­si­fied growth es­tates pre­fer to keep their works of art in­doors. The Mu­seum of Wine in Art at Château Mou­ton

Roth­schild houses rare items of glass­ware, porce­lain, sil­ver­ware and ta­pes­tries, all with a con­nec­tion to wine. The château is also rec­og­nized as hav­ing an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of mod­ern art­work, due to the tra­di­tion of invit­ing artists to de­sign la­bels. Orig­i­nal paint­ings by Miró, Cha­gall, Pi­casso, Dali, Warhol, Koons and Hock­ney can be viewed as part of the “Art & Wine” visit which lasts over 2 hours and also in­cludes the wine ar­ti­facts. At Château Palmer, pho­tog­ra­phy is the pre­ferred art medium. Ex­hi­bi­tions by French and in­ter­na­tional pho­tog­ra­phers are dis­played in the spe­cially de­signed tast­ing room and can be viewed at the end of a two and a half hour tour. Up to 3 ex­hi­bi­tions are sched­uled each year, with work by Bernard Plossu, Ernest Pignon-ernest and Ray­mond Depar­don planned for 2018. At nearby Château d’ar­sac, the con­nec­tion with art is the over­rid­ing theme for vis­its, which per­ma­nently fea­tures work by the likes of Bernard Pagès and Bernar Venet. For owner Philippe Raoux, the ar­rival of each new sculp­ture equates to an ex­ten­sion of the château’s ar­chi­tec­ture. At other es­tates, the winer­ies them­selves are the works of art. Am­bi­tious de­signs, of­ten by ‘star­chi­tects’ like Philippe Starck who was re­spon­si­ble for the metal, glass and con­crete blade at Château les Carmes Haut-brion, are be­com­ing a more fre­quent sight on the vine­yard land­scape. Some­times orig­i­nal ar­chi­tec­ture can be re­tained, as with the ex­am­ple of the rein­ven­tion of Château Péde­sclaux by Jean-michel Wil­motte by the ad­di­tion of sym­met­ri­cal glass ex­ten­sions to the orig­i­nal mod­est stone house. Mod­ern de­signs can be in­flu­enced too by older ar­chi­tec­tural styles, as was the case with Mario Botta and Château Faugères, which was in­spired by an 18th-cen­tury char­treuse.

Spot­light on Sauternes

Also owned by Sil­vio Denz - Château Lafau­rie-peyraguey - is at the cen­tre of some ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ments in Sauternes, which are set to at­tract more visi­tors to this part of the wine re­gion. On the 400th an­niver­sary of the château, the doors will open in May 2018 to a lux­ury Re­lais & Châteaux ho­tel, with 13 in­di­vid­u­ally dec­o­rated rooms de­signed by Lalique. Given the com­mon owner, the part­ner­ship with the crys­tal pro­ducer is an ideal match and its in­flu­ence will be felt on the dé­cor, from door han­dles and chan­de­liers to spe­cially com­mis­sioned carafes for the bar. No sur­prise then that it will also fea­ture in the name; Ho­tel & Restau­rant Lalique, the din­ing room of which will over­look the sur­round­ing vineyards. Headed by Jérôme Schilling, a for­mer head chef at Villa René Lalique in Al­sace, the am­bi­tion is to match pre­vi­ous achieve­ments and to at­tain a 2 Miche­lin star rating in the first year.

Ac­cord­ing to David Bolzan, the di­rec­tor of the clas­si­fied growth es­tate, the aim of the ho­tel is to “wel­come, amaze and sur­prise guests,” and to pro­vide a

fit­ting lo­ca­tion where sweet wines can be cel­e­brated. His en­thu­si­asm for the project is matched only by his af­fec­tion for the ap­pel­la­tion over­all, man­i­fested in his spear­head­ing of a cam­paign which could see Sauternes awarded Unesco World Her­itage sta­tus, which if suc­cess­ful, would at­tract more visi­tors to the area.

As part of the ho­tel de­vel­op­ment, Lafau­rie-peyraguey will be open for vis­its 7 days a week, join­ing fam­ily-run es­tates such as Château de Far­gues which is also open week­ends. By ap­point­ment, visi­tors can tour the ru­ins of the 14th-cen­tury fortress, ac­com­pa­nied by a mem­ber of the Lur Saluces fam­ily, be­fore watch­ing a video about the his­tory of this im­por­tant Sauternes dy­nasty. An­other chateau which was owned by the fam­ily for over 300 years – Yquem – is also open for vis­its 7 days a week (by ap­point­ment only) but it is free to wan­der the gar­dens and visit the bou­tique with­out prior ar­range­ment.

In Fe­bru­ary 2018, next door Château Guiraud be­came the first Bordeaux 1st growth es­tate to open an on­site restau­rant. The for­mer 18th-cen­tury protes­tant chapel was the ideal lo­ca­tion for a

part­ner­ship with Ni­co­las Lascombes, a restau­ra­teur who fa­vors the use of lo­cal and or­ganic pro­duce, which is in fit­ting with the agri­cul­tural prac­tices of the prop­erty. Un­sur­pris­ingly, sweet wines are well rep­re­sented on a list boast­ing more than 500 ref­er­ences, with a com­pli­men­tary glass of Petit Guiraud served on ar­rival in the restau­rant, which boasts wood, stone and leather in­te­ri­ors, com­fort­able de­signer chairs and a large cen­tral ta­ble. Vis­its at the château it­self can be with or with­out ap­point­ment, 7 days a week and dur­ing the sum­mer months, open­ing times will be ex­tended to cater for those who may wish to stop by be­fore din­ner at La Chapelle.

Trav­el­ling en famille

The op­por­tu­nity to visit châteaux of­ten presents it­self to tourists dur­ing fam­ily hol­i­days and as such, they are ac­com­pa­nied on wine tours by their chil­dren. Keep­ing lit­tle peo­ple in­ter­ested in bar­rel cel­lars and wine tast­ing is no mean feat but for­tu­nately many Bordeaux wine pro­duc­ers live up to their château name. One such es­tate which re­ally catches the imag­i­na­tion is the fairy­tale-like Château d’agas­sac, with its slated tur­rets, moat and nearby for­est. The his­tory of the cas­tle, which can be dated back to the 13th-cen­tury, is fea­tured in the “Ad­ven­ture Trail” game, where chil­dren are tasked with free­ing an im­pris­oned princess, whilst adults can learn more about the wines, via tablet de­vices.

Adding an­i­mals to the wine tour of­fer­ing can also raise in­ter­est lev­els. Back in the 19th-cen­tury, the Bouteiller fam­ily of Château Lanes­san took ad­van­tage of their lo­ca­tion on an 8 hectare park to in­vest in sta­bles, which to­day house a horse mu­seum. Belle époque pe­riod car­riages and sad­dlery equip­ment are some of the main at­trac­tions, while tours of the es­tate in a horse-drawn car­riage can also be ar­ranged. The an­i­mals en­coun­tered dur­ing the 2 hour walk along the Land’art path at Château Smith Haut Lafitte are of­ten un­ex­pected but a joy to dis­cover. This as­pect of the trail has a large ap­peal to chil­dren, who take plea­sure in climb­ing into the loft of the replica pi­geon­nier from the Mid­dle Ages or try­ing to lo­cate the wooded stork’s nest hid­den in a beach tree. Wildlife, such as bad­gers and farm an­i­mals like lla­mas can also be spot­ted and visi­tors are ac­tively en­cour­aged to taste the fruit and smell the herbs of the scent gar­den. Us­ing one’s nose will also be cen­tral to a new fam­ily ac­tiv­ity at Château La Do­minique dur­ing 2018. The “Lit­tle Wine Ex­perts” tour will al­low a younger au­di­ence to dis­cover the aro­mas most closely as­so­ci­ated with wine and fin­ish with a tast­ing of grape juice and the award­ing of a di­ploma. Although it is not pos­si­ble for them to try the wine at the top, chil­dren are still mo­ti­vated to climb the 200 year old cedar tree at Château de Rayne Vigneau, to the perched tast­ing area over­look­ing the Ciron val­ley. The château is also one of the few es­tates to start of­fer­ing an es­cape game in 2018, which are of­ten pop­u­lar with young and old kids alike! At Château de la Rivière, the game has the added at­trac­tion of be­ing lo­cated in the un­der­ground maze of lime­stone cel­lars.

Way to go!

Once it has been de­cided where to visit, the at­ten­tion of­ten turns to how to get there. Spit­toons are a com­mon sight in châteaux tast­ing rooms but most are un­der­used. So how are visi­tors choos­ing to travel? Of course there are many com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing car and chauf­feur

ser­vices, but some are di­ver­si­fy­ing into other ve­hi­cles and not all are road-based. Although it may seem out of place amongst the vineyards, tour­ing château by Lon­don taxi is no longer an un­com­mon sight, thanks to Wine Cab and their three, spe­cially adapted cars, with back seat, wine-tast­ing fa­cil­i­ties. An­other un­usual ve­hi­cle, the Tuk Tuk, can be spot­ted rat­tling along the cob­bled streets of Saint-emil­ion and around the nearby châteaux. 100% elec­tric, it’s the canny op­tion for visi­tors who are stay­ing lo­cally as taxis can be in short sup­ply. Guar­an­teed to make heads turn is the op­tion to ar­rive at a château Hastride a hand­made Har­ley David­son. As an ex­am­ple of the jour­ney be­ing as im­por­tant as the des­ti­na­tion, their tours are mar­keted more around the num­ber of kilo­me­ters cov­ered rather than wines tasted. If these wannabe HOGS are dis­ap­pointed at hav­ing to spit rather than swal­low, it is not re­flected in Tourochâteaux’s dis­claimer which re­fuses all re­spon­si­bil­ity for their clients sub­se­quently buy­ing their own bikes! Ex­trav­a­gant as it may sound, other clients are pre­pared to go a step fur­ther, to avoid traf­fic and make an en­trance. Dur­ing a he­li­copter ride with Jet Sys­tems, it is pos­si­ble to en­joy views of the main vine­yard ar­eas plus the Gironde es­tu­ary, while still hav­ing time to stop off for tours and tast­ings at châteaux. Although the as­cent and de­cent may be slower, a hot air bal­loon ride over Saint-emil­ion and the sur­round­ing vineyards is no less spec­tac­u­lar.


La chapelle de Guiraud.


Wine Cab in Mé­doc.


Hot air bal­loon in the vineyards.


Château d’ar­sac.


Har­ley David­sons in Saint-emil­ion.


Château Lafau­rie-peyraguey in Sauternes.

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