I can find a million excuses to plan a getaway and wine is usually a good one. When your in-laws happen to be in one of the most well-known wine regions in the world for the week, it’s only fitting that you join them. Despite being the only wine lover in the group, we managed to have a wonderful time in Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion and Biarritz while I enjoyed copious amounts of grape juice in all three cities.
We had planned a few activities, some worked out, but the highlight of our trip got cancelled due to rain. I think my in-laws were relieved that they didn’t have to climb into a hot-air balloon and fly over a town in a basket! We left this little bit of information out until we got to Bordeaux since we like to surprise them with experiences they wouldn’t otherwise try on their own. Oh well, next time. What we did end up doing is spending time in Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion and Biarritz over the long weekend.
Table Of Contents
Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion and Biarritz Long Weekend
One Night In Bordeaux At A Luxury Boutique Hotel
Although it was our first time visiting Bordeaux, we only spent one night in this lovely city. At first glance, it’s definitely on our list of return destinations. There are a few 5-star luxury hotels in the Bordeaux region, and we decided to stay in the city centre at Yndo. This luxury hotel in the heart of Bordeaux located in a 19th-century building only has twelve rooms. We stayed in one of their Crazy Rooms, I found out the name when we checked out and thought it was very fitting. The décor is very particular but yet tasteful, it works.
Each room in the Yndo hotel is a piece of art. The furniture, the accessories, the art, are all carefully selected to create an incredibly visually appealing experience for its guests. I love when designers have free reign on their creative expression and Yndo is an interior designer’s dream.
A Stroll Around The City Of Bordeaux
Since we only had one night, we decided to take a stroll around the city before heading to dinner. The architecture is world-class in this city nicknamed “la belle endormie.” Turns out the city was dubbed “sleeping beauty” because the facades of its neoclassical buildings were covered in a black film due to pollution, there were abandoned warehouses, and the city was plagued by traffic. This all seems difficult to imagine today as none of these things were made apparent during our short time in Bordeaux.
Before our visit, I looked into the possibility of attending a live orchestra at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux and unfortunately, the schedule didn’t permit. Not only can you attend a live orchestra but there is also ballet and the choir of the Opera National de Bordeaux.
As you walk the streets in the centre of town, you will find independent shops and department stores stocked with local and international brands. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on who you ask, the stores were closed around 7 pm on a Friday evening. Like most European cities stores are also closed on Sundays, and in this case, they also take a nice two-hour lunch break in the afternoon each day. I was working retail in the wrong country in my early days!
Dining Options In Bordeaux
We only had time for two meals in Bordeaux, and I was going to make the most of it! Those who read my blog, know how important the food component is to our travel itineraries. We had dinner at Le Bouchon Bordelais, a small French Bistro a short walk from le Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. The evening menu is short and simple with dishes made from local, seasonal ingredients. Leave room for the dessert, the Chocolathérapie is really therapeutic.
Before heading to our wine tour in Saint-Emilion on Saturday, we had lunch at L'Entrecôte, and it seems that everyone in Bordeaux had the same idea. This restaurant chain has locations around the world, and if you are looking for a no-fuss delicious casual meal, this is an excellent choice! Two dishes: steak-frites and profiteroles. That’s all you should be ordering along with a Bordeaux wine.
Saint-Emilion Wine And Village Private Afternoon Tour
We decided to drive to Saint-Emilion from Bordeaux despite the fact that the transfer was included in our private tour. Initially, our booking included a hot-air balloon ride followed by a visit to a Grand Cru Estate and a tour of Saint-Emilion. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans for us, and our plans were slightly altered. We would now be visiting two Estates followed by a tour of Saint-Emilion. Our guide Remi met us at the Saint-Emilion Tourism Office where we hopped in his car and made our way to Château La Croizille.
The microclimate of Saint-Emilion is perfect for growing grape vines, and the soil is made up of not only clay and limestone but also pure lime, blue and red clay and even loam. The sub-soil consists of soft rock mixed with clay which is said to retain water which is then released back to the vines during periods of drought.
Wine Tasting And Tour Of Château La Croizille
Owned by a Belgian family, this Saint-Emilion Grand Cru occupies 5 hectares. We met with Elaine, the owner, who took us on a private tour of the property while she explained the production process. Saint-Emilion does not produce single-varietal wines, also known as monocépage, and the primary production in the region is Merlot. We also learned that the wine produced from old vines is given the Château’s name whereas the second production, less expensive, is given a different name. This applies to other Estates as well. Château La Croizille uses high-end technology to produce their wines, but you will find little bits of history throughout the property. The 450-year-old well is one of them, they found it when they rebuilt the property.
Finally, my favourite part of our visit, the wine tasting! We tasted three different wines; The Château La Croizille, La Dame de Baladoz and Château Tour Baladoz. My favourite ended up being the least expensive of the three, La Dame de Beladoz, proving that wine should not be judged by its price. My mother-in-law insisted on gifting us a shipment of 6 bottles and of course I obliged. Never going to say no to wine as a gift! *Hint* *Hint*
Wine Tasting And Tour Of Château Côte de Baleau
Our second stop was Château Côte de Baleau, run by the Cuvelier family. This is a more traditional Estate which has been passed down from woman to woman. The property reminds you of a fairytale castle found in Disney movies, it is charming and Instagram worthy, if you’re into that. Remi, our lovely guide, introduced us to a fun game called Le Nez Du Vin. For someone with a heightened sense of smell, I thought I'd kick butt at this fun little game! But it turns out, I’m not so good… My mother-in-law, on the other hand, got two out four aromas correct. Le Nez du Vin is an entertaining, educational kit/game made up of several numbered small bottles where you have to guess the aroma. It is supposed to help develop your sense of smell, and you'll learn the proper vocabulary to describe, understand and enjoy wine.
Following my epic fail at the game, we made our way to the wine tasting. My nose may not work, but at least my taste buds haven’t failed me thus far. We were served a platter with cheese, almonds, chocolate, bread and charcuterie to compliment our tasting which we enjoyed while we sipped on our wine and learned about the Estate. All great things must come to an end but living in Europe has its perks! More bottles shipped to the house, please!
The 4 Steps Of Wine Tasting
Apparently, this is the snobby French way of doing a wine tasting. Not my words.
- Contrast the wine’s colour against a white background.
- Give the wine a quick swirl around the glass to check its legs;
- Begin to taste the wine by swishing it around in your mouth
- Evaluate the finish of the wine. There shouldn't be an alcohol taste.
Important Information About Wine Tasting In Saint-Emilion
Only 300 out of the 8-10 thousand estates are open to the public by appointment only. Which means you can’t just show up to Saint-Emilion and expect to walk into a Château for a tasting. You can visit the Saint-Emilion Tourism Board website to see the list of Châteaux so you can choose which wine estate to visit and book your appointment ahead of time. Once a year, there is an open house that spans over the course of a weekend where the public can visit wine estates without an appointment. This usually takes place the last weekend of April, or the first weekend of May. I would contact the tourism board ahead of time to find out the exact dates.
You can also do as we did and book through a tour company. Winerist offers 90 tours in France and many more in other countries around the world. You can select a half-day tour, a full-day tour, multiple days and you also have the choice between a group or private tour. The service was on point, we made a few changes to our itinerary, and our consultant made sure we were taken care of.
Town of Saint-Emilion Tour
Our final stop before heading to Biarritz was the town of Saint-Emilion. Remi charmed his way into the wine caves at Clos des Menuts since we got there right at closing time and would have otherwise been turned away. These unique monolithic cellars are a popular stop when visiting the medieval city. Once you are done visiting the cellars, you can make your way to the tasting room where visitors can enjoy some wine. This unique wine producing institution goes back to 1538, which is the date of the first written record of the sale of a wine barrel. Worth a visit!
Saint-Emilion, a medieval town rich in history, was named a Cultural Landscape on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999. It is the first vineyard in the world to get this title due to its surprising underground heritage. The city was once named Ascumbas before Emilion, a Breton monk, created a large monastic town to which he gave his name. Today, there is 200 km of galleries below the vineyards that are still used as cellars by wine producers.
Two Nights In Biarritz At Hôtel Du Palais
When you think of Biarritz hotels, there is one that stands out, and it is Hôtel du Palais. This property has a rich history dating back to Napolean III. Hôtel du Palais was built for Eugenie de Montijo by Napolean III as their summer beach house, and it’s unique ‘E’ shape was a little touch to show how much he loved her. I mean, if that isn’t romantic I don’t know what is. The timeless elegance of the property is showcased throughout, and if you like Empire Style interiors you will absolutely love this hotel. I, on the other hand, have a preference for modern-minimalist designs and did not adore the décor. To each their own.
We decided to spoil my in-laws and booked them in the Sissi suite, named after Empress Elizabeth of Austria. The Suite has a massive terrace with an ocean view, a sitting area and a really regal feel. Unlike me, they loved the décor! Our room, I’d like to say was understated, but I’d be lying. It was just as Empire-like, with it’s red velvet chairs and grandiose floor to ceiling curtains. I did appreciate the very high ceilings and the partial ocean view.
There was a full-sized Eau de Cologne Impérial in the bathroom, which I thought was a very nice gift. I was later told that Napoleon III had Guerlain create the fragrance for Eugenie. The late Eugenie suffered from migraines, and Napoleon wanted a scent to help alleviate her pain. I may have a little crush on Napoleon III…
Dinner At L'Impératrice - Hôtel Du Palais
A fine dining experience is always welcome! L'Impératrice, the main restaurant at Hôtel Du Palais, is where we decided to have dinner the night we arrived. I opted for the grilled prawns, marinated with fish masala, avocado, cucumber and quinoa followed by the sole Meuniere. All the dishes were delicious, and the service was impeccable.
Treatments At Le Spa Imperial
The weather forecast didn’t look promising so we booked treatments at the spa on Sunday morning. My mother-in-law and I indulged in a 1h20 minute facial which included an exclusive 19-minute Guerlain facial massage, and the men opted for 1h20 minute massage. I didn’t love the facial, I’ve had better, but it was relaxing. The spa relaxation room is really nice, you get to enjoy an ocean view in between treatments and refreshments.
An afternoon In Biarritz
Lucky for us, the sun made an appearance, so we took a walk around town. There aren’t a million things to do in Biarritz, so it was nice just to take a leisurely stroll and do a little shopping. Biarritz is known for its surfing, and you’ll find brave surfers in the ocean trying to catch a wave even in the coldest of weather. Keep in mind that restaurants close for a couple of hours between lunch and dinner and your options are very limited.
Dinner At A One-Michelin Star Restaurant in Biarritz
On our last evening, we dined at Les Rosiers, a restaurant situated in a house outside the centre of Biarritz. The restaurant offers a tasting menu, usually my first choice, but because we did not have the entire table’s buy-in, we went a la carte. I am still dreaming about their dessert, the fluffy chocolate base with roasted corn ice cream and light popcorn mousse was divine! Worth the 15-minute drive from Hôtel Du Palais.
That ends a perfect long weekend getaway spent sipping on some of the best wines in the world in Saint-Emilion and Bordeaux, a fabulous stay at Hôtel Du Palais in Biarritz and last but not least great company. If you don’t mind driving and hopping from one city to another, this is a fun itinerary. You get to enjoy three different cities that each have something special to offer. This trip was a success compared to our previous visit to the Basque Country!