Wine Crush | The grape escape

23 Sep 2017
4 min read
Forget the Côte d’Azur or the bright lights of Paris and head to France’s south-west wine region and the village of Bages for unadulterated, wine-induced indulgence, writes Kerry Spencer for FOUR International…

What are the most important factors of consideration when planning a relaxing trip? Award-winning French cuisine in the setting of a luxury hotel? Access to a local village atmosphere with authentic food markets and chic shops, with acres of vineyards to explore, stretching as far as the eye can see? If this all sounds like your idea of the perfect getaway, Château Cordeillan-Bages is just the tonic.

ChâteauCordeillan-Bages is aRelais & Châteaux property in the heart of the Médoc region, offering its guests a masterclass in the art of fine living. It is situated amid the largest fine wine vineyards in the world; Pétrus, d’Yquem, Mouton-Rothschild, Cheval-Blanc and Haut-Brion, among others. The luxury hotel and two-Michelin-starred restaurant is well located, placed 40 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean and 50 kilometres from the city of Bordeaux (Bordeaux is also the nearest airport).

The château is full of French country-chic charm in a pared back luxurious setting. Home to 24 bedrooms and four sites, each one has been artfully styled, offering views of the inner courtyard. Outside, there is an enticing 25-metre swimming pool adjacent to a sauce and gym. While the château provides ample opportunity to relax, it is the food and drink offerings that will spoil you rotten.

The star of the region’s culinary scene is the 50-seat restaurant, presided over byRelais & Châteaux Grand Chef . ’s menu works in harmony and is within perfect context of the region. In contrast to Paris, where bistronomy is still very much the fashion, is unafraid of designing his menu around contemporary French cuisine, using classic and luxury ingredients, such as pigeon, foie gras, oyster and caviar, combined with high techniques, in order to present carefully-crafted dishes.

The beauty of Château Cordeillan-Bages is that guests not only get to dine in the restaurant, but also get the chance to take a masterclass with in the kitchen. Pupils learn how to make a selection of the dishes served on the restaurant’s menu, such as the warm foie gras with a crispy cereal toast and the oyster tempura. Cooking classes last two hours (€80) and are subject to a minimum of two people, which can be arranged by the hotel.

Once you’ve hung up your apron and changed for dinner, take a seat on the terrace outside, which overlooks row upon row of vines. Before dinner, relax over a glass of champagne, taking full advantage of the hotel’s 200 varieties on offer.

Escorted into the restaurant, which is filled with a mix of locals and visiting guests, offers a mix of set menus, an à la carte menu and a nine-course tasting menu. Dishes are expertly prepared and presented with great delicacy, with standout courses including the lightly smoked pigeon and the ‘textures’ of dark chocolate—a truly memorable finish. Make time to get to know the impressive wine list with each course, too. In the midst of the world’s finest appellations, the wine cellar offers the best crus from Bordeaux and beyond, while the château’s own varieties are a must try.

After a lengthy dinner, take yourself off to your room or suite’s large and luxurious bed for a peaceful night’s sleep ready for a day of sightseeing, shopping and wine tasting ahead.

While wine destinations such as Napa Valley in California actively promote wine tourism, Bordeaux can be somewhat of a closed door to eager wine-lovers. Château Lynch-Bages, Château Cordeillan-Bages’s wine offshoot, is different, however. Forward-thinking in their approach to wine tourism, Château Lynch-Bages offer tours, tastings, classes at the Cercle Lynch-Bages wine school and a museum chronicling the history of the estate, all conveniently located within a short walk of the hotel in Bages.

Bages might be small, but it offers plenty for visitors. Before exploring the village, take a short drive into the centre of Pauillac to the local market, open Saturday mornings. Stock up on provisions for a picnic or simply take in the vibrancy as animated locals gather to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, shellfish and seafood, bread, flowers and other groceries.

Back in Bages, browse Au Baba d’Andréa bakery for sweet treats and Bages Bazaar for unique gifts. Marvel at the mouth-watering cuts of meat at Boucherie de Bages butcher’s shop and make sure to stop by Le Comptoir d’Andréa for afternoon cake and a host of other delicacies such as salt, butter, oil and wine.

Once you’ve indulged in some retail therapy, stop for lunch at Café Lavinal. Take a table outside, overlooking the square, and enjoy a light bistro lunch accompanied by a glass of the light and crisp Château Lynch-Bages rosé. Café Lavinal is also open in the evenings and is a good spot for relaxed dining and people watching in an informal setting.

If you haven’t over indulged on the wine, do take the opportunity to hire a bike from the hire shop next door to Café Lavinal. Burn off lunch by freewheeling through the local châteaus, made all the more exhilarating experienced on an electric bike.

For a rustic feast, eat where the locals do and take a drive off the beaten track to Port Lamaréchale. Little more than a riverside hut, Port Lamaréchale offers a short menu of steak or shellfish. Opt for the moules marinière with an obligatory portion of frites over a glass of local white wine.

Before you leave, relax with a book in the hotel’s lounge or by the pool, stroll through the Lynch-Bages vines some more and indulge in Jean-Luc Rocha’s cuisine and the Lynch-Bages grapes—this is, after all, the art of fine living.