Among the hundreds of appellations – wine regions – in France, there are three that stand head and shoulders above the rest – Burgundy, the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux.
For many Hosted Villas travelers, sampling the fine wines of France is a top priority during their stays. Hosted Villas, not surprisingly, has always gravitated to wine regions when adding new areas. We started two decades ago in Provence, home of Châteauneuf du Pape and have proposed stays in Burgundy for years.
We now complete the Grand Cru wine region trifecta with the addition of two exceptional properties in St. Emilion, just east of Bordeaux.
Bordeaux & St. Emilion
In the Bordeaux area there are two top wine sub-regions – The Medoc, to the northwest of the city of Bordeaux, and St. Emilion, inland to the east.
The Medoc is Cabernet Sauvignon country as that is the principal grape of the well-known wines made here. While Medoc wines are indisputably exceptional (this is the home of such great names as Châteaux Margaux, Lafite Rothschild, and Beychevelle) the countryside itself leaves much to be desired from a tourism perspective. There is simply nothing much to do here except vineyard tours (which quite frankly become boring after a day or so, even for a wine enthusiast.)
The St. Emilion area, however, is a completely different story and more than satisfies the basic criteria for an outstanding Hosted Villas vacation – great food, great wine, history, culture, beautiful countryside and architecture, services and shopping.
The principal grape used in St. Emilion is Merlot. Although disparaged in the popular film Sideways, at famous vineyards such as Cheval Blanc, Pomerol, Ausone, Angelus, and Beausjour, the merlot grape is transformed into oenological masterpieces.
Beyond exceptional wines, this area is blessed with a long colorful history, beautiful old buildings, interesting historical sites (such as a Monolithic underground church, carved entirely from a single wall of limestone) and an array of restaurants – from simple bistros to multi-starred temples of haute cuisine.
In this newsletter we want to give you a taste of why we love St. Emilion and why we think you – wine buff or not – should come visit.
Our Travel Advisors Lauren Bunton and Jessica Barker just returned from St. Emilion where they inspected our new properties, met with our Local Hosts and got the lay of the land. Click to view a Video Slideshow of the photos from their trip.
To really get plugged into the local scene and off the beaten track, it helps when you have a good friend in the area. Our Local Host Patricia will be your “local friend” for your St. Emilion stay. We asked Patricia to share some of her secrets for getting the most out of St. Emilion and the surrounding area.
Q. Why would you suggest Hosted Villas Guests visit the South West of France?
A. This part of France is not only well known for its beautiful landscapes, famous wines and gastronomy, but also its very rich history. Throughout the region you will find historical elements the prehistoric times until the present day. Some examples include:
• Magnificent churches and castles from the Middle Ages as well as ruins from the Romans’ occupation of France.
• The historic battlefields from the Hundred Years’ War that returned the area to France control (until the battle of “Castillon” in 1493, this region had belonged to England for three hundred years.)
• Evidence of the prosperous periods, especially 18thC, when Bordeaux was a commercial hub exporting its wines through one of the first French harbors.
• St. Emilion itself is a gem, an open walkable museum with its famous Monolithic church, carved from a single wall of limestone. The bell tower in the church is the highest in France. St. Emilion boasts an impressive underground pottery museum and Collegial church with a magnificent organ and cloister.
• Of course one cannot forget the wine! The region is home to 15 First Grands Crus Classés (Angelus, Figeac, Troplong Mondot, etc.) and 46 Grands Crus Classés! You can discover these amazing vineyards on foot, by bicycle, by car or tourist train.
• You can visit the historic center or the vineyards aboard a touristic train, which takes you to famous wine chateaux and the St Emilion Maison du Vin (Wine Center) which hosts an exhibit on the town’s vineyards and wine production methods.
Q. What are the top activities or visits you recommend in and around the St Emilion area?
A. Here are just a few of my suggestions:
• First and foremost, a visit to the historic center of St Emilion.
• Wine tours – both well-known and obscure, both close to St. Emilion and possibly a day trip to the Medoc region. Within a short distance of St. Emilion you can pass the hallowed halls of such prestigious wineries such as: Smith Haut Lafitte, Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Lynch Bages, Léoville Las Cazes and Château Yquem. (Ed. note – Just don’t expect to taste on site – the top producers generally do not permit visits, tours or tastings.)
• And why not do it on a bike? The small country farm roads make ideal traffic-free bike routes through the bucolic St. Emilion vineyards.
• Visit nearby Bordeaux (just 30 minutes away by train and 45 minutes by car) to explore the town, harbor, theatre, shops and restaurants.
• A trip to the Atlantic port village of Arcachon (1h30m) with its summer and winter town, nice beaches, and restaurants to enjoy delicious seafood (Visit L’île aux Oiseaux and take a boat to the Cap Ferré). While at Arachon climb the Pyla dune — the highest sand dune in Europe.
• In July & August, at Castillon La Bataille, watch the amazing re-enactment of the end of the Hundred Years’ War against the English.
With so much to do, guests will find their stay too short and definitely have to come back to discover more of the area! If they have extra time they can go to the Dordogne (and all the interesting places to visit there including the Montbazillac Castle).
Q. When is the wine harvest? Are there any special activities during this time?
A. The wine harvest takes place in September and its exact date is set by the fall Jurade. (Though at the Grands Crus estates, the owners decide on their own when to harvest, depending of the weather and the grapes.)
But special wine events take place all year long. A first Jurade for example takes place the third Sunday of June and celebrates the new wine at a spring fair. There is also Night of the Patrimony in September, and regular “wine growing days”.
Q. St. Emilion is best known for its wine and so must be especially interesting in the Fall. What makes a visit in the other seasons as interesting?
A. St Emilion is interesting in the fall, for the harvesting time, but also all year long, with its wine school and special events throughout the seasons. In springtime, you have the selection of the Primeurs, when all the châteaux open their doors for wine tasting to the buyers who select the wine to be consumed only many years later. The spring also hosts the first Jurade to celebrate the new wine. A big international wine tradeshow (VinExpo) takes place every two years (the next one in June 2013) in Bordeaux. But aside from wine, one can also horseback ride, take a hot air balloon trip or even play at prestigious golf courses all year long.
Its mellowed stone facade is characteristic of this area, but inside, this substantial four bedroom Bordelais villa is anything but typical. Click for more information on Maison des Cordeliers.
Belonging to a master vintner and located just a few kilometres from St. Emilion, this newly renovated six bedroom property is set among the region’s renowned vineyards. Click for more information on Chateau Valandraud.
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