There is a game called ‘Ryanair Roulette’ where people go online and book flights to whichever destination is the cheapest on that day. I love this idea as I am happy to visit almost anywhere and to be fair, Ryanair does offer some unusual and interesting destinations.
My cousin Luke and I didn’t exactly go blindly for the cheapest but we collected a few potential destinations into a list and we decided which one to go for.
I am a lifelong Francophile and Luke appreciates French cuisine and wine so we opted for the under 2 hour flight from Manchester to Bordeaux, France.
So off to the land of red wine we went…
“The setting was stunning; imagine acres of fresh green peppered with pink flowers. The Chateau is a blend of rustic and modern, like a lot of Bordeaux seems to be.”
When we arrived, the weather was mild and quite windy. No problem- we were truly on holiday mode now. We went for le petit déjeuner at a crêpe house in the central square (Place de la Bourse) where we were brought sugar and lemon juice in a teapot to pour over them.
We paid up then went for a walk down the shopping streets, where we stumbled across an antique market which, if I had the money and viable transportation back to Liverpool, I’d have bought the lot for my future house!
Our walk brought us to the striking Girondins Monument. It seemed to me to be still but almost in motion; a Queen at the helm, sceptre in hand, flanked by people, horses and other mythical looking creatures, charging through the spray of the water fountain.
I did some reading up on it and found out it is a tribute to a group who were amongst the first to kick off the French Revolution. They were executed and made an example of, presumably to warn other dissenters of their fate.
Bordeaux is, unsurprisingly, home to a wine museum. The Cité du Vin is an ultra-modern and multi-sensory centre for lovers of all things enological. We braved the gale force winds up the seemingly never-ending road up to the wine museum, after a brief stop in an Irish bar (which we said we were definitely going to avoid but some of the Bordelais people have siestas too, who knew?).
Its architecture undeniably resembles a wine decanter/carafe and provides an emblem to the city’s fame and love of wine. The inauguration was in 2016 and has proven to be incredibly popular- bookings in advance online are highly recommended!
We were shown to the ‘lecture room’ which was illuminated with white lights and surrounded with glass and shiny surfaces. People from countries all over the world- Germany to Australia- were seated in a semi-circle which felt to me like a sort of futuristic gameshow. Each pod was equipped with three empty wine glasses, a pen and pad for tasting notes and a tap for water in between each tasting.
A lady who spoke excellent English talked us through the history of Bordeaux’s viniculture and its historical links to Britain.
It is easy to presume that attitudes towards wine in Bordeaux would be snobbish and elitist. We were educated to the contrary: she emphasised several times that wine does not have to be expensive. It really is all down to personal preference.
Personally, I had been favouring strong, full bodied reds for quite some time, equating this with quality. The Bordeaux wines I had tried back in the UK definitely matched this profile. Our guide taught us to appreciate the lighter claret and we were both surprised by how much depth there was in it without being overwhelming.
The guide also dispelled the myth that wine tasting is some esoteric art reserved only for “wine people” (as Alan Partridge calls them). She said that whatever you think you can smell or taste is what it is for you.
After the talk, we went for a walk around the sensory stations which allowed us to smell different layers in wine, from satsuma to tobacco. Obviously, some were more palatable than others…
For a further 20 euros each, we paid to ascend the tower, named in its native French as the belvédère.
It was worth it, it has to be said. 360° views over the city gave a vantage point like no other and our ticket entitled us to one drink. The most striking feature of this level is the ceiling full of suspended empty wine bottles as lightbulbs.
The next day, we piled onto a mini-bus for a trip to nearby Saint-Émilion, to see where the magic happens. Luke had booked us tickets to take a tour of Chateau La Croizille where we would see the vineyards, learn about how the grapes are grown, harvested and the fermentation process itself.
The setting was stunning; imagine acres of fresh green peppered with pink flowers. The Chateau is a blend of rustic and modern, like a lot of Bordeaux seems to be.
“It is easy to presume that attitudes towards wine in Bordeaux would be snobbish and elitist. We were educated to the contrary: she emphasised several times that wine does not have to be expensive. It really is all down to personal preference.”
This particular chateau is owned by a Belgian family who use each oak cask three times before shipping them over to Belgium and using them to brew ale with a red wine influence.
After our tour, we were given more tasters along with palette cleansers: biscuits and dark chocolate. At this point, we had tried a fair few but one wine captured our interests and we decided to take the plunge and purchase a crate of our favourite: their 2013 Grand Cru. Done on a whim, it was still quite entertaining to see a van pull up outside my house two weeks later to drop off wine we actually saw them box up and label in front of us. It was quite a decadent purchase but honestly, it tastes like liquid velvet.
The centre of Bordeaux is understated but picturesque. Buildings are washed in a pallid yellow or dusky pink, sandstone streets are cobbled and corner shops are inviting with friendly staff. The reputation that the French are rude is undeserved in my experience of this gorgeous country. You will encounter rude people everywhere; the people in Bordeaux were only friendly and welcoming.
The Porte Cailhau was a part of the old town walls, thought to be where rocks were fired from at foreign ships in the docks. Today it resembles a conical tower from a fairytale, Rapunzelesque.
From there, we turned a corner and there I spotted it- a bookshop with all sorts of debauched titles in the window, beckoning us in to investigate.
It was called La Mauvaise Réputation (The Bad Reputation). A vendor of unorthodox titles and bohemian scriptures, this is the kind of place that true bibliophiles adore, as opposed to sterile and corporate cookie-cutter sellers.
We ventured in and I realised that I had a copy of my own book (shameless plug alert) Somewhere Between Roses & Oranges with me in my bag. What better place to house my book than the bad reputation bookshop? I bypassed asking the gents at the till and planted it on a shelf amidst other titles where it seemed fitting…
Frustratingly, we will probably never find out the fate of that copy of my book.
In Bordeaux, people do speak some English but you often have to rely on your high school French to get by. I embrace this, I love being forced to recall the French I acquired at school and at a night school course a few years ago.
On our last night, we headed back to our apartment to spend the night there, eating and drinking the delights we had picked up from the local Monoprix supermarket.
We had decided to stay in a boutique apart-hotel, quaint French style, as opposed to a generic chain hotel. We stayed at the central Coté Cour de L’Hôtel Particulier which couldn’t be beaten in terms of location. Our ground floor room with open plan kitchen overlooked a gorgeous courtyard complete with bicycle you couldn’t tell if it was genuinely someone’s belonging or a prop.
It was 8pm and we had underestimated time and ourselves.
We were out of wine.
Given that we had chosen to stay in for our last night in Bordeaux, this was still too early to sit around with none of the local gold to drink.
We googled the Monoprix and saw that we had 10 minutes to get changed into proper clothes for the rain and run down the street to the shop before it closed. We got there and to our horror, it was closed. Rain was bouncing off the ground at this point and it resembled a ghost town. Options were wearing thin.
It was then that I spotted a woman bringing chairs and tables in from the terrace into her bar. “Parlez-vous anglais?”, I asked, in rehearsed fashion. “Non”, she replied, stoney-faced. She turned on her heel and I knew I had to think fast.
“Je voudrais acheter une bouteille de vin rouge, s’il vous plaît.” I asked, somehow the French was coursing back through me in this moment of need.
The lady went down to the cellar to look for one, but we only had 18 euros left in cash between us and they didn’t accept card payments. She reappeared, clutching a dusty bottle. “Dix-huit euros“, she stated. I counted the coins in my palm and couldn’t believe the serendipity of it all- we had exactly 18 euros of cash left on this trip.
“Parfait!”, I shouted and the transaction was done. She laughed, we paid and we ran off into the rain, clutching our new acquisition.
We returned to the apartment, drank said wine, reflected on the trip and decided it had been an all-round success. The next day, we boarded our flights home and awaited the delivery of the Saint-Émilion wine to arrive in the cold light of day…