I recently returned from Bordeaux, Dordogne and Chantilly, and what a delightful discovery it has been. First, a renaissance has reset Bordeaux, it may have taken the last decade and a half to remake, but what a marvelous outcome. The man behind the vision, Bordeaux’s mayor, Alain Juppé. He brilliantly pedestrianized the boulevards, restored neoclassical architecture, created a high-tech public transport system and reclaimed Bordeaux’s former industrial river docks with gardens, walkways and a cool water feature “Miroir d’eau”. Half the city (18 sq km) is Unesco-listed, making it the largest urban World Heritage site. In addition, world-class architects have designed a bevy of striking new buildings – the Herzog & de Meuron stadium (2015), decanter-shaped La Cité du Vin (2016) and Jean-Jacques Bosc bridge (2018) across the Garonne River. It reminds me of Paris’s Marais district, but on a larger scale. With only 3 nights in Bordeaux, we could easily have extended our time to take in more attractions and activities. Hence, a return visit is a must. Keep in mind, there are a plethora of wine chateaux for one to visit that could occupy your time for weeks without end.
Day 1, where did we stay and what did we do in Bordeaux. First, we stayed at the Hotel de Seze,
a well-located and appointed hotel near the city center but just a few blocks from the main pedestrian area. We had a lovely junior suite that overlooked the boulevard and it felt like home, spacious with a long hallway between the bedroom and living room. Nothing cookie cutter about it. Another option which we would consider for a second visit is the uber boutique YNDO Hotel. Every element of the property is an art piece, including the painted walls signed by the artist. While it may not be for everyone, it certainly will be an experience for all.
Day 2, we enjoyed a private half-day historical walking tour of Bordeaux and we hit most of the main monuments and to learn about Bordeaux’s fascinating history. Afterwards, we headed to LA CITÉ DU VIN for a quick tour and tasting before enjoying the ultra-modern dining room Le 7 Restaurant. The food and wine was exceptional. We took the tram in both directions which was easy and pleasant.
Day 3, we went on a half-day small shared tour, just the 6 of us, to Saint Emilion for a tour with wine tastings and chateau visits. We deliberately left free time to discover Bordeaux on our own and to be able to relax a little in the afternoon. However, we could have easily spent the whole day in Saint Emilion. There’s something sweet and special about this little gem of a town that says charming. Luckily, we went Sunday morning and there were very few tourists out and the town seemed to be just waking up. After heading back to Bordeaux, we stopped for lunch at Brasserie Bordelaise, be warned if you go, the portions are huge for France, you can split a salad and one order of steak tartar can easily feed two people. After some more wandering in the old town we stopped for the best organic gelato in Bordeaux at La Maison Du Glacier. That evening we had reservations at La Tupina
Day 4, we took a cab to the train station to pick-up a rental car to tour the Dordogne region. Advice, get a comfortable car as the roads in the Dordogne are windy country roads with somewhat rough pavement. We opted for the upgrade promotion for a Mercedes e-class. Off to Chateau des Vigiers which from the pictures looks very interesting. Plus, they have a Michelin one-star restaurant which we were looking forward to. However, we had a light lunch at the Brasserie next door and both us fell ill. Unfortunately, I ended up eating along that night. Nonetheless, the service and food quality were impeccable, however, the breakfast in the morning was a disappointment considering the quality of the kitchen. Note, this property mainly caters to the golf enthusiast. They start teeing off at six in the morning and are going until almost nine at night. Overall, we were somewhat disappointed with the property and management. We were never offered a tour as the property which is quite large. We inspected the main building on our own along with the golf shop, brasserie, spa and pool. All of which were somewhat run-down and in need of refurbishment. Day 5, we had planned for a full day starting with the Gardens of Marqueyssac. Again, getting there as everywhere in the Dordogne feels like you’re lost, but it’s “c’est normal”, just how the roads work. This is a magical place with a small chateau that is also amazing as the dry stack stone roof weighs over 500 tons. A great place to see the valley from above. We explored the chateau and admired the groomed gardens and the unusual plant species that are normally found in Mediterranean climates. Expect to see a family of peacocks wandering around the grounds which adds to the colorful pageantry. Evidently, a night visit is very special as they light candles along the paths. Next, off to Sarlat to pick up our half-day tour of the most beautiful villages of France. However, lunch first at Le Bistrot which sits directly across the street from the cathedral. All I can say is that the view is much better than the food. However, I looked over at my neighbor’s dish and he was relishing in the duck confit which looked good. Then I remembered, ah we’re in foie gras country, so stick with the duck my friend. Okay, lousy excuse for bad food, but it’s all I have. So, next we began our half-day small shared tour, just the five of us to visit the most beautiful villages of the Dordogne, which included Domme, La Roque-Gageac and Beynac-et-Cazenac. Luckily, tourism has preserved these medieval towns from disappearing, however, the only folks around are tourists. Included was a boat ride down the Dordogne river for a different perspective of life from the old days. After the tour, we headed to Le Vieux Logis where we had pre-arranged a hotel inspection and dinner. This charming boutique property is a Relais & Chateau property set in a tiny town. The rooms we saw were all updated and they have a Michelin restaurant on-site, plus an excellent bistro next door. We had dinner at the bistro and we were pleasantly surprised. See pics below for the ambiance.
Day 6, drive back towards Bordeaux, again through the little roads until you get near Bordeaux where you get onto the autoroute which makes you think, “how is it possible to be so close to the vineyards when you’re on a freeway?” However, before you know it, you exit the freeway and back onto little roads. Suddenly, voila Château Smith Haut Lafitte and Les Source de Caudalie. This five-star property has all the bells and whistles from the moment you arrive. Attentive staff ready to help with luggage and to park your car, a front desk manned with several receptionists to avoid waiting, the property has several buildings which immediately feels like you’re at a resort. Plus, within eyesight you are surrounded by vineyards of Château Smith Haut Lafitte. We checked into our room “Vent du Large” located in the boat house. It’s one of the rooms they feature on their website, check out the pics below.
The property has bikes to borrow and we rode them through the vineyards of Lafitte while admiring sculptures and stately grounds. We missed the English-speaking wine tour, yet, we enjoyed the road further to enjoy another chateau for a peak. Château Le Thil is a sister joint venture with Les Source and a secret evidently, no one mentioned it to us, so I feel we discovered it on our own. With little time left in the afternoon, we took in as much of the property as we could. Be sure to book spa treatments ahead, the high demand means they book up early. Tonight, dinner in the gourmet restaurant, 2-star Michelin, expect to be wowed, what a delight, pure civilized dining at its finest. A late-night stroll through the property back to the room, although I wanted to stop and visit the hens in their coop, but it was lights out for them and we heard a goat protects them at night from intruders, so best not to risk an encounter with an angry goat.
Day 7, drop-off car at Bordeaux–Mérignac Airport and fly to CDG with a transfer to Auberge de Jeu de Paume in Chantilly. The town of Chantilly is dominated by the chateaux, in fact you enter the town via a cobble stone road as if you are arriving at the Chateau Chantilly. What I love about this place is, you feel like you’re out in the country yet a short walk from the Louvre. All we had time for was to relax and have a nice dinner in the Bistro. A perfect break from the indulgences prior. But wait, tomorrow we say good-bye to France with a celebration dinner in the Michelin restaurant, La Table du Connetable.
Day 8, we scheduled a private 1.5-hour tour of the Chateau which was fascinating. I’m still amazed at the art work and decoration that was amassed by its owners. Evidently, the richness of the chateau reflects the power struggle between Chantilly and Paris. You need to visit to learn about its history and to experience its grandeur. Afterwards, we walked into town for a light bistro lunch as we knew dinner would be grand. Following lunch, we visited the Grand Stables of Chantilly also known as the Musee du Cheval. Your admission ticket to the Chateau also admits you to the horse museum and stables, but not to the shows. Last gourmet dinner for a while, diet starts soon.
Day 9, up early to CDG, which is about 30 minutes away, traffic was very light so we got there early.
Goodbye France, hello USA.