After a couple of Ryanair experiences over the years, J and I decided that if the options were either walking or Ryanair, we would walk. Well, this was tested when we couldn’t get train, automobile or other plane out of Porto and decided walking was not an option. Our bags were too heavy……. So Ryanair it was.
Top tip: if you pay for every upgrade (allocated seating, priority boarding, checked in luggage etc), you get treated like a human. Downside is that it costs an arm and a leg to be on a budget airline.
We were off to Bordeaux for 2 real reasons; you can get good flights to Corsica from there and we wanted to visit Chateau Talbot.
Chateau Talbot is a Grand Cru and a very good wine. My father had a thing about it so I probably had my first sip of it about 40 years ago and have enjoyed it infrequently from then. J brought me a case for my 30th and we drank the last bottle at the end of our first Christmas at the Folly.
On previous visits to the area, you really needed to know someone who knew someone to be able to arrange a visit here, but it is slightly easier now and J is very determined. More about that later.
We stayed in an Airbnb, close to Bailique Saint-Michel on the south side of Bordeaux city centre. We had a private room with our own bathroom in the house of an artist and her husband, both of whom could not have been more helpful or more charming. That said, the English in us translated ‘please treat our home like yours’ to ‘let’s keep a very low profile and have no impact outside our room’. Luckily we had plenty to do so were rarely there.
The first highlight was meeting up with Nic and Jacqui Beecher, old friends from the UK who were holidaying in France and decided that they were close enough to us to change their plans and join us. It was lovely to see them both and we enjoyed a great dinner in a lovely restaurant that had been recommended by our Airbnb hosts. As ever, with old friends it is easy to pick up where we left off and we were reminded that the thing we miss most about the UK are our friends.
We had a good wander around the town the following day, through a great fresh food market, along the river and in and out of the easy to navigate city centre. After N & J began their long drive home, we followed another recommendation from our hosts and headed to a small garden type thing on the east bank of the river, where a band plays, and with a bar selling bottles of wine, sausage and cheese. It was described to us as a ‘very French thing’ and it felt it. I think we were the only none French there and we enjoyed a perfect afternoon. The only downside is that the bar shuts before sunset. The upside is that there is a bar in the boat club next door, so we popped in for another bottle of wine to accompany the sunset, which in turn was accompanied by a great selection of music from the hipsters behind the bar. The following morning we felt a bit ropey and couldn’t understand why……..
On all the tourist guides (online and otherwise) list of the top things to do in Bordeaux is a visit to the Cite Du Vin, housed in an impressive building on the riverbank and a monument to all things wine. It covers the history of wine, wine from around the world, wine in various cultures and the characteristics of wine. And it was dull. Really dull. J and I like wine and we like to visit wine regions all around the world. We like the landscapes, the individual stories about the areas, the people we meet and the odd adventure that starts with a long day tasting the stuff. Ultimately it’s about drinking wine, and there is very little drinking to be done at Cite du Vin. If you have children and you want to get them into wine at an early age, in an educational way, or have come to wine late in life and want to understand the basics, this could be the place for you. If not, go to a good bar, and learn there!
We had another lovely ‘small world moment’ there. J and I were enjoying a water in the café before we started (much needed after a 3km stroll through the city in the midday heat), and I looked at my Facebook to see that Denis Currie, an old army colleague whom I hadn’t seen in over 10 years, had just ‘checked in’ to the Cite. It was great to catch up and enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the tour with him and to meet Laura. They had driven from Belfast, were camping and I think eating army rations. Now that is hardcore!
Chateau Talbot is on the edge of Saint Julian, a small but significant village in the heart of the Medoc. We left Bordeaux to stay in an Airbnb in the village so that we didn’t have to drive. We opted to walk the 1.5km to the chateau for the same reason and discovered a romantic walk along country lanes through ripe vineyards is a different proposition in 33c heat, so we didn’t quite represent the sophisticated visitors I think the chateau was used to; we were sweaty, pink, dusty things who should visit other, lesser chateaux.
The place is impressive and we had an informative, if unenthusiastic, tour guide who took us around modern and beautifully designed production facilities that showed the kind of investment that only comes with considerable profit. ‘This cellar is designed to look like an organic forest’. Of course it is. Looking like a cellar would be dull.
I am glad we went, really to connect with a bit of family tradition (no Talbot has ever really owned the land as a vineyard and it was named after a Knight of English origin (Sir John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury) – whose ancestors would have been Norman – who was gifted the land after fighting the French in some war or other), but without that connection, I wouldn’t put this high on my list of recommendations.
We took a short cut home and emerged, dusty and giggly, from the vines at the same time as our Airbnb hosts were driving by. Marvellously, they stopped and gave us a lift to the tourist info centre in Pauillac, which was hosting a number of small vineyards for a tasting session. Wonderful.. A lack of taxis and an imminent last bus prevented us from making the most out of this.
Now, do you remember the bad old days in France, where arrogant waiters in restaurants made you uncomfortable and pretended not to understand you unless you spoke perfect French? Well J and I joked how we missed that in the ‘new France’ of the polite and the helpful. Careful what you wish for. There is only one open restaurant in Saint Julian in the evening and it’s called the Saint Julian for ease. It really is traditional. To us good food is about three things: the food, the service and the location. Together they make the experience. The experience left us both seething, but despite my very average French, the words terrible and mediocre are common to both and the waiters face suggested he understood my summary of the evening.
We drove back to Bordeaux via a place called Fort Medoc, an old barracks that was part of the Garonne river defensive system. At the time (17th Century ) it was a bit of a punishment posting as it was built on a swamp and the chances of getting malaria were high. Now it is peaceful and beautiful and well worth a small detour.
Next stop: Corsica……On a different budget airline.