TRAVEL: La Belle BORDEAUX Part I


People come to Bordeaux to pay homage to the unparalleled Bordeaux wines and the estates that produce them. While we may have done our fair share of chateau visits, sipping wine here and there, we have found that Bordeaux has a lot more to offer citizens with severe case of wanderlust residing outside of La France. And what a great discovery that was!

We came to Bordeaux from Avoriaz, where we parted with our dear friends after a week of ski fun (too short!). The Vimards drove back to Fribourg, while Team Altaie took the bus to Geneva where we made full use of our 40-minute ‘layover’ by walking over quickly to the famous Lake Geneva, snapping a quick selfie, sprinting to the train station with our luggage, and grabbing a cup of coffee before boarding the train bound for Basel, where we would take the flight straight to Bordeaux. At 8pm, we finally arrived at our destination and a few minutes later, I was already having my first (of numerous) sip(s) of wine. 

Hello from Geneva! (Subtitled: Masabi lang)
Hello from Geneva! (Subtitled: Masabi lang!)

We stayed in Bordeaux for three days and it’s clearly far too short a time to really enjoy life like a real Bordelaise. But, I accumulated a bagful of happy memories to keep me intoxicated until our next trip, and that’s good enough for me…for now.

Bienvenue à Sauternes!
Bienvenue à Sauternes!

After recovering at home for one day, we made Château Guiraud our first stop (Merci beaucoup Pap!). Château Guiraud is a sweet white wine ranked as Premier Cru Classé (French, “First Growth”) in the original Imperial Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, so ordered by Emperor Napoleon III. Belonging to the Sauternes appellation in Gironde, Château Guiraud is considered the oldest and one of the largest estates in Sauternes with over 100 hectares of vines, producing around 100,000 bottles per year.

Château Guiraud, Premier Cru Classé in the 1855 Imperial classification
Château Guiraud, Premier Cru Classé in the 1855 Imperial classification

Château Guiraud used to be known as the ” Noble House of Bayle ” when it belonged to the Mons Saint-Poly family. The property was later on sold to a Bordeaux merchant named Pierre Guiraud, then passed on to his son until finally, in 2006, it was sold to four business partners namely, Robert Peugeot, Olivier Bernard, Stephan Von Neipperg and Xavier Planty. 

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Château Guiraud used to be known as the ” Noble House of Bayle ” when it belonged to the Mons Saint-Poly family.
May we be like fine wine whose taste and aroma get fuller and sexier as the years go by.
May we be like fine wine whose taste and aroma get fuller and sexier as the years go by.

What most people don’t know – and they should – is that Château Guiraud is the only1855 Premier Cru Classé to be certified for organic agriculture in 2011. Château Guiraud and its owners are fully committed to growing grapes the organic way. When we were doing the tour, we noticed this very colourful small wooden structure just in front of the accueil. We were told that it’s an insect hotel and they have seven of those scattered around the massive property. Interesting piece of information: Before going organic, they had around 200 insect species and today, they have around 600. Amazing, right?

The 'insect hotel' only found in Château Guiraud.
The ‘insect hotel’. You will find 7 of this scattered around the Château Guiraud estate.

Fee: You pay 10 Euros/person for the tour which already includes tasting of their wine. You can also buy bottles directly from them after the tour and the wine-tasting. And if you purchase a bottle, they will waive the tour fee. If you can’t understand and/or speak French (like I do), fret not, because they can also explain everything to you in English. The wine itself is nothing like any other sweet wines I have tried. I’m usually not a fan of sweet wine, neither am I an expert when it comes to wines, but I usually go with how my senses respond to the first sip. Petit Guiraud’s aroma rises up to your nostrils, not aggressive but gentle like the swaying of the hips of a samba dancer, carrying with it a cacophony of wondrous scents, with a hint of caramel and maybe something very fruity as well. And it is exquisitely smooth. Seductive, in many ways. You absolutely must visit Château Guiraud when in Bordeaux!

Never leave without a bottle…or more.

The beauty about being in this region is that you are literally surrounded by vineyards, from small to massive estates, from the lowest to the highest Classification rating like Premier Cru Supériur Château d’Yquem.

In the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, Château d’Yquem was the only one in Sauternes given this rating, solidifying its perceived superiority and higher prices over all other wines of its type. French luxury goods giant LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton is the majority owner of Château d’Yquem. In July 2011, an 1811 bottle of Château d’Yquem sold for £75,000 ($117,000) at the Ritz in London to a private collector, Christian Vanneque, making it the most expensive bottle of white wine ever sold.

Welcome to the expensive world of Château d'Yquem.
Welcome to the expensive world of Château d’Yquem.

It is said that unlike most of the châteaus in Bordeaux, you cannot simply walk into Château d’Yquem for a tour. Nope, it doesn’t work that way. You need to make reservation way in advance and they only open for public visits very few times a year. But you can drive up to the entrance and admire the expanse of their vineyard, breathe in grape-scented fresh air, while telling yourself that you are standing amidst some of the most expensive grapes that produce some of the most expensive wines ever…and take photos. Guess what I did?

Château d'Yquem's vineyard in winter.
Château d’Yquem’s vineyard in winter.
Premier Cru Supérieur Château d'Yquem
Premier Cru Supérieur Château d’Yquem

We did not visit any more wine estates after that because we had a 12th century French castle on our itinerary in the afternoon which I will tell you all about on my next post. So stay tuned. Or don’t. It’s entirely up to you. On hindsight, it’s probably good that we have kept the rest of the chateau visits for our future trips because, baby, Bordeaux has got me hooked. xoxox

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TRAVEL: Ski Holiday in AVORIAZ


Have you ever had one of those snow globes, perhaps given by relatives or friends as ‘pasalubong’ or souvenir from their trips abroad? Well, I never had one but I have always thought them pretty, and I often wondered what it must be like to be inside one. Two weeks ago, my snow globe fantasy just got real with our trip to Avoriaz in the French Alps.

Avoriaz is a ski resort in the heart of the Portes du Soleil, just inside the French side of the Franco-Swiss border. Built on a sunny plateau of land, the resort was the brainchild of the Olympic skier Jean Vuarnet, who wanted to link the pistes of Morzine to those over the border in Switzerland, covering a network of slopes that spans 13 resorts. Avoriaz is France’s first car-free resort which makes it a safe place for children to walk around the centre.

Avoriaz 1800, for those who want to ski hard and play hard.
Avoriaz 1800, for those who want to ski hard and play hard.

When Hubby and I were plotting our travel calendar for 2015 a few months back, I intimated that I would like to travel some place exciting during winter and preferably with snow. Being a stickler for details, my husband carefully worked out a 2-week itinerary for us which involved a rendezvous with his best friend (and his best friend’s family) in Switzerland before driving up  as a group to Avoriaz for a week-long ski holiday; a trip down to Bordeaux to visit the family; and finally, a rendezvous with more family members in Paris before flying back to Singapore. How can I possibly not adore my husband’s OC tendencies?!

Picturesque Avoriaz.
Picturesque Avoriaz.

You see, I have never seen snow in my 30-odd years of existence. I have experienced winter in Australia but never in Europe or any other four-season region, so you can imagine how excited I was. Way. too. much. The days leading up to the actual trip saw me mainly obsessing about how many layers I should put on, how much cheese and wine I can consume without combusting into a fiery ball of dairy and alcohol,  how many kilometres and landmarks we can cover in two weeks, and if I will learn how to ski in mere five hours. Schengen visa secured, vacation leave filed and approved, bags packed, Pinky the traveling pig bathed and prepped for the big trip, soon we were on our way to Changi airport to catch our flight to Zurich. 

After a quick stopover at Fribourg for aperitif and lunch with the Vimards, we were finally on the road to Avoriaz where we would spend the next six days basking in air so pure and snow so white. We were very lucky to have had the most perfect sunny weather in Avoriaz, without which, our stay would not have been as magical.

So. One week in Avoriaz and about a million snippets of only the fondest experiences gathered. But in the interest of brevity (although my intro is already far from being short and sweet), I will narrow it all to just six highlights, which are…

With our ski instructor, Sylvain.
With our ski instructor, Sylvain.
Never  too old to learn how to ski.
Never too old to learn how to ski.

Skiing

Nothing beats skiing in the Alps, they say, and I’m overjoyed that my first ski experience happened right in Avoriaz. We stayed in a fully-furnished family apartment at Pierre et Vacances which is just a few meters away from the resort centre. The men of the house, Christophe and Guillaume, enrolled the wives (FayFay and I) to a three-day exclusive ski class with Evolution 2 ski and snowboarding school, lasting 1.5 hours each day.  Frankly, I didn’t expect that I would be able to ski in mere five hours but thanks to our très gentil ski instructor Sylvain, I found myself going down a relatively steep slope and even managing some left and right turns on our final class!

Team VimTaie on a raquette adventure
Team VimTaie on a raquette adventure.
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Walking in winter wonderland.

Raquette à neige or snowshoeing

Simply means walking on thick layers of soft snow in snowshoes/rackets. We did this on our last day in Avoriaz and had a great time descending about 400 meters from Avoriaz to Les Lindarets, alternatingly walking or sliding on our bottoms. From there, we took the télésiège back to the resort. We were only a small group of six on that day, including our raquette guide Camille, who told us plenty of stories about the area. We even saw a few chamois scurrying away from us as we traversed through their territory.

Sledding with le petit Victor
Sledding with le petit Victor.

Luge

Although you see mostly kids sledding in the designated luge area, it didn’t stop us from borrowing little Victor’s sled and having a bit of fun with it.

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Lunch at Les Fontaines Blanches.
Charcuterie.
Charcuterie and cheese fondue.

Gastronomy

Although Avoriaz does not have the same gastronomic reputation as Morzine, it does have a few dual-purpose (lunch and dinner) restaurants that serve great food and some lively bars for drinks and light bites open until late at night. If you have a big appetite, you definitely must try the lunch buffet at Les Fontaines Blanches. They have a wide selection of all-you-can-eat aperitifs, mains and desserts for a reasonable price of about 25 euros per person. If you happen to ski around the Lindarets, you can check out the restaurants there with their delectable plat du jour. They seem to be very popular with locals and visitors.

Le vin chaud meets la Pinky.
Le vin chaud meets la Pinky.

Vin Chaud

Vin chaud, or hot wine, is a beverage typically enjoyed on special occasions in cold places. It is mildly spicy and warming, with just a little splash of Cognac. I first heard about it from a friend who recommended that we try it when in Avoriaz. First sip and I knew it won’t be missed but it does give you that warm-fuzzy sensation. It’s good to have tried it though.

Sunset in Avoriaz.
Sunset in Avoriaz.

Sunset

There are only a few things more evocative than watching the dazzling colours of the sunset descend over the snowy plateau and the snow-capped chalets in Avoriaz. I had tears just looking at the sunset view.

Grocery shopping at Carrefour

This may sound ridiculous to your ears but I do love being inside the supermarket. To me, walking up and down aisles lined on both sides with all sorts of goodies arranged in specific manner begging for you to come pick them up and bring them home is almost akin to a fulfilling sexual experience. Okay, maybe not to that extreme, but yes, a trip to the supermarket is always a happy endeavour for me. We purchased our week-long food supply from Carrefour and had most of our meals in the apartment. Thanks to FayFay’s dexterity in the kitchen, we enjoyed great-tasting dishes right in the warm comfort of our cabin.

Meet the VimTaies.
Meet the VimTaies.

Our Avoriaz trip is definitely one for the books and none of it would have been possible without the exceptional planning of Christophe and Guillaume, all done over a series of Skype calls between Switzerland and Singapore. Having said that, you really ought to be planning the next VimTaie holiday, guys!