La Belle Bordeaux Part III: Bordeaux City


On our last day in Bordeaux, our hosts aka my très gentils beau parents, took us on une petite promenade around the city, a few hours before we were to take the TGV bound for Paris. We certainly did not have enough time to explore and experience the incredible things the city has to offer, especially first-time visitors like me. But I must say that I really, REALLY liked the city. In my travels, limited as they were, I have come across cities that are good for visits and those that might actually be great for settling in. I think Bordeaux falls perfectly under the second category, along with Sydney and Singapore. Below are some of the attractions and landmarks I have seen during our brief walk.

Rue Saint-Catherine. The Rue Sainte Catherine is one of the largest shopping streets in France, stretching to about 1.2kms. It runs through most of the city centre from the Grand Theatre all the way to the Port d’Aquitaine. This shopping street is the Champs-Élysées of Bordeaux.

CNY feel at the Rue Sainte Catherine

CNY feel at the Rue Sainte Catherine

La Cathedrale Saint-André. This cathedral holds a lot of historical weight, for in 1137, the future King Louis VII – the royal figure said to be responsible for Bordeaux’s worldwide reputation for wine – married Eleanor of Aquitaine here. The exterior wall of the nave dates right back to 1096, while most the structure was built between the 13th-14th centuries. Incredible details such as flying buttresses, the rose window, gargoyles and other sculptures can be seen in both the exterior and interior of the cathedral. The cathedral as well as the 50m (164ft) belfry called Tour Pey-Berland are both open daily for visits.

La Cathedrale Sainte-André is not very easy to take a full scale photo of, especially with just my phone camera, given the sheer size of it.

La Cathedrale Sainte-André is not very easy to take a full scale photo of, especially with just my phone camera, given the enormous size of it.

Hotel de Ville. The Hotel de Ville is another one of the unforgettable fine buildings in Bordeaux that was built in the 18th century as a palace for the Archbishop (Prince Rohan), which is why it is located just next to the Cathedral.

Hotel de Ville.

Hotel de Ville.

Monument aux Girondins. At the foot of the Monument aux Girondins are two beautiful fountains. Next to the column there are a couple of statues that honour two of the greatest names of Bordeaux: Philosopher and former Mayor of Bordeaux Michel de Montaigne and Charles Louis de Montesquieu, one of the architects of the “century of the lights” and a winegrower.

Monument aux Girondins

Monument aux Girondins

Place de la Bourse. Place de la Bourse, originally known as the Place Royale, was built in the 17th century, as dedication to the glory of then King Louis XV (1729-1755). The city of Bordeaux at that time, was at the height of commercial boom. Located right on the banks of Garonne River, Place de la Bourse offers visitors the best of both views – that of the architectural genius that is the chain of buildings itself and of the beautiful river flowing just next to it. We came here in February and unfortunately, the weather at that time was rather gloomy, with occasional drizzle. However, that did not take away from the spectacular view laid out before us. There is definitely no bad angle here. Looking around you, it’s quite easy to imagine how pompous it must have been during its heydey. I wish we had time to really explore the place but it’s good to keep something pinned for a return trip, hopefully in summertime.

La Place de la Bourse

La Place de la Bourse

L’Eglise Notre Dame. This church built in the late 11th century adapts the Romanesque-Byzantine style and is richly decorated, both inside and out. Stone carvings on the doorway depict biblical scenes.

L'Eglise Notre Dame

L’Eglise Notre Dame

La Belle Epoque. La Belle Epoque is indeed très belle and the food très bon! From the design on the ceiling and the walls all the way down to the floor, La Belle Epoque sets out to seduce its customers – and succeeds. And then came the staff who greeted us with the warmest ‘Bonjour!’ and ushered us to our table. Our orders were taken promptly and food were delivered to our table, warm and perfect as they should be. I ordered this squid dish with Basmati rice and I loved how the meat just breaks apart in soft, delicious molecules in my mouth! The salmon starter with a tasteful sauce whose name escapes me at the moment, was also equally amazing. The restaurant is located in one of the most popular spots in Bordeaux, just opposite the Garonne River. Definitely one of the best restaurants I have ever visited anywhere in the world in terms of food, ambience and service.

La Belle Epoque

La Belle Epoque

Others. Just a few more captures of la belle Bordeaux. Thanks to my amazing iPhone6 camera and Snapseed, these photos seem to have taken a life of their own.;)

La belle Bordeaux

La belle Bordeaux

Bordeaux Opera

Bordeaux Opera

Sanna, comme Paula by Jaume Plensa, is a series of seven feminine figures envisaged since the encounter between the artist and the city was planned.

Sanna, comme Paula by Jaume Plensa, is a series of seven feminine figures envisaged since the encounter between the artist and the city was planned.

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TRAVEL: Top Things To Do in ARCACHON and La TESTE-de-BUCH


Located some 55kms from Bordeaux is another arrondissement called Arcachon which sits on the banks of the Atlantic coast. Compared with most towns in France, our friends at Wikipedia say Arcachon is fairly young at around 150 years old. Prior to it being officially acknowledged by Emperor Napoleon III as a town, Arcachon is said to be just a sprawling forest of pine, oaks, and strawberry trees with almost zero road links. Today, however, Arcachon is fast becoming famous for its fine beaches, the remarkable Arcachon houses so unique in architecture, great seafood, while neighbouring La Teste-de-Buch is home to the famous Grande Dune du Pilat. After spending the previous day gallivanting around Sauternes, my In-Laws took us on a road trip to these two arrondissements and what we have seen there certainly confirmed raves by tourists.

1. Arcachon Beaches. In Arcachon, you will find a long stretch of fine sandy beaches that has become so popular with beachcombers and surfers, too, especially during summer. As it was winter when we came here, we saw only a handful of people braving the icy cold temperature. There are restaurants and bars along Boulevard de l’Ocean, as well as private properties lucky (or wealthy) enough to hog a slice of this natural beauty.

I love the beach, even in winter.

I love the beach, even in winter.

From here, you can also take the boat for a tour around the Birds Island.

Up for some bird watching? You wouldn't want to skip this one!

Up for some bird watching? You wouldn’t want to skip this one!

Or simply roam around the city centre and take photos.

Fresh fruits at the local marché

Fresh fruits at the local marché

Picturesque Arcachon.

Picturesque Arcachon.

Walk the world one city at a time.

Walk the world one city at a time.

2. Grande Dune du Pilat. When my in-laws told us that we will pass by the Grande Dune du Pilat after our trip to Arcachon beach, it didn’t really occur to me that it would be as astonishing as the one that greeted us when we arrived at the site. First of all (and pardon me for my ignorance), I didn’t really think that there could be a sand dune in Europe and one as tall as this one in Pilat. My husband and I have been to the Red Dune in Dubai, and though Le Grande Dune du Pilat is nowhere near it in terms of size and the fine quality of the sand, it more than made up for its lack with the fantastic view of the Atlantic Ocean and Arcachon Bay from the top and the verdant forest in surrounding areas. They say that the dune is about 118m above sea level and stretches up to nearly 3kms, making it the highest sand dune in Europe.

The largest sand dune in Europe.

The largest sand dune in Europe.

Dune du Pilat offers a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, Arcachon Bay and the surrounding verdant forest.

Dune du Pilat offers a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, Arcachon Bay and the surrounding verdant forest.

The climb up can be a little challenging but like I said, totally worth the spectacular view from the top. It was very cold the afternoon that we visited with the wind occasionally blowing in freezing gusts, making the climb all the more fun. I can only imagine how even more beautiful it can be up there during summer! There is no fee charged for visitors and there’s one or two snack shops at the base of the dune if you ever feel the need to snack or hydrate before and after the climb. There are toilets and souvenir shops as well. This is definitely a great place to visit when in the region.

The Atlantic Ocean down below.

The Atlantic Ocean below.

3.  (Sea)Food trip. Arcachon takes pride in being recognised as one of the top four places for best oysters in France, alongside Normandy, Brittany and Marennes-Oléron. I must confess that we didn’t exactly have our seafood trip in Arcachon but rather, at this port-side restaurant in La Teste-de-Buch called Restaurant du Port.  Which, if my non-existent geographical knowledge is to be trusted, is really just next to Arcachon. It was still low tide when we got to the restaurant but the water quickly rose to cradle the little colourful sailboats up in its arms, lending the whole scene a slight touch of romance (because we all know France really goes hand-in-hand with romance).

View from Restaurant du Port.

View from Restaurant du Port.

We ordered from the menu escale and got a plate of oysters each for starters and they were truly fresh and delicious! We tried Loubine à la plancha, Pavé de Boeuf and Parillada plus crême brulée and tarte aux noix for desserts – all top-notch in terms of taste and portion.

Les huitres!

Les huitres!

Loubine à la plancha

Loubine à la plancha

Tarte aux Noix

Tarte aux Noix

If I’m not mistaken, the set meal costs around 20 euros, which is quite reasonable given the quality and taste of the food. Overall, this is a great restaurant to visit and you must not leave without sampling their seafood dishes (oysters, especially), which is what they are mainly known for. C’est très delicieux!

La Belle BORDEAUX Part II: Château Roquetaillade


Roquetaillade (meaning, ‘Carved in Rock’) is a French castle dating back from the Middle Ages, one of the seven that were constructed by Pope Clement the Fifth when he became the first French Pope in Avignon. Located on a limestone plateau in the heart of the Graves wine area in the south west region of France, the first wooden “Fort” was believed to have been built by Charlemagne in the 8th century. Overtime, wood was replaced by stone and after several rounds of fortifications and improvements, Roquetaillade has established itself as an important fortified town and castle in 14th century.

Welcome to Château Roquetaillade.

Welcome to Château Roquetaillade.

We visited the Roquetaillade castle one sunny winter afternoon of February 16 and I was struck by how beautiful and solid it still stands despite the centuries that have passed. They say that the castle survives to this today for numerous reasons and perhaps mainly due to the pragmatic diplomacy of the owners – shifting loyalties according to events.

Trip down medieval time at Roquetaillade.

Trip down medieval lane at Roquetaillade.

Interestingly, the estate has never been sold. It’s been passed on to the last of the family, in this case usually the females, who got married and brought the castle in their dowry. Hence, the change in family name of the owners. According to history, five families have held Roquetaillade since the 10th century: The Lamothe (for around 500 years), Lansac (150 years), Labiorie (50 years), Mauvezin (50 years) and the Baritault family who still owns it today (200 years). 

The Roquetaillade design (similar with the other 6 castles commissioned by Clement the Fifth) is said to be at the peak of military defense techniques  before the arrival of gunpowder and canons.

The Roquetaillade design (similar with the other 6 castles commissioned by Clement the Fifth) is said to be at the peak of military defense techniques before the arrival of gunpowder and canons.

This day, you can still see parts of the old castle – the 11th century keep, the lord’s housing, the gate tower and the village chapel which is still being used by the family today. You will notice that the ceiling of the chapel adapts an oriental style because at the time of restoration in 1875, Orientalism was in.

In the ‘new castle’, French architect and theorist Viollet le Duc (VLD) who was commissioned for the transformation of Roquetaillade, transformed the medieval postern or hidden door to the secret passage into a draw-bridge that leads to the dining room. Other parts of the new castle to take note of when you do do the tour are the family coat of arms, drop bridge, defensive toilets (in case of siege), murder hole to drop stones and hot water, the courtyard without windows or doors (just arrow slits), and many many more.

All openings in the castle that have been put by VLD were stylised to resemble the original 14th century windows on the keep with 2 gargoyles underneath, similar to those that he put on Notre Dame of Paris, which he also designed.

All openings in the castle that have been put by VLD were stylised to resemble the original 14th century windows on the keep with 2 gargoyles underneath, similar to those that he put on Notre Dame of Paris, which he also designed.

Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside the castle so you really have to soak in the beautiful elements that were incorporated by VLD such as paintings, sculptures, a 350kg oil lamp mounted from the13th century vaulted ceiling (love this one!), 16th century chimneys, family furniture and artefacts, Louis 13th armchairs, and plenty of other VLD’s creations, without getting distracted by people whipping out their cameras and phones to snap photos of everything. 

My favourites are the Pink Room, which is the guest room in the castle that is fully-equipped with bathroom, toilets and water reservoirs; and the kitchen which was designed by VLD to have the stove in the middle of the room, with a 360-degree work surface. The kitchen is also equipped with a 17th century barbecue system, an ice cream maker and beautiful copper pots and utensils which apparently are being cleaned by the family members once a year – to this day.

The Church is still being used by the family today.

The Church is still being used by the family today.

The tour is conducted by volunteers and more often in French. I got by because my mother-in-law and husband were there to translate what the tour guide was explaining as we moved from section to section of the castle. Otherwise, they do have a pamphlet which you can get from the information centre where they also sell souvenirs, and it’s written in English.

I give the Roquetaillade tour five brilliant stars and a handstand.:)

I give the Roquetaillade tour five brilliant stars and a handstand.:)

In the brochure, it says that Roquetaillade needs over 1.8 million Euros to save VLD’s unique creations. With no direct public support, the entrance fee to the castle (around 10 euros per person) form part of the repair funding. Donations are welcome and so is the purchase of bottles of their own Château Fort wine. And please don’t hesitate to tip the volunteer guide on your way out.

Château Roquetaillade had served as a location in films like Fantômas contre Scotland Yard (French) and some parts of the Hollywood film Brotherhood of the Wolf.

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. 

IMG_0400

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