Bordeaux to Paris
We highly recommend a visit to the Bordeaux region for a few days of wine tasting, dining and touring. Rather than driving round-trip, you can reach Bordeaux on the TGV (high speed train) with a comfortable two hour and fifty minute journey. The TGV departs from from Gare Montparnasse in Paris. Tickets are easily arranged on the Internet or through your travel agent. We booked a car through Auto-Europe, our favorite company for rentals in Europe (check them out on the Internet, www.autoeurope.com). We picked up our car at the train station in Bordeaux, loaded our luggage and headed off on a pleasant hour and a half drive north from Bordeaux on D2. The route took us through the Haut-Medoc, Margaux and St. Julien. Along the way we passed vineyards with such familiar names as La Lagune, Cantemerle, Palmer, Giscours, Leoville Poyferre and Leoville Las Cases, to name a few. Before reaching the town of Pauillac, we arrived at our destination: the Chateau Cordeillan-Bages (see Relais and Chateaux). The Chateaux is the property of Jean-Michel Cazes, owner of Lynch Bages, long one of our favorite Bordeaux wines, and it is surrounded by prestigious vineyards. The exterior remains that of the 17th century Carthusian monastery once housed here, while within it has been tastefully transformed in a contemporary style, from furnishings to art work (works by Tapies and Sean Scully were our favorites, to be found in the dining room). The greeting by a young staff was friendly and professional. There are 24 rooms and 4 suites. We found the rooms and suites attractive, spacious, and well-appointed, with very comfortable bathroom facilities. CNN and BBC World were available, along with French, German and Italian channels. Plan in advance and the Chateau will arrange for visits to the various Chateaux as well as two hour courses in wine tasting.
The Fine Art of Cuisine
Thierry Marx is both General Manager and Chef. The restaurant, under his baton, has earned two stars in the Michelin—and after two superb dinners, we can assure our readers that they are well deserved. His cuisine is inventive, mouth-watering and beautifully presented. The food and wine is served by an outstanding, relaxed service staff and wonderful breads come from the Chateau’s bakery. We sampled them all—olive and raisin, beer rolls, fougasse, tapenade, baguettes and more. We began with a glass of champagne-- George Laval Brut Nature and a pleasant glass of the Lynch Bages White (2005) Four butters were offered: cream, sheep, beurre doux and salty. Amuse bouches included peas and caviar; a wonderful emulsion of smoked eel and noisettes; a soup of pumpkin and foie gras with a beet-laced cracker; artichoke cream with bacon. The piece de resistance of the pre-dinner tastes was a beautiful and delicious ‘perle’ of bordelaise sauce with smoked eel and caviar. The tiny balloon burst open in the mouth with great flavor. Then came a play on beets—crab on beet, thin, thin beet and onion, a beet wrapped in chick pea with contrasting flavors.
The first night we dined on Marinated St. Pierre fish with a cream of corn, sprinkled with a handful of warm popcorn — yes, popcorn. The presentations were outrageously inventive and the taste sensations sensational. Before the next course, out came abalone on a bed of celeriac with a form of yogurt and the beautiful seashell alongside.
As for wine tasting, we moved on to the Alter Ego of Chateau Palmer from the great 2000 vintage, and it was indeed a lovely wine We shared a Bar (sea bass) aged in chocolate—yes, chocolate—it came in a clay brick which our wait staff broke with a small hammer, releasing the chocolate wrapped rectangle of fish. A truffle mousse and pomme de terre accompanied the dish. Three yums!!! Chef Marx, who trained with Alain Chapel and Joel Robuchon as well as in Tokyo, before his ten years at Cordeillan-Bages, was not through showing his wares. Before the main course, he presented a soya bean risotto with truffle and white truffle oil in an oyster juice. Our palates barely had a chance to recover from taste explosions when the main course arrived--a Ris de Veau Chop with truffle, delicious but a bit salty for our taste.
Pre-desserts included a Chocolate Lollypop with sorbet and a vanilla ice cream (like fiore di latte) with a berry sauce. For dessert, we had “Choco Truffles” with chocolate ice cream in a white truffle oil. The combination didn’t work for us. On the other hand, the truffle with Crème Brulee was outstanding. More than content, we adjourned for the evening.
Our plan for the second day was to drive to St. Emilion and tour that World Heritage village. Our maps were deceiving and we were surprised to learn from the Chateau’s hostess that the drive would take nearly two hours. It did—and it was worth it. The setting of the town is on a hill. You look down at the beautiful St. Emilion vineyards. We wandered the streets, had lunch on the terrace of a pleasant café and sampled local wines. We purchased some at the Maison de Vins under the tutelage of the young manager. We looked for and found wines from the great 2000 vintage as well as from 2005, purportedly even better in St. Emilion. We then took a splendid trolley train ride with guided accompaniment in French and English. The ride permitted us beautiful views of the town from below, as well as the chateaux of St. Emilion and the vineyards. The tour concluded, we headed back to Paulliac via Pomerol. Tired but exhilarated, we prepared for our second night of dining at Cordeillan-Bage.
We limited ourselves on night two to sharing a wonderful warm sautéed Foie Gras on a bed of peach confite with a thin circle of port reduction. Again, outstanding. The main course was one we had inquired about the night before. We had seen a presentation in a clear cellophane wrapping that turned out to be a Filet de Boeuf. It had been smoked with twigs from the grape vines, fragments of which we could see when the succulent sliced beef was served. Again, utterly delicious. We accompanied the dinner with half-bottle of 1998 Durfort-Vivens (a Margaux). It proved so irresistible that we sought some out once back in Paris. The meal ended with a Lemon Tart, ‘destructured’ and it proved to be another winner.
Take note that spa services are available at the Chateau.
Next morning, we set out for Paris with a planned one-night stopover to break the journey. Rather than drive back to the Autoroute through Bordeaux, we took the car ferry, a pleasant half hour drive across the Gironde - from La Marque (15 minutes from the Chateau) to Blaye. We picked up A10 and headed toward Paris. We stopped along the way for a brief tour of Saintes and enjoyed its small museum, Roman arch and a lunch of delicious crepes. The night was spent at Le Logis St. Martin in St. Maixent L’Ecole where we had pleasant accommodations. After two nights at the Chateau Cordeillan-Bages we limited ourselves to a large (fabulous) salad, and a well-prepared Dorade with Bulgur wheat and Haricot Vertes. After dinner I sampled a Pineau de Charentes (10 year old Reserve from Domaine Beaulon, combing cognac grapes with white). It was special. This small, charming hotel is under new management and working hard to upgrade its facility.
The following day, enroute to Paris we detoured to visit the Tumulus de Bougon, a prehistoric site where Neolithic people lived 3000 years before Christ. The burial sites are well-preserved and the modern museum contains many artifacts. It is not far out of the way and worth the detour. Please check opening times, they vary from season to season.
A few hours later, we arrived in Paris, most gratified by our three-day sojourn.
Route des Chateaux 33250 Pauillac
Tel: from US 011-33-5-56-59-24-24
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