* Saturday September 4: Departure from AVL (or wherever you depart from) to Bordeaux, via Paris or Amsterdam.
* Sunday September 5: Arrival at Bordeaux Merignac at 10:35 am.
Transfer to hotel in Bordeaux's Golden Triangle. This day will be dedicated to acclimating after the trans-Atlantic flight.
Lunch at the covered market . Oysters, charcuterie, fromages surrounded by the activity of a thriving food market in the Bordeaux's halles, and with wines from my most popular producers. Let's start strong!
After lunch some might want to take a nap at the hotel, others will want to take a stroll with me in the city and start discovering the architectural treasures of the town.
Aperitif and dinner near the hotel.
* Monday September 6: Stroll in Bordeaux in the morning light and explore a few must see places.
Lunch on the town.
We will then take the tram and spend the rest of the day at the Cité du Vin, a new generation museum, where wine comes to life through an immersive, sensorial approach, all set within an evocative architectural design. The place is loaded with interactive activities destined to teach the visitors the history and culture of wine, as well as the essentials of oenology.
Stroll on the docks.
Aperitif, and dinner in town.
* Tuesday September 7: Serge Opillard joins us, and we drive to Langon the capital of the Graves region. The Graves is where wine production started in Bordeaux, and where some of the best values may be found.
And it is where we find Chateau Lehoul, a stupendous producer whose wines have instantly become popular when I introduced them in North Carolina. I am proud to be Eric Fonta's only importer in the U.S., as he is overwhelmingly recognized to be a cut above in the Graves appellation. This visit will be a chance to discuss in his vineyard how he consistently produces such stellar wines, and delve into his encyclopedic wine and oenology knowledge. The man is one of the best tasters I have ever met.
We will have a tasting of course.
Lunch in one of the best restaurants of the region, where Serge was sommelier for 30 years.
After lunch we will go to the Maison du Lillet (see photograph on the left) which is where Lillet started in early 20th century, before becoming the worldwide success that it is. The place is now a museum about Lillet, with some fascinating memorabilia, and a good opportunity to test all three Lillets, after the guide will have told us the story about this aperitif emblematic of Bordeaux, and which reflects its anchorage in the wine universe.
Dinner in Town
* Wednesday September 8: Today we drive to Sauternes, about 45 minutes away from Bordeaux's center. Sauternes is of course the little village that gave its name to the profoundly aromatic liquoreux wine, native of the Sauternnais, which offers some beautiful rolling hills and skies.
We will first visit Chateau Haut Bergeron, a long established producer. This estate is the best kept secret in Sauternes, due to the fact that it is not classified, yet produces some of the best wines in the appellation, and wins most blind tasting competitions.
The lunch with the winemaker at the estate, will be a culinary treat with pairings that will demonstrate the versatility of Sauternes, and its incomparable richness.
After this we will go to Chateau d'Yquem for a visit of this marvel of the wine world. Yquem is one of the most exclusive wine estates in the world, owned by the same group that owns Louis Vuitton, Moet Hennessy and many other prestigious luxury brands. Yquem, though, is not chichi. We are just here at the very top of the wine world, a few notches above state of the art. This visit will make evident why it is considered by many as one of the best wines in the world.
Dinner in Town.
* Thursday September 9: Visit of Chateau Coulonge in the Entre Deux Mers region. Nicolas Roux is the descendant of a long lineage of humble wine makers. He produces outstanding whites and reds, including a stunning Malbec. These wines are some of the best sellers in Contrast Wines portfolio. Nicolas is as authentic as it gets, and will open his farm to us and share his wine making vision and vintage wine techniques. It is worth noting that Chateau Coulonge is now an organic producer, which is uncommon in Bordeaux, Nicolas also uses low sulfites.
After visiting his vineyard and cellar, we will have oysters under the oak tree, with of course his organic Sauvignon blanc. Then we will have lunch with him and his wife, experiencing second to none south western hospitality (a member of Chateau Coulonge's staff is an ex star restaurant chef ... You may expect to be blown away), and allowing ourselves a momentary immersion in this true winemaking life.
Chateau Coulonge is not far from Toulouse's Lautrec's castle where he lived, loved and died. We will explore not only the property, but also this artist's often little known decisive impact on art, notably through Picasso and others who defined art in the 20th Century.
We will also have a tasting of the estate's wines.
Dinner in Town.
* Friday September 10: Today is in Saint Emilion, the marvelous village whose charm has seduced the world. We will start by a visit of the historic "troglodyte" church, a breathtaking edifice, carved inside the rock during medieval times, and defying imagination.
We will have lunch in a creative restaurant, on the left bank of the Dordogne, not far from Saint Emilion.
From there we will have a visit of the Clos des Abbesses, a family owned Grand Cru in Saint Emilion. Saint Emilion is of course a spectacularly beautiful village entirely dedicated to wine, and where it seems that all the millionaires of the world compete to acquire their plot of wine greatness. Clos des Abbesses is an exception, in that it is owned by a French family, and goes for wine excellence, but without the frou frou often found elsewhere. I am very proud of this producer which deserves all the attention that I am attempting to shine on him.
After this visit and tasting with Clément, we will go to the actual village for a stroll in its adorable streets before heading for dinner in Montagne, a village near Saint Emilion.
* Saturday September11: Today we are going to the tip of the Graves region in a town named Bazas. It is market day and this is a market and a town with a middle ages impression. The market is a true and lively market that brings a gentle chaos to the town. It takes place on the main square in front of the Cathedral, one of the very nicest churches in the region.
Bazas is also known for its beef, and we cannot pass on that. We will have lunch in a popular "steakhouse," right on the market place, with some of the very best beef there is. The owner is actually American and has a connection with North Carolina, actually with Asheville to be precise!
After our sinful lunch, we will seek redemption in history, first by visiting the beautiful Cathedral which once was on the road to Compostelle. Then with a visit of the nearby Castle. This one is a castle Fort, seemingly the father of all castle forts, one that has been featured in several films. This remarkable castle goes back to the 12th Century, is linked to the history of the entire region. Sébastien, the heir of the family which has owned this castle for 700 years (that's right, 700 years!) will guide us through an exceptional VIP visit detailing the history and art presented to our eyes. He will also explain the importance of the renovation by Violet le Duc, and how this architect from the 19th century, to whom we owe the Notre Dame we know, influenced dramatically a lot of New York's architecture, notably the Empire State Building.
Dinner in the folie of Bordeaux on a Saturday evening.
* Sunday September 12: Bordeaux may seem at first like a river town, and it is, but it also very close to the Atlantic Ocean where many Bordelais spend their weekends and vacation. So today we are doing the "Bordelais" thing.
From our hotel we will take a tram to the railway station for a train ride to the most prized spot on the ocean near Bordeaux: Arcachon and the Cap Ferret. Both places are separated from each other by the entrance channel to a large bay which is largely devoted to raising oysters.
Once in Arcachon we will walk down to the dock where we will hop in a boat that will take us across the bay. There we will have a 30 minutes walk to a lovely oyster shack on a deck overlooking the bay with the Dune du Pilât on the horizon as a mirage (see photograph on the left). The menu will be what you see, as well as oysters and local seafood.
I'll confess, oysters are one of my sins, and never have I seen such an ideal place to have some. And of course there is not a better pairing than oysters and white wine, notably Bordeaux whites ..! After this healthy meal we will stroll through the Cap and see the furious ocean and lighthouse. Then walk back to the dock to take the boat back to where we began.
Please note that there is a fair amount of walking on this day, which will be welcome given all we absorb.
Dinner in Bordeaux
* Monday September 13: Today we visit Chateau Carbon d'Artigues in the Graves region. This estate produces extremely well balanced, juicy and aromatic wines. They are one of the newest addition in Contrast Wines portfolio.
We will have a country lunch there with the producer, and prepared by him.
With many producers in this tour, we will have flirted with the sanctity of wine, so on our way back to Bordeaux, we will stop at Chateau Pape Clément, a Grand Cru Classé. This estate is in the Pessac-Leognan appellation, on the edge of the actual town of Bordeaux, and goes back to the origins of wine making in Bordeaux. Its historic importance cannot be overstated, as all over Bordeaux we will have seen connections with this Estate. After all, its owner was indeed a Pope, and an important one in the history of the papacy, as well as wine!
This estate is now in the hands of Bernard Magrez, not an investment firm. Mr. Magrez is from Bordeaux, and has built an empire in the wine industry, but still manages it himself. You will find a lot of soul poured in the winemaking here, and in the artistry of what Bernard Magrez creates and cultivates.
Dinner in Town.
* Tuesday September 14: On our last day we go to the Médoc. We will pass by Margaux and see the lovely castles route which passes most of the famous estates known all over the world.
Lunch near Saint Julien.
We will then go visit Chateau Pedesclaux in Pauillac, an Estate with daring magnificent architecture, illustrating a commitment to state of the art organic winemaking in a Grand Cru classé fashion.
We will then head to Chateau Dompierre, also in Pauillac, a producer used to the best tables of France, including the French Presidency, and Contrast Wines newest addition in Bordeaux. Michel Arnold will explain his techniques and philosophy in his truculent fashion with his adorable accent. We will then have a dinner at the estate with Michel and his wife that should be memorable.
* Wednesday September 15: Free time this morning for a last embrace of the town.
Then lunch near the hotel before heading to the train station, for a high speed 2 hour ride to Paris. Our hotel is a very comfortable one in Saint Germain des Près, 10 minutes away from the station, and the most perfect location, close to the Seine River.
Dinner in Paris and night stroll in the city.
* Thursday September 16: I have included two days in Paris so that everybody may enjoy the city as the Bouquet Final of this fireworks tour. Those not participating in my Paris Itinerary will spend the days as they wish. Tonight though we meet for dinner, as we all want to hear what the others have done. This is a Contrast Tours dinner.
* Friday September 17: Second day or regained freedom. Tonight there is an optional Contrast Tours dinner at my friend Philippe's apartment in Montparnasse. The dinner is catered by a fantastic restaurant on the first floor, and Philippe will play the accordion for us. This is a rare treat and unfortunately we can only accommodate 8 guests, with priority to those on my Paris Itinerary, and beyond that, for those who book first. see options link below.
* Saturday September 18: This is the official end of the tour, save for those staying longer in Paris in my itinerary or not.
Taxi to Paris Roissy Airport.
See all the options for the tour, notably for those wishing to extend their stay in Paris, either touring the town with me or on their own.