July 30, 2014

Travel Series - Well-timed Surprises of Bordeaux

All good things must come to an end and my trip to Europe was no exception. Bordeaux was the final city I visited, which turned out to be a series of well-timed surprises. When I booked my trip, I was not aware the Bordeaux Wine Festival would be happening at the same time. The festival featured sampling of various kinds of wine, musical acts, and local cuisine. I was more interested in doing a winery tour and lucked out on getting a cancellation when I got to the tourism office. Through the tourism office, you can book tours for as little as 34 Euros ($51 Canadian), though others can be significantly higher.

The wine tour featured a stop at the village of Saint-Émilion, followed by a winery called Château Rochebelle. On the way to Saint-Émilion, the tour guide provided information on the various wine regions in Bordeaux (e.g. Médoc, Saint-Émilion) while one can admire the countryside from the bus. Saint-Émilion is a typical medieval village with darker buildings, castles, merchants, and underground churches. When blended with the lush green landscape, it provides a spectacular view, though the roads leading down to the village were steep.
The Château Rochebelle dates back to the 18th century and is one of the last family owned producers of Saint-Émilion Grand Cru wine, with most of the others being investor owned. The proprietor mentioned how most wines are marketed via the use of wine merchants and more recently online, but the Rochebelle requires the end customer to visit the winery directly. The usual wine making steps such as extraction, aging in oak barrels, and bottling were discussed; but one thing in the cellar caught my eye. An opening in the cellar had some form of wooden piping, which may have been used to irrigate the grapes due to the relatively dry area. During the wine tasting, the proprietor offered the group a wine from one of the satellite wineries, followed by his own 2011 vintage, which had a stronger, richer taste.
After the winery tour, I decided to grab some dinner at the wine festival and ended up getting a “tapas de chef” plate, which is virtually the opposite of the bakery-centric cuisine I had in Paris. Imagine a variety of meats, a little bread, some cheese, a jalapeno, and some olives. A vegetarian’s worst nightmare, but by far delicious! For something unique to Bordeaux, there is their signature pastry called the canelé, which is shaped like a candle. It’s OK, but doesn’t compare to the macaroons of Paris or the custard tarts of Lisbon.
Food and wine talk aside, I visited the public gardens before doing the wine tour. It’s an impressive site with plants from every region in the world and even some Canada geese were around. I walked across the stone bridge (Pont de Pierre), which was built during the Napoleonic era. The cycling there is very safe thanks to the use of complete streets (sidewalks, separated cycle tracks, and green median for the tram), other bike lanes, and the VCub bike share. In fact, Bordeaux was tied for 4th with Seville in the 2013 Copenhagenize Index of bicycle friendly cities! For those who like churches, there’s the Saint Michel Basilica. But if there’s one thing I have to hand to Bordeaux, it’s closing off the wine festival with arguably the best light and fireworks show I ever seen!
After two days in Bordeaux, it was back to Lisbon for a night in order to catch the flight home. I felt a bit sad upon returning to Lisbon, but grateful for having decided to travel abroad. I hope these recent posts inspired you to travel to Europe if you haven’t already, and if you found a good place to check out, by all means let me know via comment or e-mail. Need to plan for next year! :)

Bon voyage!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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