For a few years, I had wanted to try the new golf course of Grand Saint-Emilionnais, designed by Tom Doak for the Mourgue d’Algue, a famous family of golf champions. Gaëtan used to run the Lancôme Trophy, one of the most memorable French Professional golf tournaments and his wife Cecilia and daughter Crystel were both great amateur players. Late October seemed like the perfect season to discover their golden oak leaves and enchanting St Emilion vineyard. So this led to a larger tour of Armagnac and Bordeaux with a fun exhibition of sneakers at Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Not everything went well but there were some great surprises
I decided to book as close as possible to the golf course at Château de Pitray, a bonified bed and breakfast set in a 1900 neogothic castle. It was a lovely surprise to find amazing views from the huge bathroom and bedroom and to have Paola, the fun Portuguese maid, chat me up at breakfast with perfectly boiled eggs under the family portraits. The downfall was that, being the only guest, I never saw anyone and was terrified to be locked out of the house when I went out to dinner in St Emilion, ten kms away. And there was no central heating, only a little electric radiator… Nights are mild in this part of the world but late October can be pretty damp! Yet all the coffee table books were those I would have picked from my own home and there was a boiler for tea and coffee in the room. The comment by the host Pierre Edouard de Boigne when I left was: ” we did not really take care of you, did we? ” was charming after all…
After feeling like a little girl back in the 60’s, when castles were not transformed into hotels, I made my way to the golf course which was absolutely beautiful but so long and so wet that it became daunting to reach the greens. I played with Thylane, a 15 year old future champion from Mionnay, near Lyon, who was training for the National Minime championship. The poor girls, who were between 14 and 16 years old, suffered all week in the rain and the winner managed to play par.
I had stopped a few miles away at Château St Georges, a vineyard in St Emilion, I have been ordering from for twenty years. Unannounced, I dropped by and the manager was charming touring me around this beautiful small “castle” designed by Victor Louis, the famous architect of the Bordeaux Grand Théâtre. Its perfect proportions were, even in the rain, very inspiring. They only sell by mail order the 260 000 bottles of the 45 hectares and cannot be found in stores, but bottles are well priced at around 20€. And teh landscape was so pretty, that I know drink the wine with the views on my palate.
Dinner at “L’Envers du Décor” (literally behind the scene), the most famous brasserie in St Emilion was a delight. Not only there was no curfew, but everyone was there to eat and drink and enjoy life with the charming Maitre d’. Oysters, foie gras and tartare of daurade, ribeye or sirloin, perfectly cooked calf liver and a Grand Marnier soufflé made us feel very cheerful.
But the best was awaiting me for the next day: a private visit of Vieux Château Certan with Alexandre Thienpont, who runs the 14 has estate for the family with his son Guillaume. Not only did he feed us with all the gossips of the surrounding Pomerol estates (there is al to of selling and buying going on and construction work is active) but he gracefully opened a bottle of 2006 at tea time and we tasted it in the beautiful classical cellar, a kilometer away from the pompous Portzamparc, Herzog and de Meuron and Jean Nouvel new buildings.
Pomerol wine is made as delicately as lace with minute details in the assemblage and I was particularly impressed by the beauty of the pink and brown barrels made in precious oak from Forêt de Tronçais in l’Allier by three different companies. The corks originate in Portugal and are manufactured in Perpignan. The Vieux Château Certan has been in the Thienpont family since 1924. The elegance of the host in the way he explained every move, fascinated me, and I left, not tipsy at all, but uplifted by the culture of wine. Sadly you cannot buy on the premises because as was always the custom in Bordeaux before, all the production is sold through “la Place”, the group of wine merchants.
I was stunned to discover that Saint Emilion was a tiny town with mostly many wine stores. Yannick Alleno , chef of restaurant Ledoyen on the Champs Elysées, took over last September 16, the restaurant of Hôtel de Pavie and there are many delicious places to eat in this very touristic spot. But after turgid the different vineyards, I decided to go and check out golf du Médoc near Château Margaux, and was delighted to play there by complete chance with the Finnish ambassador to France, Teemu Tanner and his erudite wife Kirsi. I was baffled at how many French books of the rentrée she had already read with great discernment. She is a translator into Finnish. The course is charming and lined with heather and beautiful trees. Mostly, the team in the pro shop was so jolly and welcoming, that I really loved my experience there.
I then drove south to Mauvezin d’Armanac where Domaine d’Espérance is run by Claire de Montesquiou. She celebrates her thirty years of managing this old vineyard which she has built into one of the best Armagnac in France, enlarging it little by little to 45 hectares of vines. I tasted the “Folle Blanche” 2002 a very specific cuvée and different years of her regular Bas Armagnac, while admiring the large bouquets of cosmos flowers which grow in her wild prairie. We are not in the château country anymore, but in true rural countryside with the beautiful village of Bastide d’Armagnac nearby and foie gras, boars and palombes (woodpigeon) at every corner.
My road then took me to Bordeaux where I wanted to visit the Musée du design et des Arts décoratifs. The city has never looked so good after the huge work done by Alain Juppé and is almost more of a museum than a town. Every street is one way and driving around is a nightmare. But the charming museum set in Hotel de Lalande, in the old quarter, had a great collection of china and paneled 18 th century rooms. An exhibition of photographs by English photographer Alastair Philip Wiper “Unidentified beauty” showed factories, industrial tools and containers which looked like works of art in the photographer’s lens. The hit of the moment, the exhibition “Playground” design of sneakers, had people queueing for hours. I met charming fashionable ladies in the queue and loved the ambiance with a “new” public eager to enter a museum at last. It includes hundreds of historical sneakers since 1917, made by Puma, Adidas, Nike, Rossignol… and often lent by Musée Olympique de Lausanne. You might be able to catch it since it lasts until January 1.
I could have spent much longer in the Bordeaux area, tasting wines and visiting all the new cellars but Paris was calling…
Once again this week long tour of south west France taught me how much there is to discover in this country.
Share this Post