Wine, With Old Friends And New – Bordeaux, France
We’re parked in a winery, and there’s not another motorhome in sight.
The vines are heavy with red grapes, fat and juicy, awaiting the harvest that’s already begun. The view out our side windows is a perfect painting of rolling vine-covered hills with a quiet breeze that you can only find deep in the countryside. Our site, or rather our private luxury pitch is spacious and cute, with a little “terrace” of table and chairs. It’s such a quaint setting.
Plus we’ve been welcomed like close family. Grandma has been round to see us and give us some sun-ripened grapes and tomato’s from her garden, just to make sure we’re happy and settling in. We’ve chatted with Grandpa on the tractor in the fields, and we’ve been told we’ll be given a private wine-tour later by his son, as well as a little gift for our diner. Oh and the local dog, a super-cute young pointer/spaniel mix has been around to check in on Polly a few times. He’s adorable and I think a little bit in love.
We’re totally digging this place, and could easily see spending a few night here just to soak it all in. It was a totally last minute idea to come here, after a last minute idea to visit an old friend, and it’s turned out to be the perfect way to end our mini-trip to Les Landes.
We Started Our Day In Blayais/Bourgeais
We started the day heading inland from our camping spot in Citadel de Blaye, with a drive through wine country, and it was just as wonderful as you’d imagine.
The landscape here is lovely, with rolling hills heavy with ripened grapes, sunshine and endless picturesque villages. It’s just the perfect French experience. Plus there’s SO much history, and SO much well-known wine that it’s almost overwhelming.
First we pass through Blayais & Bourgeais which includes AOC’s such as Côtes de Bourg and Blaye-Côtes de Bordeaux. It’s a large a region spanning ~100 Km long from north-to-south on the right bank of the River Gironde where vines have been gown since Roman times, some of the very oldest in France. The soils here produce pleasant mixed reds, as well as a few sparkling whites, easy kind of stuff that you can drink everyday.
From there we head into Libournais, a region known the world over for it’s famous reds, particularly Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. These are not only spectacular wines, heavy in Merlot, light in tannins and smooth to drink, but also important historic centers. Their unique “terrior”, the rich clay and limestone soil, is what gives the grapes their distinctive flavor. It’s also a place where we have some history….
Over 20 years ago, in the splendor of our youth, Paul and I took a romantic wine-trip to Saint-Émilion. The old town, with it’s underbelly of limestone caves and it’s steep cobblestone streets, left an ever-lasting impression on us. We spent a wonderful, albeit somewhat hazy week-end there, thanks to the fervor of young love. A classic French “histoire d’amour” if you will.
But that was our one and only visit. We never had the chance to go back, and yet always wanted to. So when we noticed on CamperContact that there was a motorhome parking area right next to town, we decided we’d give it another try. Perhaps we’d get lucky and snag a spot, and maybe we’d even recapture some of that magic from years gone by? L’amour est éternel, n’est ce pas?
We Stop To Visit Saint-Émilion
We arrive at the parking lot late AM. It’s a small spot right outside of town that’s free and super easy to access, but also rather tiny with only ~15 narrow spots for motorhomes. Also it’s notoriously difficult to get into thanks to its crazy popularity.
By some mad luck we snag the absolute last open spot, slotting into the standard-width site without issue thanks to LMB’s narrow frame. Serendipity! We park up and load Polly out of the motorhome for a wander around town.
This is a UNESCO Site With Both Underground & Overgound Sights
Now for those not “in the know” Saint-Émilion is more than just your basic French town.
It’s a fortified medieval village, built on natural limestone caves. The name of the place is a actually from a monk Émillion, who sought refuge there in the 8th century, becoming a well-know hermit famous for his miracles. The Benedictine monks who succeeded him dug the largest underground church in Europe (the Monolithic Church) and significantly expanded the limestone caves, creating miles of fascinating catacombs and passageways. There’s an underground history here that can’t be missed!
The overground sights are just as interesting. Steep old cobblestone streets that weave through town, past endless wine shops and restaurants, macaroon shops (the local recipe is quite famous) and historic sights like the King’s Keep, Ursuline’s Convent, and the Cardinal Palace. Plus the surrounding vineyards and chateau’s (just outside of town) are simply stunning. It’s not for nothing that Saint-Émilion is a UNESCO Heritage site.
Alas, We Find Our “Old Friend” Has Changed
We did all the usual tourist stuff when we first came here 20 years ago, so this time around our goal was simply to walk around town with Polly and enjoy the place. Unfortunately, our friend had changed a bit over the years.
The town is just as gorgeous as we remembered, nothing amiss there. It’s hard to go wrong with stone buildings and history that goes back centuries. But sadly its character and atmosphere has fundamentally changed, thanks to the glory and gore of tourism. It’s over-run, packed with people and tourists, folks jostling for selfies and tour groups walking en masse. It’s hard to find any peace on the streets. Plus the restaurants are all ridiculously over-priced, making it almost impossible to enjoy it from that angle too.
We walked around for a while, stopping for a glass of wine and some croque-monsieurs at a smaller place off the main drag. It was OK, but the whole thing was just too much for us. By the time we got back to LMB there were 3 motorhomes waiting in the lot, ready to fight for our spot (they actually got into a tussle about it as we were leaving). Not at all our kind of scene.
Saint-Émilion is gorgeous, and if you’ve never seen it, it’s definitely worth a stop, but it’s also crazy touristy. We won’t be going back a third time. Ah, que l’amour est éphémère…
Tips For Visiting Saint-Émilion: If you’re visiting by motorhome there is a free parking lot near downtown. Just be sure to arrive early to secure a spot. Once in town, start your visit at the tourist office where you can pick-up a free walking map with all the historic sights (you can also download some free maps HERE). Underground tours are a “must do”, but I recommend booking these ahead of time online. Dogs are allowed everywhere (including most restaurants and cafes with outdoor areas) except within the historic monuments and underground.
We Finish At A Winery With An Exceptional Welcome
After weaving our way out of Saint-Émilion we headed away from the crowds and into our next region, an area known as “Entre Deux Mers”. This is a large wine area located between two major rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne, traditionally known for it’s whites, although these days it produces many excellent reds and rose’s too.
This family-owned winery welcomes motorhome travelers for free right in their vineyard. It’s a business that stretches back 5 generations and the setting is intimate with space for only two motorhomes behind the family home. Exactly our kinda place!!
We called ahead just to be sure they could accommodate us (no problem at all) and when we arrived we were warmly welcomed by the grandmother and their dog who ran around and happily showed us to our private spot overlooking the vineyards in the back. A gorgeous setting! We spent the afternoon just soaking in the views, peace and quiet (such a relief after St Emilion!), and then the owner came to get us for the most comprehensive, friendly and informative tour we’ve ever had, with Polly in tow.
He showed us everything from the the vines, to the machines he uses to harvest and press the grapes, the old cement vats where the red wine is fermented and the bottling station. We tasted a white wine in half-fermentation and another in near-full fermentation directly from the barrel (something I’ve never tried!) and we chatted extensively about the terroir, how the old vines survive the summer heat waves, and their history on the land. This man was passionate, and his love of wine shone through it all.
After the tour he took us in for a full wine-tasting (where we obviously bought a hefty selection) plus he gave a small free bottle for our dinner, a lovely little gift. All in all an incredible place with an incredible host!
Our final sleep in the motorhome was perfect. We were quiet and alone, bellies full of good food and wine, a day of packed memories to lull us to sleep. Tomorrow we would head home, both sad and happy to do so (it’s always a mix, ya know), but we’d carry this final night with us for a long, long time.