TuesdayThis is the 4th in an occasional series highlighting my favourite day from our various tours. This is important for us when we’re guiding our tours – these are the days that either win us credit, or regain lost credibility (as if!). I like to imagine that people will judge our holidays after they’re returned home. They’ll reflect on a week-long adventure, not just whether the coffee on Tuesday morning is hot enough. But, there’s no doubt that there are days that are a bit special, where we know everyone is going to be happy.
And on our Bordeaux Winetrail, for me it’s Tuesday.We wake up in Ste Foy La Grande, which is actually the most distant appellation that is still classified as ‘Bordeaux’. Our first stop is probably our wine-tasting highlight of the week – Chateau Puy Servain. The estate is owned by Daniel Hecquet, who used to be the œnologue at Chateau d’Yquem in Sauternes. There is no higher accolade in world wine-making!
The appellations are Montravel and Haut-Montravel. Following the French appellation rules, they’re allowed to make 5 different wines here, but the stand-out for me is the dessert wine, AOC Haut-Montravel. We’ve been visiting Daniel for years, and he’s extremely generous with his time (and his wine!) for reasons I don’t fully understand. But it’s a privilege, and a very enjoyable one.
The whole day is a pretty short ride, but as you can see from the ride profile (click for a better look), we start with a bit of a climb and we end with a bit of a climb. In between we cycle along the Dordogne valley, and we usually take lunch in a classic French lunch stop. These places don’t always appear even to be open, but when you open the door there’s a hum of maybe 30 or 40 people in the back room eating a fixed lunch menu. There’s no choice (or very little) you get a starter, a main course, a dessert, wine, water and coffee. Astonishing value, very variable customer service, and a clasically French experience. I love it.Then it’s the climb into St Emilion. Famous, of course, for it’s wines, I think it would be almost as famous if it produced ball bearings, it’s such a beautiful little town. It has a charming central square occupied by several bars. With a population of just 2,000, St Emilion receives thousands of visitors each day. They arrive by coach and by car, and they have to park outside the town and walk into the centre. We don’t of course, we cycle wherever we damn well please! As they have to leave, we’re sat in the central square enjoying a kir in the evening sunshine. Or at least I usually am. St Emilion is built on top of a vast limestone outcrop, and the whole area is riddled with underground quarries and tunnels – Bordeaux was built with limestone extracted from St Emilion. We get to explore them on a visit to Chateau Franc Mayne, a St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.
And finally we eat at the L’Envers du Decor, just 100 metres from our hotel, which is a lovely experience.
As a tour operator, it’s a very expensive day – nothing in St Emilion is cheap, especially the wine. But this blog piece is about what people enjoy, not how much money I don’t make. My favourite day on our Bordeaux Winetrail, our 3rd day of cycling: Tuesday.
If you haven’t already visited St Emilion, you really should. Ideally, stay over. And if you’re ever allowed to visit Daniel Hecquet you should always say yes.