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Between Sips – Finding Perspective Beyond Bordeaux

Jetting off to Bordeaux you might envision wine-soaked afternoons touring the countryside and the world’s most famous châteaus. Once I arrived, surprisingly there was not a dirt road in sight and my surroundings were rather urban with speedy highways. The beauty of it was, we were heading just above the city to the “balcony of Bordeaux” for a luxury stay.

Checking into Relais & Chateaux, Le Saint-James Hotel, little did I know I would discover there is much more to the region than bottling grapes! The property and its rows of red are perched on a hill in the historic village of Bouliac, minutes above downtown Bordeaux with panoramic views stretching over the Garonne.

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In 1989, the eighteenth-century farmhouse became the destination of the hotel, designed by renowned architect Jean Nouvel and created with visions of a rustic, old tobacco barn elongated by natural beauty.

Greeted by the hotel’s effortlessly poised Corina Colliard, we chattered along a hallway of bright, geometric tiles, walking past bold and modern art displays. Opening the suite door, I was immediately whisked onto the cover of Architectural Digest.

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The suite snuffs any cliché expectations of luxury with an exposed lofty feel, unembellished and artfully conceived. An abundance of windows span across the room showcasing the vineyard that begs you to kick up your feet and watch the sun disappear.

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With minimalistic in mind, the raised bed is centrically placed, smartly donned in white and surrounded by metal finishings, avant-garde artwork, a mirrored wall, and a chic, leather living room set, all perfectly curated features you would expect on a luxury stay. The other suites creatively vary, another sporting a decorative, vintage Harley Davidson and the other a private Jacuzzi and terrace.

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After a stretch in my robe, I sauntered off to a wine tasting with the property’s Head Sommelier, Richard Bernard. Richard was recently named “Best Sommelier in France” and his wealth of knowledge is vast, although delightedly he keeps it simple. He admires opinions and lacks the snobbery you might assume comes with the grape guru territory.

Next, we toured their modest winemaking operation in a little cottage below the hotel. Richard passed a tart and fruity taste of a day old merlot and explained a bit about their science, or oenology.  Merely 600 bottles of their labeled merlot, Le Vin du Jardin are produced annually and offered on their menus. A few weeks away is the annual harvest in October and hotel guests are invited to take part in the vendanges.

Later, an evening was arranged with the executive team and General Manager, Anthony Torkington to experience their infamous Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant headed by Chef Nicolas Magie. Chef Magie’s traditional style yet modern mastery nicely intertwines with the architectural soul of the hotel. Chef created an evening to remember as we dined amongst the towering glass windows which feature an unimpeded sight of the vineyard. Anthony explained, “The multi-level design ensures a grand view from every table.”

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We were served a spread of wine pairings, from a creamy Latour Martillac blanc to a glass of smooth Bordeaux from the nearby Médoc. The amuse-bouche, a lively basil infused sorbet grabbed me as it passed my lips. Next, foie gras in a terrine gorgeously presented with cream of corn and bits of popcorn, and then followed by a supple line-fished bass from the Côtinière. In a state of culinary comatose, we yet applauded another course of delicious milk-fed veal peppered with figs.

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Three hours deep, we are greeted by a cart filled with artisan wheels of cheese as if you had the market at your fingertips. With a background in the hotel industry I touched on food cost and Anthony implied customers love their cheese course so it’s simply worth it. To finish dinner, we were served a Muscat, which was abnormally red and a rarity from the region. After dessert, I retreated upstairs and my eyes closed tightly in perfect synchrony with the automated shutters.

Wish to know how I spent the next two days? Part 2 of my adventure to follow.

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