Across the Bordeaux line
I woke up feeling much better today, if not back on top, at least ready, willing and able to climb again. The absence of rain also made me wonder if I’m actually just a human weather-vane whose moods fluctuate with the cloud cover. At any rate, today was a reminder that we need the darkness to better appreciate the light.
After finishing off the last of the speculaas spread for breakfast, we spent a great deal of time appreciating the UNESCO protected city of Bordeaux from the car as we inched our way through the almost impenetrable and barely regulated traffic – there’s a point where you have a tram, a bus and three other lanes of traffic pointing at you and no lights directing anyone where you just have to close your eyes and go! Eventually we cleared the worst of it and were on our way for our days excursion.
Bordeaux is unsurprisingly surrounded by various wine regions – the two most renowned are St Emilion and the Medoc which happen to be in opposite directions so we had to choose one. A Canadian couple (from Vancouver Island no less) we met at breakfast the day before last had been to St Emilion and found it a little ‘touristy’. Also, of the few wines we’ve sampled on this trip so far, the stand outs without a doubt have been from the Medoc – decision made.
We wound our way to Pauillac, the heart of the prestigious wine region, through an area that seemed to combine the best of Champagne and the Loire Valley with countless chateau’s set in endless vineyards. We arrived at the picturesque village to find it something of a ghost town being between the witching hours of 12-2pm. We decided to find somewhere for lunch and found everyone in the village crammed into the bistro on the main square. Apparently there wasn’t room for two more and we were told the only other place in town open for lunch was the 2 Michelin stared restaurant around the corner…
…our last day in France… nowhere else to go… you only live once… what the hell! So off we toddled giggling all the way at our own extravagance, little did we know what awaited us. We arrived at Chateau Cordeillan Bages to be greeted in the grand reception by name by a very suave gentleman in a suit (the maitre d’ at the bistro had called ahead for us) and ushered through room after sumptuous room to the actual restaurant. The dining area was quite modern and light with a feeling of solidity and space.
We were shown to our table with a person assigned to each of us for the seating ritual which involved picking up Mum’s comfy old cardigan that she’d worn for warmth and without expectation of fine dining and now dropped in the excitement of it all. We were also supplied with individual hooks upon which to sheepishly hang my well-worn and somewhat dishevelled back pack. When asked if we’d like Champagne to start, of course we said ‘oui’, we’re not savages despite initial appearances!
Champagne was of course served with delicately made seaweed wafers and bread sticks that all tasted so good, we already knew the budget was blown! In for a penny, in for a pound, we pushed on. Our meals started with a palate cleansing ‘foam’ – cucumber for me, snail for Mum (but of course!) – served with exquisite garnishes and cutlery that just wanted to be stolen (but wasn’t).
Before the meal commenced in earnest, another man in a suit wheeled a table over to us to choose our bread and butter (5 options for each. Mum had pimento butter, I had seaweed). We also got some sparkling water which was actually decanted for us into a crystal beaker.
The stage was set for our entrees – soft boiled egg in creme comte for me (I don’t even know what that means but it was divine and served in a Star Trek style bowl) and something to do with ox-tails for mum. Table cleared and swept and onto mains – a selection of the worlds most delicious vegetables with three little perfectly sculpted mounds of ricotta and for mum, roast black pig with an artwork of accompanying vegetables. Table cleared and swept for the moment we’d all been waiting for – dessert. I’ll admit, I was dubious about the exotic fruit, caramel and meringue option as it had been described to us being a firm believer that fruit in a dessert is generally taking up precious chocolate and/or ice cream space but the magnificent creation that was served up to us was pure perfection. The meringue ball on top crowned with a wafer of chocolate and edible gold, opened like a jewel box to reveal a faux-egg with a liquid mango yolk – the single most spectacular dessert either of us had ever seen.
We were then invited to enjoy our coffee outside by the vineyard. It was of course served with a selection of hand made chocolates and Caneles (little cake things with a caramelised crust that’s are a specialty of the Bordeaux region). Throughly satisfied, we made our way back inside where we met our chef, Monsieur Jean-Luc Rochas. Mum proudly told him all about Porteno and Bodega and he told us about his time spent in Sydney earlier in the year with Tony Bilson and his plan to return next year to work at Jonah’s at Whale Beach.
I had joked with Mum earlier in the meal that there was probably a separate room for paying the bill and to this point, we hadn’t been presented with one. We shouldn’t have been surprised therefore when we were ushered to a separate room, given a seat and only then, given the bill. I barely dared to look at the bottom line before handing over my credit card. But as I always say when trying to justify grand-expenditure – money comes and goes, time just goes and we had had the time of our lives so c’est la vie!
Giddy from our decadent dining experience, we hopped back in the car to explore more of the region, picking up the fixings for a far simpler dinner and a bottle of wine (and corkscrew!) along the way. The Médoc is on the left bank of the Gironde estuary, which is formed by the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers and is Europe’s largest estuary. We decided to hug the coastal road all the way to the tip and right bank which opens out to the Atlantic Ocean, stopping here and there as the spirit moved us.
At one point we went completely off the GPS grid, following signs to Port du Richard in search of photo opportunities for my dad (whose name is RIchard if that wasn’t obvious). It was a beautiful little spot with a lighthouse and giant fig tree which we of course mugged for its ripe fruit.
By the time we reached the tip, the last of the day’s light was fading fast so we turned tail and headed back to Bordeaux for our final French supper of baguettes, cheeses and mustard in our room accompanied by wines served in elegant glass yoghurt jars we’d saved from earlier in the trip.
Although a little sad that this was our last day in France and penultimate for the trip, we both felt content knowing we couldn’t have asked for a happier ending.
We woke to a sunnier day, no rain but a wee bit overcast and headed through crazy traffic but no road rage was obvious to me. It must be the French with their laid back approach to traffic as they drive on the wrong side of the road.
We arrived at Pauillac in the Medoc wine region (good reds!). We couldn’t get coffee at the local restaurant but the maitre’d suggested the 2 Michelin stared Chateau Cordeillan Bages ‘just around the corner’, so why not?! We wound our way through streets with lots of beautiful gardens of wild flowers.
We almost fell over when we saw the place – it was AMAZING! We had a gastronomically delightful lunch (see photos). We even met the chef who had visited Australia earlier this year to work at Bilson’s and next year he’s coming to Jonah’s at Whale Beach. It was truly an amazing experience for Nomi and I.
After lunch we wound our way to Port du Richard, beautiful area off the GPS grid. It’s a sleepy little village with a beach front where I’m sure lots of French people would come in summer time. We found a lovely old fig
tree and ate lots of its fruit – yummy!
What made me smile today: The look of disgust on the face of the waiter who beautifully groomed as he picked up my grotty old cardigan and hung it up beautifully. Also our photos at the Pauillac Tourist Information Centre which made us both giggle. Just a great last day in France and spending such a beautiful time with EB. Love to all.