A house in the country
Your very own chateau in the south of France – well, the next best thing.
A completely different take on visiting France – renting a chateau offers an immersive experience that the well worn tourist approach simply can’t match.
24 November, 2023
Think Bordeaux and you’d be forgiven if your first thought was wine, but there is so much more to this part of France, with its rich storied history. This quintessentially French region is the perfect place to ‘embed’ oneself in the culture and day to day life to enjoy an experience that so many crave when visiting another land.
How better to experience this wine-rich region than with a 10-day stay at a small chateau seven kilometres from the UNESCO World Heritage village of St Emilion, and five kilometres from Castillon-la-Bataille, site of the final battle in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453).
Our particular group was made up of 11 friends – mostly from an advanced French class on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. When fellow student Jacqui mooted the idea of renting a chateau near Bordeaux, it was thought une très bonne idée by classmates – even le professeur and her husband were keen to join in the adventure.
Jacqui had lived in the region for 18 years, some five years ago, when her French Mauritian husband Jean Michel, a flight captain was based out of London. Rather than live in the UK, they chose to live in rural France where they ran a small vineyard and gite – making their own wines and becoming part of the community.
How better to experience this wine-rich region than with a 10-day stay at a small chateau near the UNESCO World Heritage village of St Emilion
Built in 1602, our ‘home’ was originally a St Èmilion Grand Cru vineyard until the vines were sold to neighbouring winery
Châteaux in this region are totally different from the ones we’ve become used to seeing perhaps in the Loire Valley such as Chenonceau, Chambord and Amboise which were originally royal residences. Chateaux in this region can be quite humble, the term ‘chateau’ actually referring to the fact that it is a wine-producing estate – think Château Margaux, Château Latour and the like.
Built in 1602, our ‘home’ was originally a St Èmilion Grand Cru vineyard until the vines were sold to neighbouring winery 15 years ago – the house, barn, wine-aging cellars and three acres of grounds being sold to a private family a few years later. Renovated to become a beautiful country retreat while retaining its original charm and many 17th century elements, today the château caters for up to 11 guests in six bedrooms with five bathrooms, spacious kitchen, dining room, salon with original fireplace, study with library and inner Mediterranean-inspired courtyard.
Terraced lawns are ideal for fun games of pétanque, a good-sized pool for summer cool-downs while tall established trees provide shade for spontaneous lunches sur l’herbe.
Huge old-fashioned rose bushes are amassed in blooms, beds of lavender buzz with bees while ducks dabble in a pond and neighbouring vineyards provide a changing landscape – breathtaking in the magical afternoon light.
Our itinerary is a loose one and can change depending on the weather and the collective wishes of the group. But we’re all keen to wander local markets, absorb the sights and aromas of the bountiful regional produce, sample local treats and eager to taste the fabulous regional wines. Plus, the area is known for regional specialties such as canelés from Bordeaux, macarons from St Émilion, and produce such as Cap Ferret oysters from coastal Arcachon, foie gras, saffron, snails and Aquitaine caviar. Who knew France was the third largest producer of farmed caviar after Italy and China?
We arrive on a Friday, and fittingly, our first excursion is to the Saturday morning market at Ste Foy la Grande to stock up on food for the group – and particularly for that day’s lunch. We have all been given an envelope containing Euro 20 with which to buy a nominated item from the market – oysters, terrines, charcuterie, salad, breads, cheese, savoury tarts and dessert – and whatever else might take our fancy. I choose patisseries.
Who knew France was the third largest producer of farmed caviar after Italy and China?
There are visits to historic castles and villages, bio vineyards with wine tastings, more markets and fun games of pétanque
The main street of Ste Foy la Grande is bustling with fresh produce stalls laden with artichokes, whitlof, white asparagus, coeur de boeuf tomatoes, cherries, the sweetest gariguette strawberries, edible flowers and more. It’s tempting to sample everything – but I’m on a mission.
Lunch back at the chateau is a treat as we set up long tables under shady trees, pour chilled rosé wines and relax into the afternoon. There are to be several of these déjeuners sur l’herbe during our stay. Other days we enjoy well-priced Menu du Jours at local bistros – one at a truck stop, La Puce, where we enjoy a five-course lunch with wine and coffee for an incroyable Euros 14.
One night we dine at the second-generation family-run Famille Moutier in Thénac, an off-the-radar country restaurant that serves a nearly all-duck menu of seven courses from foie gras, to smoked duck, confit of duck leg and grilled magret or duck breast. It is here we are introduced to the sweet Monbazillac wine, the perfect accompaniment to foie gras.
There are visits to historic castles and villages, bio vineyards with wine tastings, more markets and fun games of pétanque. One day in the Dordogne, we explore beautiful Sarlat-la-Canéda, stop for a riverside picnic in La Roque-Gageac and visit clifftop Chateau de Beynac, an imposing well-preserved 12th century castle overlooking the Dordogne.
This impregnable heritage-listed medieval fortress was seized by Richard the Lionheart in 1197 and was the stage for many battles during the Hundred Years’ War.
Two days visiting Bordeaux prove not nearly enough as there is much to see including a fascinating and educational wine sensory visit to the acclaimed Cité du Vin, and nearby, a Dali and Gaudi visual assault on the senses in the darkened underground Les Bassins des Lumières – built by the Germans during WWII to house their submarines, and today is the world’s largest digital art centre. Then, there is the colourful Arab Quarter, an old bric-a-brac market, Les Capucins food market and so much more.
If the idea of side-stepping the usual tourist trail and tasting Bordeaux château life appeals to you, bring your own group of up to 11, or check the possibility of joining another group. It’s a way of travelling and visiting this rich area that provides a very different perspective to the well-worn hotel or bed and breakfast route. It may even sow the seeds of a more permanent stay – but that is a different story for a different time.
It’s a way of travelling and visiting this rich area that provides a very different perspective to the well-worn hotel or bed and breakfast route
Want to ensure you always receive the latest news and features from Audi? Subscribe now to the Audi Magazine newsletter.