Win a gastronomic weekend to Bordeaux
- Credit: Archant
Enjoy a stay at luxurious Le Saint James Bouliac courtesy of Kent Life
Although Christmas is upon us, well-prepared Romeos will be thinking of 14 February and how they might woo their Juliets.
If you seek the romance, chic style, fine wine and world-class gastronomic experience of Paris but prefer to avoid the hustle and bustle and find sanctuary in a French rural idyll, then Le Saint-James must top any Valentine’s wishlist.
I took my fair lady to this astonishing little gem to celebrate 10 years of enjoying all the things we love to do together.
As this mainly consists of appreciating fine food, great wine, travel and each other’s company, it couldn’t be topped.
We left a drizzly, grey Gatwick around midday, after spending a little of our morning making our way to the airport.Most Saturday mornings are spent reading the papers and drinking a coffee or two. The journey to Gatwick was no different, with the sofa swapped for a train seat.
On arrival at Bordeaux airport, we skipped the baggage collection area with our cabin-only luggage, and went straight to the exit. It wasn’t until we left customs that we realised we had become so inured to a more independent travel style that we hadn’t really thought about the airport-hotel transfer. This presented little problem, as Le Saint-James had arranged for their car to collect and transport us, beaming and stress-free, to the hotel.
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Being driven in a high-end, modern yet classic-style Citroen through the French countryside to our retreat in Bouliac was all that was needed to assure us that we were in for a great weekend.
Upon arrival we sauntered past citrus trees and sculptures to be welcomed by friendly reception staff who were genuinely eager to ensure a perfect stay.
From here on, the experience went from an exciting break for the weekend to a grin-inducing, ‘wow’ factor of a stay.
The highly experienced, warmly welcoming general manager, Anthony Torkington, came to greet us as well, treating us like a guest in his home.
Staying at the hotel is what I imagine it to be like to stay in a wing of a modern art gallery. Contemporary artists’ work is displayed around the hotel, which is itself the work of Jean Nouvel.
His artistic and architectural ambition to unite style, nature and tradition is beautifully realised within the design of the hotel. Captivating iron works are found sitting along the original stone farmhouse corridor. Elsewhere, modern textile pieces hang along matt black, modern passages.
Wandering around the intimate hotel feels like you are moving between galleries. There is no sense of clutter nor a lack of identity, however. The hotel knows exactly what it is, or rather, what it is not.
There are none of the clichés nor tired familiarities that you can often find when staying at big-name chain hotels. High-end hotels can too often fall into a trap of lacking personality and individual identity.
Perched upon a Bordelais hilltop, like a patient vigneron watching his vines, this hotel is in no rush to conform. It’s confident in what it knows and offers, making your visit an experience of its personality.
We stayed in the hard-to-overstate Jacuzzi Suite which, as the name suggests, includes its own bubbly hot tub. The view from the window is only limited by the amount the human eye can take in.
From the privately owned vineyard on the doorstep of the hotel the view extends for miles. The vista reaches over verdant fields to the banks of La Garonne, one of the regions’ key arteries, supplying the life-blood water to irrigate the myriad vineyards. Beyond the river, the view stretches west, across the trendy city of Bordeaux, just a 15-minute car ride away.
For me the hotel’s nature is typified by not having a clock in the room. In fact, I don’t recall seeing one in the whole of the building. The only way I was able to take a measure of the time of day was to look out of the bedroom window to the clock tower of the nearby Romanesque church.
Crisp white linen on the bed, simple, modern furnishings in a building that likes clean lines - if the French weren’t so republican, it would befit the phrase to be ‘treated like a princess’.
Easing the patio doors to one side we ventured out onto the rooftop private terrace to ‘our’ Jacuzzi. Unperturbed by seasonal rain, we enjoyed drinking a glass of fizz in the hot tub while overlooking the stunning panorama.
Sufficiently relaxed, we then took advantage of the hotel’s Decouverte du Vignoble session with one of the staff. Sat next to the open fireplace, with logs crackling and corks being popped from the necks of fine wines, we took a few steps towards ‘vin-lightenment’. Learning about the wines of the region provides a literacy to understand and describe wine, and is done in a way that is unpretentious and focused purely on the joy of knowing and understanding what you are drinking.
Discussing grapes, chateaus and appellations with the passionate and well-informed Eva was revealing and informative, broadening our understanding and realisation of how much there is to learn about one of France’s greatest traditions. And we’ve come away with a new personal favourite: the buttery, full-mouthed Chateau Courreges 2011.
We asked to see the carte du vin and we were presented with a thesis-sized tome filled with an awe-inspiring range for all budgets. The collection includes some 20,000 bottles with 2,000 labels.
Dinner at the hotel is another experience in itself. Led by a Michelin-starred chef, a team of extremely talented kitchen professionals prepare exquisite, creative and playful dishes for lucky diners.
As befits the hotel, you are encouraged to be voyeurs upon the normally covert act of food preparation via a long rectangular window looking into the kitchen.
As a vegetarian, my dining experiences in France have not always been exactly spectacular. Nevertheless, there was no hint of confusion nor disappointment from the kitchen, the imaginative team readily producing dish after dish of handcrafted samples of their artistic culinary talents.
Dinner was both figuratively and literally a journey. Starting with a garden-themed amuse bouche, complete with edible dirt, we voyaged through enchanting foams, rolls, creams, slices, stacks and chunks of flavor, texture and visual marvels. A highlight was the mouthful of a creamy celeriac risotto with black truffle.
My fair lady enjoyed a fantastic sea >> harvest, including perfectly seared scallops and sea bass served on a mini-barbeque grill. Around us, diners were being captivated with offerings ranging from red meat to croustillant black puffed rice.
The gastronomic feast was rounded off with a rabbit-punch of an espresso, served with a smorgasboard of chocolates.
At night you can marvel at the sparkling lights of Bordeaux. Our room came fitted with black-out blinds, so you are able to sleep undisturbed into a late and lazy Sunday morning, should you desire.
You may also choose to fill your weekend with activities and experiences nearby, from local walks or visiting the church to a trip into Bordeaux for some shopping.
Guests and non-guests can also enjoy cooking classes on site at the hotel at the new state-of-the-art cookery school, Côte? Cours. On our Sunday morning, after a luxurious breakfast in bed, we sliced, diced, seasoned, caramelised, piped and baked our way through some tasty delectations using the finest ingredients, from potent, creamy French blue cheese to sharp, fresh lemons plucked from the tree outside the kitchen.
Our teacher showed us some great tips and let us take advantage of pro-chef tools such as juicers and blast-freezers. After a few hours we were enjoying our own creations. These included a tart Granny Smith foam, topped with blue cheese and hazlenuts, risotto-ball arancini, and a colour-festival on a biscuit, made with a fresh lemon and lime mayonnaise.
Before we knew it, our whirlwind break was over, yet it felt like we had been here for days. There was so much more we could have done: enjoyed dinner in the nearby pizzeria, bought bread and cheese from the local shops to be enjoyed on a hike in the countryside, or taken one of the guided tours of the vineyards in probably the most notable wine-producing region in the world.
These will wait for our return! n
Kent Life has teamed up with Le Saint James Bouliac to offer one lucky reader a two-night stay for two to include one gastronomic dinner in the restaurant with half a bottle of wine each plus a 90-minute cooking lesson.
The prize is subject to availability throughout 2014, excluding July and August, Christmas and New Year. Bookings are to be made directly with the hotel, quoting Kent Life Gastronomic Weekend. Please note that flights and transfers are not included.
To be in with a chance of winning, just answer the question below and then send your answer with your name and contact details (including a daytime contact number) and email to: email@example.com or send a postcard to: Kent Life, Archant Kent, Apple Barn, Hythe Road, Smeeth, nr Ashford TN25 6SS.
Please put ‘Gastronomic Weekend’ in the subject line. Archant competition rules apply (for full terms and conditions see www.kent-life.co.uk).
Which renowned architect designed Le Saint James Bouliac?
a) Jean Paul Sartre
b) Jean Nouvel
c) Jeann Pascal
Deadline for entries: 27 December 2013
GET IN TOUCH
Le Saint James Bouliac, Hôtel Relais & Châteaux
3 place Camille Hostein, 33270 Bouliac
+33 (0)5 57 97 06 00
Prices start from £179 per night based on two people sharing, including breakfast.
Bordeaux Airport is just 20 minutes away by car and flights are available from the UK all year round with British Airways and Easyjet.
You can book a return air fare to Bordeaux
(£55, Easyjet) for less than a return train to Paris, and the flight time is only 90 minutes.