One of the best perks about vacationing in Europe is that whatever country you visit, you’re in many cases always just a day trip away from yet another country…complete with its unique language, heritage, and my favorite….cuisine! If you’re into culinary tourism and love wine, I have an itinerary to share with you. The Bordeaux Wine Experience in the south of France runs tours of the Bordeaux region accompanied by your choice of 2 Spain excursions personally experienced many times before by husband and wife team Ronald and Margaret Rens.
This of course is the main event, the reason you should make the trek from Paris or other tourist must-sees in France to sample Bordeaux at the source. This year is particularly compelling with the 2010 vintages ready for tasting. Since August and September were relatively cool, the wines’ acidity was well preserved promising great flavor bursts on the palate.
You have many choices for tour operators when visiting Bordeaux. But with Experience Bordeaux Wine Tours, you’re going in style
with somebody who has more than 25 years local experience tasting at the world’s most famous chateaux like Margaux, Latour, and Haut Brion. You get behind-the-scenes personal tours of the famous round aging cellar of Lafite Rothschild or the private wine museum of Mouton Rothschild and tasting first growths directly from the barrel. Best of all, each tour group is small with a maximum of 6 couples and one single. Lodging at 18th century Chateau Coulon Laurensac combines the best of old world charm with Michelin rated modern comforts.
Ensconced in Spain’s Basque country, Bilbao is a little over three hours by car from Bordeaux. Most groups stay in the five star Gran Hotel Domine right across the street from the titanium and marble Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum. Highlights include sampling some of the best tapas right in the heart of bustling old town paired with a glass of Cava, the Spanish rendition of champagne. The majestic architecture of Cathedral de Santiago is sure to entice you into discovering the interior. Equally beautiful is the Gothic Basílica de Begoña which dates back to the early 1600s with spires that are visible throughout the city. No trip to Bilbao would be complete without visiting Pamplona, scene of the famous “running of the bulls” which takes place each July in the nearby resort town of San Sebastian.
Further south from Bilbao, La Rioja‘s culture centers around wine and gastronomic delights. Can’t miss Dinastía Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine, one of the world’s premier wine museums, contains priceless objects ranging from Egyptian times to Picasso all connected in some way with the production and serving of wine. The region’s varied terrain and climate shape the preparation and content of local specialities. Vineyards are distinguished by where they are located on the Upper and Lower Rioja districts along the banks of the Ebro and the high mountain valleys.
Go with a traditional local custom of bar hopping before lunch along some of the oldest streets in La Rioja, such as the well-known calle Laurel in Logroño or la Herradura in Haro. Sample some of specialities of each bar such as “pinchos” or “banderillas” (snacks on a cocktail stick), mushrooms, embuchado (a kind of sausage), sweetmeats, pickled or fried anchovies, Spanish omelettes, sardines with a hot chilli, and wild mushrooms paired with….of course….glasses of Rioja wine.
photos courtesy of the Bordeaux Wine Experience