This summer we teamed up with wonderful friends and headed to France for a two-week vacation in Médoc. If you aren’t familiar with this part of France, Médoc is the region that occupies the left bank of Bordeaux. Bordered by the Gironde Estuary to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the landscape of Médoc is flat, covered in vineyards and protected from the sea by acres of meticulously planted pine forests. Médoc also boasts some of the most beautiful beaches I have visited. While home to some of Bordeaux’s most famous wine château, Médoc is relatively off-the-beaten path by international standards and maintains an air of seaside authenticity that is becoming increasingly difficult to find in Western Europe.
Les Relais des Lutins: This beautifully restored house in the tiny village of Bégadan should be your home away from home while exploring Médoc. Meticulously updated, with an eye towards integrating the home’s original details with contemporary furnishings, Les Relais des Lutins feels glamorous, yet comfortable, with all the amenities of home. The house, which comfortably sleeps two families, has a beautiful backyard with a pool, fruit trees, and a lawn big enough for a soccer match. While there isn’t much in the way of business activity in the village, there is a small variety store that stocks everything from bread and wine to lottery tickets and magazines, and most evenings during the summer food trucks pull into the square selling pizza, roast chicken, and the like. Highly recommended for families with children.
Château Cordeillan-Bages: Set amid vineyards outside of Pauillac, Château Cordeillan-Bages is an intimate Relais & Château hotel with 28 spacious rooms and suites. The hotel is owned by the Cazes family, who operate numerous vineyards and château in the area, most notably Château Lynch-Bages. A stay at Château Cordeillan-Bages involves exploring the region’s vineyards, sipping varietals produced by the Cazes family vintners, and enjoying the gastronomical experience of their restaurant, Cordeillan-Bages, whose new chef should have a Michelin star in no time. The hotel is just down the road from the village of Bages, which the Cazes family has been instrumental in restoring and bringing back to life. This hotel is not recommended for children.
Café Lavinal: We arrived at Café Lavinal during a torrential downpour, and despite not having a reservation (for nine people) were welcomed into the cozy bar. Who knew that this bistro in the middle of Médoc would be jam packed for lunch on a weekday? What followed was an exceptional meal of steak frites, tartar, and an incredible seafood risotto. If you are in the area to taste wine at any of the premier wineries, a lunch at Lavinal is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. $$$ Bages
Cordeillan-Bages: The simple décor of the white dining room at Château Cordeillan-Bages means that during your visit all of your attention will be on the food and the vista through the windows. Experience an excellent multi-course meal that begins with a selection of tiny bites served on a dried grapevine trunk, followed by a series of incredible amuse-buche. The tomahawk rib eye is not to be missed, (don’t be intimidated by its size) and desert is not to be skipped. Whether you are staying the hotel or passing through, a meal at Cordeillan Bages is not to be missed by those seeking a culinary experience in Médoc. $$$$ Babes
La Gam’Guette: Casual local spot on the Gironde Estuary serving oysters, prawns and fries. Only open in the summer and seating is al fresco. The best prawns you will ever have! $ Verdon-sur-Mer
Restaurant Le Lion d’Or: Classic Bordelaise country cuisine. A cozy stop for lunch if you are out wine tasting. $$$ Arcine
Le Bagus: The best burger spot in Soulac-sur-Mer. Just a couple of blocks off the beach on the main drag is this simple, yet delicious spot that serves variations on the mainstay. No open every day, so be sure to check their hours so to not be disappointed. $ Soulac-sur-Mer
Brasserie de la Plage: The more casual of the two beachside Brasseries in Soulac-sur-Mer. Don’t miss the mussels or the melon with prosciutto. The house rose is excellent! $ Soulac-sur-Mer
Snack du Papagayo: You could easily walk by this outdoor snack bar in Montalivet without blinking an eye, but you would be sore to miss one of the best burgers around. Maybe it is the special sauce, the perfectly grilled beef, or the nice guys who run this place – whatever the recipe; don’t miss a burger at Papagayo. They make excellent fruit smoothies as well. $ Montalivet
Located at the tip of the Médoc peninsula, Soulac-sur-Mer is a quaint village with an expansive white sand beach. Depending on the time of day, Soulac-sur-Mer experiences a huge tide, revealing wide sand flats and calm swimming holes. However, as swiftly as the tide goes out, it also comes back in. Pay attention to the lifeguards at Soulac-sur-Mer, as they don’t fool around.
Surfs up in Montalivet! A great place to learn how to surf, Montalivet has several shallow breaks along its enormous sandy beach. In summer, kids participate in surf camps and junior lifeguard training. On weekends, Montalivet comes alive with locals. If you are interested in learning how to surf, contact Montasurf School, whose instructors will have you "hanging 10" in no time.
Similar to Montalivet, Hourtin is a hot spot for surfers. A long, wide sand beach with an excellent break is just one more reason to take up surfing while you are in Médoc.
ON THE SIDE
Wine Tasting: I am not going to dive into the topic of tasting some of the world’s finest wines, because treatises have been written on it. But that being said, if you are interested in tasting the Grand Cru wines of Médoc, you will need to book directly with the château well in advance. Alternatively, if you are just curious about the local wine, small château selling Cru-Bourgeois, usually conduct tastings with a quick advance phone call, and often sell their wines direct.
La Co(o)rniche: Set in a pine forest on edge of the Bassin d’Arcachon, an hour south of Médoc, La Co(o)rniche is a 1930’s hunting lodge of neo-Basque architecture that has been reimagined by famed designer Philipe Starck. Adjacent to the Dune du Pilat, with magnificent views of the sea, La Co(o)rniche is exceptionally located for those seeking to explore this part of the Atlantic Coast. If you are making a day trip to the Dune du Pilat, start or end the day with a meal on the hotel’s expansive outdoor deck, where fresh seafood and perfectly executed French fare is served all day (I could have skipped the Dune altogether and spent the afternoon sipping rose under an umbrella at La Co(o)niche). Pyla-sur-Mer
Dune du Pilat: The Dune du Pilat is the tallest sand dune in Europe. Set on the banks of the Bassin d’Arcachon, a visit to the dune should not be missed if visiting the area. The Dune is a foredune, which means that it runs parallel to a shoreline, behind the high tide line of the beach. So pack your swimsuit, because after you hike to the top of the dune you can slide down for a swim in the sea. There are no amenities within the area, so pack in and pack out whatever refreshments you need. Pyla-sur-Mer
Le Phare de Cordouan: Le Phare de Cordouan is the only offshore lighthouse in the world still manned and open to visitors. For over 400 years, the Cordouan lighthouse has guided mariners navigating the mouth of the Gironde estuary. While historically significant, at 223-feet, the structure is also an architectural marvel. Boats leave daily from Verdon-sur-Mer for tours of the lighthouse, which not only includes a boat trip through the estuary, but transfer to the lighthouse by an amphibious vehicle. Purchase tickets in advance from Vedettes La Bohême, especially in mid-summer. Verdon-sur-Mer
How to Arrive: Bordeaux is now connected by high-speed train to Paris, making the region accessible in under 3-hours. Upon arrival in Bordeaux, a rental car is necessary in order to explore the region. All major rental car agencies are located in the basement of the new addition to the Bordeaux railway station.
When to Go: We visited Médoc during the end of June and early July, and while we had a few beautiful warm sunny days, our trip was made most memorable by the amount of rain the region experienced while we were there. It was clear from the sleepiness of the seaside towns that tourist season doesn’t begin in this region until the middle of July. So, if you interested in avoiding summer visitors, and are willing to gamble on the weather, June is a lovely time to visit Médoc.
La Fete du Village: In France during the summer months, each village hosts a party to celebrate the coming of summer. If you happen upon a village fete, be sure to participate, as it is a fun way to get to know the villages of Médoc.
Markets: During summer, larger villages host farmers markets where fresh meat, seafood, produce, and cheese are sold. Schedules are found on-line or are posted locally. For general necessities, head to your local Carrefour Supermarche. Not only is this the best version of a mega-supermarket, but it also sells all of my favorite French cheeses for about 1/8 of what I pay in the United States. Bon appétit!
Whats to Come:
Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland ★ 10.17
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W A N D E R L U S T