France has many wine regions, but for the finest vineyards, the loveliest sights, and the most charming places to stay, it’s hard to beat Bordeaux and Cognac.
Bordeaux: The lowdown
With vineyards occupying more than 120,000 hectares of the region, Bordeaux is the largest wine-growing area in France, but that’s not all you’ll love about it. Its soil, gravelly and sandy in equal measure, has turned the idea of terroir into a near obsession.
It’s the turf where most of France’s claret is produced, although Bordeaux also has a few sweet whites, rosés and sparkling tipples to its resume. Then, of course, every two years, the city hosts the Bordeaux Wine Festival, but even if you miss it, there is no shortage of wine-related tours, walks and events for oenophiles to enjoy this side of France.
Where to bed down
Set by a lake in the vineyards of Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Les Sources de Caudalie is that bucolic hotel where the French art de vivre comes to life. Think a hotel in a blissfully rural setting of manicured vines, weathered pantiles and chalky stone walls, and rooms with antique furniture and claw-foot bathtubs. The service matches the setting, with charming staff ready to attend to your every need.
But where the hotel really gets it right is the heavenly spa, housed in a large timbered building, with 20 treatment rooms, an indoor pool and a steam room. Outside, a heated pool and a barrel-shaped hot tub take place of pride. The hotel is also the birthplace of vineotherapy, which are beauty treatments centered around grape seeds. The facials and massages are sublime, and very popular with both locals and out of towners so book them well in advance.
Cognac: The lowdown
Cognac is the gateway to the Charente region of southwest France, and the vast vineyards stretching from the grand town of Cognac and over to the Atlantic coast is a delight to explore. Winemakers, distillers, famed maisons de négoce…this side of France is a classic destination for wine lovers, and cellars where precious vintages going back a 100 years are stored, make for starry eyed visitors every time.
Then, of course, Cognac also has a lot of history. It’s majestic castle, for instance, was the birthplace of one of France’s most illustrious kings, and the House of Martell is a historic site where three centuries of cognac knowledge and know-how is laid bare so you can plunge into it.
Where to bed down
Just a few hundred metres from the centre of Cognac, Hôtel Chais Monnet is the town’s first luxury hotel by French architect Didier Poignant, and the creativity of it- mysterious rather than clean-lined- makes for a swanky bolthole of dark panels, sand-colored floors and uplifting lightness in its blonde and beige oak furniture.
The absolute draw, however, is its brasserie, under which is a semi-underground space where tables surrounded by towering barrels of ageing brandies make for an otherworldly escape. In more ways than one, the Hôtel Chais Monnet is one of a kind, and if you’re going to Cognac, it’s the place to stay.