15 Nov Boutique bolt-hole in Bordeaux
La Reserve have done it again, but this time with a ‘Maison’. La Maison D’Estournel is the latest addition to the illustrious collection offering a distinctly more home-from-home, country house atmosphere than its cool city cousins.
14 fabulous bedrooms and suites, a super cosy lounge and welcoming open house kitchen have been created by Soho House designer, Alex Michaelis. Every detail of comfortable, relaxed country living has been carefully brought to life in the choice of richly-coloured velvet fabrics, melt-in-the-middle sofas, eclectic knick-knacks and artfully mismatched chairs. The perfect place to share long lunches that stretch into the afternoon, indulgent cheese plates washed down with a silky, smooth Bordeaux and an afternoon snooze on the sun-drenched terrace. It’s made for chilling out and celebrating the simple pleasures in life. Heavenly and only a couple of hours away from home.
We took a Gatwick flight into Bordeaux and enjoyed an easy hour-long transfer by car to the heart of the Medoc region where wine is king. The names of oenological royalty flashed past us as we made our way to La Maison. Chateaux Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Pichon Baron and just five minutes from our final destination, the award-winning vineyards of Cos D’Estournel. This is also home to ‘La Chartreuse’, the private residence of La Reserve owner Michel Reybier who has now transformed the first vineyard owner’s house into La Maison D’Estournel.
A grand, semi-circular courtyard entrance greeted us on arrival revealing the exquisite pale stone architecture of a much-loved and lived in 19th-century French country house. The kind of place you dream of coming home to with welcoming lights twinkling at the windows and friends there waiting for us with open arms and a table for two in the deliciously cosy restaurant.
Dining here is an informal affair where a simple but creative seasonal menu puts local produce centre stage. Freshly-caught trout, delicate mushrooms and light, buttery sauces showcased all that’s good about the region, accompanied, naturally, by a most fabulous glass of the home-grown hero, Pagodes de Cos. We were quite late to arrive for dinner and the atmosphere was pleasingly convivial with other guests enjoying a variety of mouth-watering menu options and wonderful wines. Food envy is a terrible thing, but with only 24 hours to experience the delights of the hotel, I’ve decided the only way to beat it is to return on a regular basis and try it all!
The toasty lounge area to the back of the restaurant is the perfect place to tuck into a cheese plate, a bottle of Bordeaux’s finest and a good book. Just writing those words gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling and takes me right back there. The day we left we saw a small group of guests enjoying a private wine-tasting in the same spot – what a great way to spend an afternoon in wine country.
One of the things that makes this restaurant – and indeed this hotel – special is the friendly team of young staff who are not only proud to be here, but really well-informed about the food and wine. None more so than the passionate, young chef Emilien Deschamps, who welcomes guests into his open kitchen to enjoy a glass of wine at the bench while he and his small team prepare the day’s dishes. Not only is he full of good humour (unusual for a chef trained under Gordon Ramsey and Alain Ducasse you might think!), but he’s in his element talking about the local ingredients, what he’s making and how you feel about it. He regularly walks amongst the guests to ask how they enjoyed their food, what they drank with it and to gain inspiration for his future menus.
After dinner it was time to explore. Spread over two floors built around an elegant stone and black ironwork staircase, the house has a pleasing mix of cool black and white ceramic floor tiles and vintage oak floorboards that make you feel instantly at home. Just 14 lux, country-style rooms offer a choice of Junior Terrace Suites, Junior Suites and Cos Rooms looking out over the glorious gardens and vineyards beyond. The Pagodes Rooms are west-facing and look out over the equally tranquil sweeping drive and garden. Up to 31 square metres in size the suites all benefit from a luxuriously deep, free-standing bath and huge walk-in shower. The rooms just have a shower, but when I say ‘just’, they have a super-spacious, open walk-in design which mirrors that of a giant oak barrel – you probably have to be there to understand what I mean, but believe me, it’s almost worth going for the showers alone!
All of the rooms are simply decorated and furnished with quality trumping quantity every time. The most comfortable bed, fine, soft bed linen, pretty French country-style fabrics, delicate mirrors and a couple of really good books on the bedside table. No frills, no fuss just pure class and a great night’s sleep.
The next day we were up bright and early and decided to head off into the vineyards to find the nearby village and perhaps a glimpse of the Gironde estuary. Electric bicycles are free to hire at La Maison and a great way to get around the local area if you fancy a pootle about or taking a picnic to enjoy a sunny spot down by the water’s edge.
It was the first day of the grape harvest when we were there and dozens of pickers were dotted amongst the vines gathering the fruits of their labour. There are lots of ways to experience the celebrated food, wines and traditions of the area, including participating in the harvest for a morning and then enjoying a rustic lunch with your fellow grape pickers in one of the grower’s barns. Rows of long tables adorned with red-and-white checked table cloths, hunks of freshly-baked bread, local cheeses and carafes of wine await the hungry hordes at midday, like a scene from an old French movie brought to life in front of our very eyes.
Other must-do experiences for those planning to stay a little longer include venturing out to the pretty wine town of St. Emilion, about an hour by car, sampling the salt-marsh oysters of Saint Vivien at the tip of the region, fishing in the Gironde estuary, taking a river cruise through the vineyards and discovering the magic of the foodie markets in Medoc. The legendary ‘D2’ municipal road takes you past all the great wine temples of Bordeaux with so many excuses for a stopping off along the way.
Before we left for our journey home, we made one very important stop at Cos D’Estournel just a few minutes down the road from La Maison. While the workers were busy with the beginning of the harvest we were lucky enough to enjoy a rare glimpse behind the magnificent elephant-flanked doors of La Chartreuse, Monsieur Reybier’s own private chateau on the estate. A homely ‘museum’ of the most exquisite paintings, antique furnishings and objects d’art from around the world, the fully-staffed castle is also is a joyful celebration of wine, food, travels and life. It’s an exceptional place that, for the lucky few, can be home for a night or two during periods when Monsieur Reybier’s family are not in residence. With eight guest rooms it sleeps a maximum of 16 people and gives a unique insight into the life and work of the vineyard owner. M. Reybier’s own Family Manager (the warm, engaging and mind-bogglingly knowledgeable Alessandra) showed us around with infectious passion and enthusiasm as if it were her own, which indeed she has made it. Whether it’s the people that make the places or the places that make the people, there’s something undeniably special about the vineyards and homes of D’Estournel. It’s something I promise you’ll want to share.
La Maison D’Estournel is open from mid-March to December.
For more details please contact Holly Mann on email@example.com