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Posts tagged ‘Aquitaine’

No.216-218: Bordeaux: Boardwalks, Markets, and Spécialités

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We are just back from our warm and relaxing trip to Bordeaux. I fell in love with la perle d’Aquitaine, as Bordeaux is known, and hope that sometime in my life I get to spend at least 365 days there. At the moment, it is the newest bee in my bonnet.

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Bordeaux is France’s ninth largest city (with the sixth largest metropolitan area) and is the first French city Superman could see himself living in for the long-term. Three particular aspects of the city sealed the deal for us: the laid back, sporty, friendly and slow-speaking Bordelais(es), the fresh, multipurpose boardwalk, and the balmy, sunny weather.

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We were lucky to stay in a riverside apartment with a terrace in the charming Chartrons district near the historic UNESCO World Heritage part of the city and found that its inviting squares, funky neighborhoods, and lively markets made it the ideal city to meander through both on foot and bike. The city, famous for wine, is like a fine wine itself, offering the perfect balance of ageless grandeur and architecture, fresh, modern tones and more than a hint of fruitiness and fun.

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I posted earlier about what I’m calling Bordeaux’s Saint Marc’s Square, but is in fact called the miroir d’eau (water mirror). In my opinion, this central feature of the boardwalk lining the Garonne River is one of the most striking urban sites in France reflecting both the joyful heart of the city and the impressive Palais-de-la-Bourse. The boardwalk is a spot for young adults, extended families, casual wanderers and serious athletes all pulsing in sync. Rollerbladers duck and zoom, runners pant and croon, old couples hold hands and beam, youngsters scoot and skip, furry friends wrestle and romp, and vélos roll by, their cheery chimes announcing their approach.

The city boasts numerous outdoor cafés, lots of spots for picnicking, live music jams, colorfully clad open-air tangoing, first-class museums, gorgeous architecture, fresh seafood (yummy oysters) and haute cuisine, and of course, caves for tasting the region’s wine. There is also an excellent farmers market on Sundays (Marché des Quais) selling all the usual suspects along with some of the unusual and distinctively Bordelaise spécialités. Comme ça:

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Farcou (herb pancakes) 3/5€ or 7/10€

Farcou (herb pancakes) 3/5€ or 7/10€

 

Kongloff…giant brioche cake with powder sugar

Kongloff…giant brioche cake with powder sugar

la petite croustades…filo, apples sauce and almond paste...

la petite croustades…filo, apples sauce and almond paste…

 

 

caneles de Bordeaux

caneles de Bordeaux

As you may have noticed, I am totally smitten with Bordeaux and this region of France. The sparkling pearl of Aquitaine has a little something for everyone and is quite effectively enticing this Parisphile south…

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Vocabulaire

Bordelais(es): people from Bordeaux

caves: wine cellars, storage space

Comme ça: Like this:

la perle d’Aquitaine: the pearl of Aquitaine (the Aquitaine pearl)

spécialités: specialties

 

 

 

No. 214-215: Bordeaux Wine Country and Château Moulin Riche

In water one sees one’s own face, but in wine one beholds the heart of another…

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Of course, the main reason to make the trip to Bordeaux is to taste, savor and purchase the regions fermented gold. The wine certainly is divine là-bas, and we did our fair share of goûter(-ing) some very fine wine in Bordeaux and the surrounding areas.

I already have a formidable Bordeaux wine connection à Paris (my sweet friend, Hélène), and I was excited to visit some of her recommended vineyards. Per her advice, we started our tasting in the Médoc region at the Château Maucaillou Moulis-en-Médoc.

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Maucaillou, short for mauvais cailloux or bad pebbles, as the farmers of the Middle Ages deemed the land on which they could not get their important cereal and grain crops to sprout no matter how hard they tried, turns out not be such a bad patch of land. In fact, the mauvais terroir has become the perfect environment for producing some “highly expressive” wines. And, Chateau Maucaillou is the perfect place for a novice to learn about grapes, terroir, aging and tasting. The Château offers a 30-minute film (with English subtitles) explaining the winemaking process from field to bottle, followed by a tour and a (limited) tasting.

From Médoc we headed to a couple of other appellations, Pauillac and Margaux and sampled some more world famous wines. In Margaux we stumbled upon a small cave hosted by an amiable vintner who introduced me to the appellation, Saint Julien-Beychevelle, and the first wine that I have ever gone gaga for. En franglais, she patiently explained the unique and surprisingly complex terroir of this particular appellation and château that gives the wines so much character. After tasting three different offerings (and after three years of dropping in and out of wine tasting courses), I finally had an “ah-ha” moment, and completely flipped for a 2009 Château Moulin Riche. I don’t have the kind of money to become a wine snob, but if I did, the Moulin Riche is where I would be hanging out.

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As it was, I talked Superman into buying one bottle for a special occasion, and we continued on through the rolling hills and vineyards along the rivers of Aquitaine. En route we visited the Louis Vuitton’s teensy-weensy château and mugged for the camera on his family home’s doorstep. We sampled some Frank Phélen from Saint-Estèphe, and ended the day with some heavenly full-flavored Pomerol mis en bouteille au Chateau Sablard du Grand Moine.

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It was a perfect day in every way. I’m not sure how I came to be living this remarkable life. But I am grateful for every day, every hour, and every single minute. This break in Bordeaux’s wine country was certainly no exception. Chin chin Superman! Thanks for all you do and all you bring to our life in France.

No. 207-209: A Château, Playing Dress up, and the Best Picnic Spot Ever

After living in France for a while, you sometimes begin to take for granted certain things that, to short-term visitors, seem exceptional. Warm crusty baguettes around every corner? Bien sûr! Stunning architecture? Tout à fait. World-class museums? Naturellement. Fairytale châteaux? Toutes sont les mêmes.

En fait, I started this blog to help me avoid becoming one of those jaded expat, and to instead, find the extraordinary every single day.

I was reminded of the crazy wonderfulness of this country yesterday as we got turned around on our drive through Aquitaine and strayed into the Limousin region. In France, one wrong turn, and the next thing you know, you may find yourself standing in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

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Château Rochefoucauld, une petite maison, is easily the most fun and friendly château we have ever stumbled across. As I mentioned, from the outside, it is all Disney, but on the inside, it is like an Italian palazzo with a magnificent courtyard that evokes Renaissance Italy. It is a château that has been in the family for over 1,000 years, and its spiral staircases, elegant rooms, and bursting libraries are still used by the 19th Duke Rochefoucauld and his young family. Not only are there family portraits painted by French masters lining the walls, there are also black and white photographs, glossy Polaroid’s and normal Kodak moment framed and displayed for all to see. It’s like the modern regal family went out for a stroll and left the doors unlocked to (un)wanted guests.

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There are lots of things to see and do at Château Rochefoucauld, from snaking through the strange cave in the basement, to touching the real roche, to pretending to cook up a royal feast in the original kitchens, to resting your weary head on the beds in the servants’ chilly rooms. But most fun of all, is an entire room dedicated to dress up clothes for all aspiring royals, the young and the old included. Think medieval kings and queens, wenches and jesters, mad hatters and knights. Once dressed, you are free to roam the entire castle, ramparts and all.

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After satisfying your theatrical bent and maybe, say, acting out a scene or two from the new princess movie Frozen, the caretakers are happy to let you picnic on the daisy-filled lawn just beyond the castle doors…with your dog!

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C’est bien extraordinaire…even for France.

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Vocabulaire

Bien sûr! Of course!

C’est bien extraordinaire: it’s (very) extraordinary

En fait: in fact

Naturellement: Naturally

Tout à fait: quite, absolutely

Toutes sont les mêmes. They’re all the same.

une petite maison: a small house