Aquitania, “the land of water”. This was the name given to this beautiful region in Bordeaux, France, when the Romans assimilated the area into their vast empire. The Romans were the first to cultivate grapevines here. Little did they expect that those early vines would grow and multiply to cover in abundance what has become one of the world most prestigious wine regions in the world.
The region's mild climate and fertile soil has given birth to glorious wines with famous names: Bergerac, Bordeaux, Buzet, Irouléguy, Jurançon, Monbazillac, and Saint-Emilion. The vineyards around Bordeaux specifically can be divided into five regions: the Médoc, Sauternes, and Graves dominate on the left bank of the river Garonne, and Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, on the right bank of the Dordogne. Nowadays, the Médoc especially is known for its world-class wines, however, the fame of this wine region is relatively young compared to others. It wasn't until the fifteenth century that large-scale vineyards appeared here. Before that time, farmers only produced enough wine to satisfy their own needs. But as times grew tougher, the farmers had to look at other means of earning their daily bread. It would take another century for wine to become the region's main source of income, but what a success it became!
Today more than sixteen thousand hectares of the Médoc area is covered in luscious vines, and every single wine from this area has earned the title “Appellation Médoc Controlée”. Wine lovers taking a tour around the Haut-Médoc wine region can visit some of the most impressive wineries with very familiar-sounding names. The first of these is the Château Lafite Rothschild. This domain is adjacent to the Château Mouton-Rothschild, originally founded in the Middle Ages. The domain was awarded its first Premier Grand Cru title in 1855. That is thirteen years before Baron James de Rothschild purchased the estate. The next winery is also a favourite on wine lovers' lists. It is the Château Latour. This vineyard is approximately 47 hectares large and has produced the powerful wine “le Grand Vin de Château Latour”. On every label of every wine bottle, there is a depiction of the domain's medieval, round tower overlooking the rolling vineyards and the river Gironde.
After visiting the first two, wine-lovers can stop at Château Margaux. This estate was built in the neoclassical style and is sometimes referred to as the “Versailles de Médoc”. The vineyards around the picturesque villages of Arsac, Labarde, Cantenac, Soussans, and of course Margaux produce the wine carrying this famous name. Talking about famous names, the previously mentioned Château Mouton-Rothschild also deserves a visit. This world-class vineyard is no less than 74 hectares large and is situated in the commune of Pauillac. The Rothschild family acquired the domain in 1853 and has been producing Premier Grand Cru wines since 1973. One more winery, which shouldn't be overlooked, is the Château Pichon-Longueville. This vineyard mainly produces Carbarnet-Sauvignon, but they also have a Merlot and a very small amount of Carbarnet Blanc.
If you enjoy cycling as much as you enjoy wine, you can tour the area on a bicycle, or mountain bike, to be more precise. An organisation called La Médocaine has been organizing an annual bike tour since 1998. It all started when a group of friends wished to combine their passion for wine and cycling. What started small has since grown into a veritable festival, in which several thousand people take part every year. Participants can choose from seven different routes according to the distance they want to cover in one day. The routes are carefully chosen to lead the cyclists by the most scenic vineyards and the loveliest small villages. Naturally, there is every chance on the tour to pause and cool down in the cavernous wine cellars and to indulge the senses with a taste of this noble juice.
Where to stay: at L'Hotel Particulier of the best self-catered apartment in Bordeaux