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Journey Through AquitaineAugust 3, 2009 By: Mary Winston Nicklin Travel Agent
Spacious suites at Château des Baudry in the Dordogne are appointed with antiques and kilim rugs
Aquitaine is perhaps the most pleasing region for bon vivants in France. From the world’s most famous wine region around Bordeaux to Périgord’s rich gastronomy, Aquitaine packs a punch. Travel Agent recently joined Atout France (formerly the Maison de la France) to discover the hidden corners of Southwest France. Tasting wine from UNESCO World Heritage-listed vineyards and wandering the cobble-stoned alleyways of hilltop villages, your clients will appreciate the good life in Aquitaine.
Less touristy than the neighboring Dordogne, the Lot-et-Garonne’s orchard-blanketed hills are carved by the Garonne River. Boating in the Garonne Canal, Lot and Baïse rivers is a popular way to see the countryside dotted with bastide towns. Monflanquin, perhaps one of the best examples of the bastide, is not to be missed.
Another recommended excursion: The water lily gardens and plant nursery at Latour-Marliac, a blissful alternative to Monet’s gardens at Giverny, which are frequently crowded. Contact new American owner Robert Sheldon ([email protected]; 011-3305-5301-0805) to arrange a tour.
The region is also famed for its epicurean delights, so suggest a cooking class to your foodie clients with cookbook author and American expat Kate Hill.
Accommodations in the Lot-et-Garonne include Le Relais de Roquefereau, situated just outside the historic village of Penne d’Agenais. Owner Nathalie Guigné ([email protected]; 011-3306-7549-3024) restored a coachstop dating from the 13th century. Outside Villeréal, the Château du Rayet is a 17th-century manor-turned-hotel. Contact owner Anne Vanhellebus ([email protected]; 011-3305-5336-7663) for details.
Dordogne, a prehistoric cradle of civilization, is famous for its limestone caves painted with 14,000-year-old friezes depicting ochre-colored animals. The cave paintings at the Grotte de Lascaux are praised as the “prehistoric Sistine Chapel.” This is also château country, where fortified castles face off across the Dordogne River. One of the best ways to see these clifftop châteaux is by canoe. We enjoyed a visit to Château des Milandes, the former home of Josephine Baker, now owned by Angélique de Saint-Exupéry.
Château des Baudry retains historic vestiges from its previous life as a 17th-century farmhouse
Book your clients at La Belle Étoile in the lovely village of La Roque Gageac. Rates at this family-run hotel start at under $80.
The Saturday market at Sarlat-La-Canéda, and the church of Sainte-Marie, renovated by renowned architect Jean Nouvel into a covered market with huge doors taking up an entire wall, are a must.
The top luxury lodgings can be found at Le Vieux Logis, in the town of Trémolat on the Dordogne River. We toured the grounds with owner Bernard Giraudel ([email protected]; 011-3305-5322-8006), whose family has owned the country residence for more than 450 years. “[Author]Henry Miller came for a night, but stayed for a month,” Giraudel told us when showing us the author’s digs (Room No. 4).
Other recommended accommodations include the B&Bs situated in the Bergerac wine-growing region to the west: Domaine de Rudel in Saussignac, and Château des Baudry in Monestier. Contact owners Nadine and Jacques Riboulet ([email protected]; 011-3305-5324-7737) for bookings at the Domaine de Rudel; rooms are priced at $108, including breakfast. The Château des Baudry offers five suites in a restored 17th-century stone farmhouse decorated with antiques and Persian rugs. Hélène Boulet and Francois Passebon are gracious hosts.
Bordeaux and St. Émilion
Bordeaux scored a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2007. What’s more, Bordeaux now has a hotel—The Regent Bordeaux—to match its status of world wine capital. Of all the stunning rooms, the Royal Suite is favored by celebs for its top-floor terrace. Make arrangements with the concierge team ([email protected]) for opera tickets for your clients.
The Bordeaux Tourism Office offers a number of guided tours, including “Bordeaux-UNESCO by night,” the gourmet wine tour in Margaux and “Bordeaux and St-Émilion: Great Growths,” which includes a wine-tasting and dinner at a family-owned château.
Twenty-three miles east of Bordeaux, the ancient town of St-Émilion bewitches visitors with its vineyards, cobblestone streets and cavernous underground church. It’s possible to visit this ninth-century Église Monolithe, along with the cave of the hermit saint for whom the village is named, on a guided tour with the Tourist Office. For clients itching to see the world-famous Chateau Pétrus and Cheval Blanc vineyards, the Tourist Office can also make the arrangements. Tip: St-Émilion is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its UNESCO designation throughout 2009.
The place to stay in St-Émilion is Le Relais de Franc Mayne, nestled in the heart of the vineyards of a grand wine estate called Chateau Franc Mayne. Guests can arrange tours of the winery and the vast network of underground caves where wine is aged in barrels. The lounge and public areas are sumptuously appointed with rich fabrics and eccentric design pieces (we particularly loved the upside-down chairs on the wall). Each of the nine guest rooms is individually decorated in a different whimsical style, i.e., Pop Art Room, British Landscape, Campagne Francaise and African Lodge.
The aerial view of Le Relais de Franc Mayne, nestled in the St. Emilion vineyards