I have done a couple of trips into Bordeaux where I have explored the region by car. There really is no better way to explore the diversity of the region (and its wines!), which may seem at first to be more homogenous than it actually is. To venture inland, near where Bordeaux runs into the Dordogne is to see a totally different Bordeaux than you may see in the Médoc. To drive around Sauternes is definitely different than going to Saint-Émilion.
Both times I went were in the pre-GPS era but that did not make it difficult to drive around. A good map (and a good map reader somewhere in the vehicle) is all you need to be able to explore this area without too much trouble.
One of our stops was the Château Ducru-Beaucaillou where we were taken on a private tour of this grand winemaker (through which I would run the next day when I ran in the Bordeaux marathon!).
If you are somewhat interested in wine, there will be plenty for you to do and explore. The town of Saint-Émilion is one of the gems of the region. Walk around but climb up to the top of the town. There are cafés up there too and nowhere better to be when the sun sets, glass of wine in hand – of course!
We enjoyed some of the big (and seemingly more commercial) chateaux but we also loved to more “rural” areas on roads less traveled and discovering the smaller vineyards and winemakers. Some of the information offices and hotels had displays full of cards of the many chateaux in the area such as the one below.
It was one of these cards that led us to discover a gem of a château in Sauternes: Château Sahuc Les Tours.
The owners even sat down with us to share a bottle of their Sauternes and spent a good hour chatting with us about every topic that could concern French and American alike (they spoke excellent English). Sauternes (in the Graves area), if you are not familiar, produces a sweet white wine bearing the same name made from sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle grapes that have Botrytis cinerea (or “noble rot”) which concentrates the sugars. We got to see the grapes up front as they began to look like raisins. But don’t let the thought of rot keep you from drinking this wine!
That was such a good experience that I returned 7 years later to that chateau – and to my delight, one of the owners was there and, though she clearly could not remember me, realized I really had been there before as I recounted some of the things they had told us the first visit. Connecting with locals in a real way is one of the rewards of venturing out and exploring this world!
So while this post is about great drives, let’s not forget that this drive is about wine! Cheers!