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Article from TNU DECEMBER 2023

ON TOUR: Bordeaux and wine

A weekend at a top French spa – but there’s plenty of wine, too, says TNU's Editor-at-Large Jeff Mills.

A weekend in a fabulous hotel in the middle of one of Bordeaux’s best vineyards, with its own top spa, using products manufactured using its own wine, and a two-Michelin-starred restaurant. There are worse ways to spend a few days.

In truth a visit to a spa is not a way I normally spend the weekend, a bit outside my comfort zone. But I’m prepared to give anything a go, particularly if it involves drinking some fine wines and indulging in some of the best food to be found in France.  

The arrivals hall at Bordeaux airport leaves you in no doubt what this region is renowned for. There was a huge wine bottle displayed right in the centre of the baggage carousel. As a sign of what’s to come they don’t come much clearer than this.

Les Sources de Caudalie is an easy 40-minute drive from the city of Bordeaux. It is part vineyard, part hotel, part spa and 100% posh and stylish.

Lunch is in the sunshine at Rouge, the smart bistro which doubles up as a fine wine and grocery store. The food is perfect for lunch al fresco – charcuterie, smoked salmon, a selection of cheeses, even foie gras and the first sampling of the estate’s own wine, as we catch up on life at Les Sources de Caudalie and what makes the whole elegant place tick.

The atmospheric buildings may look old but in fact, I learn, many were constructed as recently as the late 1990s, some bought from disused farms in the surrounding countryside, some built from scratch using reclaimed and weathered timber.

The main building of what is now a 5-star palace hotel houses the reception area as well as the bar and two of the restaurants, the two-Michelin-starred La Grand Vigne and the rather more casual La Table de Lavoir, modelled, apparently, on an old laundry barn where local village women would meet up to do the washing and have a good old gossip.

Guest rooms are of varying sizes and styles in hamlet-like clusters around a central lake, dominated by the best suite, L’Isle aux Oiseaux (Bird Island), a romantic cabin perched on stilts at the edge of the water.

Interior décor may be a bit too starkly white and bright for some tastes but the room does come with its own gipsy-style caravan parked outside, no doubt an ideal prop for wedding photographs.

The property started life as a well-known wine estate but has now added the Caudalie beauty brand and the impressive on-site vinotherapie spa to its portfolio.

They make full use of virtually every by-product of the wine, from ground up grape seeds used in massages to highly-prized products used to cleanse, repair and nourish the skin.

I discovered some of these when I was persuaded to visit the spa for a facial and neck massage, which turned out to be so relaxing I fell asleep. It was only when I awoke from my blissful nap that I asked my therapist which products she had used while she attempted the miracle of removing some of the evidence of a less-than-healthy lifestyle from my face.

As a result I can thoroughly recommend Premier Cru eye cream, Premier Cru normal cream, Premier Cru serum and Foaming Cleanser, each of which contains polyphenols, which apparently help fight ageing, all of them organic products of the vineyard.

A quick glass of wine in the French Paradox Bar in the main building and I am back in my room, another glass in hand (you have to try plenty of the vintages) as I gaze across the vineyards beyond my terrace where, earlier in the day, a couple of shire horses were pulling a plough along the rows of vines. The sandy earth here makes them ideal for the job, I was told.

Dinner at the bistro-style La Table du Lavoir is excellent. Dishes on the menu change regularly but look for the likes of perfectly-aged steaks and delicate selections of desserts. All, of course, with some of the best wine to be found in the region.

But to find out more about the vineyard’s produce it’s off for a rapid walk in the rain through the vines to Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, once owned by a Scottish wine afficionado, which is where the ‘Smith’ comes from, to see where the famous wines are produced.

Bordeaux may be best known for its red wines but there are some pretty decent whites here, too. Try the Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Semillon blends aged in the traditional French oak barrels still made and used here.

And there’s more fine wine at the star of the show, the two-Michelin-star restaurant La Grand Vigne. Push the boat out with the tasting and wine-pairing menu and you will be creating memories which will last for a long time. Langoustine, tuna, lobster, caviar and Bazas beef all feature, as do locally-grown organic vegetables.

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