Is there really anything better than being chauffeur driven in a Bentley once owned by Ian Fleming, before being given the keys to your own castle, all the while being plied with hearty French food and Merlot? Well, perhaps just one thing – being flown by helicopter from chateau to chateau to UNESCO world heritage site, all whilst sampling some of the finest wines to have come out of Bordeaux.
But before I get entirely carried away with the sheer degree of deliciousness, let’s remind ourselves of why I was here….I was in the heart of south west France’s wine-growing territory for a tour of the vineyards, cellars and chateaux of Bernard Magrez, one of France’s prominent wine-makers. Increased consumer sophistication has created a rise in the demand to get closer to brands, and in response to this, Bernard Magrez has developed the concept of Luxury Wine Tourism, a bespoke holiday experience quite literally a world away from the anonymous package tour of old.
The choice of experiences on offer here is simply astounding. From chauffeur-driven cars to helicopter tours across the valley, to private wine tastings with the knowledgeable cellar masters to blending your very own bottle of wine (on a personal note, I recommend doing this – lots of fun!), there is plenty of opportunity to soak up the history and heritage of the brand.
Our base for our trip was the quiet romance of Chateau Pape Clement, where we were given a tour of the majestic wine cellars, which are all under the chateau (complete with a recumbent effigy of the eponymous Pope Clement V!). After sampling four of the chateau’s delicious, earthy wines, we enjoyed a cookery master class with Chef Jerome Bourcie. I’m really not much of a chef (so I was pleased to see that the supper Chef Bourcie had prepared for us afterwards was all of his own doing, as opposed to my rather poor attempt at fine cuisine!).
The following day saw us whisked off by helicopter across the stunning vista of the Médoc valleys, where vineyards stretched for as far as the eye could see, with the occasional castle dotting the picturesque landscape. Touching down opposite Chateau La Tour Carnet, with the warmth of the French sun shining down, it was all too easy to be seduced by the beauty and the romance of one of the region’s oldest castles. Sympathetically restored to something like its former glory, the chateau has all the trappings one would expect for a day of playing king of the castle. Although it isn’t consecrated – yet – I couldn’t help but think that the tiny private chapel and intimate, beautifully furnished dining room would make the perfect setting for a wedding (on that point, Bernard Magrez does offer weddings at other chateaux, but book early – as in, a year in advance – to avoid disappointment!).
For those who love their history, a Bernard Magrez Luxury Wine Tourism holiday is the ideal getaway. Not only is there the history of the brand and the chateaux to discover, but the town of Saint Emilion (a UNESCO world heritage site) is perfect for an afternoon stroll, aided by one of the friendly guides to explain its unique history, followed perhaps by an aperitif outside one of the local cafes. For panoramic photo opportunities, standing at the base of the bell tower of Europe’s largest underground church provides the perfect height to get a good glimpse across the rooftops of the town below (although the only way to truly take in Saint Emilion is from the air. Just as well we had a helicopter at our disposal!).
Whether you’re a committed connoisseur or simply enjoy the odd tipple, a Bernard Magrez Luxury Wine Tourism holiday ticks so many boxes. It sounds like a journalistic cliché to say, but this really is one experience that cannot adequately be described with words, so you’ll just have to get out here and savour it for yourself. Make space in your suitcase for all the wine you’ll be purchasing – trust me, you won’t regret it!
For further information about Bernard Magrez wines, visit www.bernard-magrez.com. For further information about the tours and experiences on offer, or to book a Luxury Wine Tourism holiday, visit www.luxurywinetourism.fr.