Today is a full-bodied, sunny August Sunday in the Médoc. As I wrote last week, I am spending time in southwest France this summer for work—with a bit of vacation thrown in. The time so far has been rich, and there are some good stories to tell about French culture, sights, history, geography, food, wine, and more. But in the spirit of getting the flavor of the place, here is a short résumé (summary) of highlights from the past couple of weeks:

Wine – Tasting Tour of Wineries in the Médoc

Wheels – Tour de France Bike Race in Pauillac

Water – French Beaches on the Atlantic Coast

WINE:  Basically, the Médoc—the area north of Bordeaux bordered by the Atlantic ocean on the west and the Gironde estuary on the east—is about wine and water. Some of France’s most spectacular coastline is here. And some of the world’s greatest vintages are produced here. You can drive down the “Route des châteaux” (chateau road) and see breathtaking castles surrounded by grapevines basking in the sun everywhere you look.

A few days ago, my husband and I were treated to an ‘insider’s tour’ of several Médoc wineries. Our guide was Pamela Prior, a glorious British woman who has spent her career in the wine business in this region. We started at the northern end of the Médoc and worked our way down for a grand finale tour and wine tasting at Château Margaux, a legend in French wine circles. As is the case at top tier chateaux, visiting the chais, or wine-making buildings and cellars, is by appointment only.

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And the neoclassical chateau is only able to be admired from the outside…

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Our two-hour tour ended with a tasting of the winery’s first wine—a Château Margaux 2006. It retails for about 350 euros a bottle–definitely not in my wine price range. While it was an extraordinary wine, it did need some more aging to mellow out. More accessible in terms of taste and price was the chateau’s second wine called “Pavillon rouge” also from 2006. What a great wine! It sells for about 25 euros a bottle but maheureusement (unfortunately) none of the chateau’s wines were for sale sur place (on site) as they are snapped up way in advance of production!

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WHEELS:  A few days after arriving in the Médoc, we discovered that the Tour de France bike race was scheduled to come through the area on July 23rd, the day before the triumphant finale on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Riders would complete Etape 19 (Stage 19) of the Tour with the ‘contre-la-montre individuel’, or individual time trials, from Bordeaux to Pauillac, a small town that sits on the Gironde estuary. As fans of the Tour know, the time trials are a race against the clock for each individual coureur (rider). The trials began in Bordeaux at 10:25am with pairs of the slowest riders making the 50 or so kilometer trek to Pauillac and were staged all day long every few minutes ending with top riders Contador and Schleck who pulled into Pauillac about 5pm.

Brilliantly enough, our dear friend Pamela has a lovely flat on the main street of Pauillac with windows that overlooked the finish line. Here is a front-row-seat shot of the Arrivée with the action in full swing:

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And here are spectators lining the route just prior to the finish line:

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There was no shortage of souvenirs as this smiling vendeuse was happy to help Tour attendees with their purchases…

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WATER:   If wine isn’t enough of an attraction, the Médoc has miles and miles of beautiful pristine beaches. From Soulac-sur-Mer in the north down to Cap Ferret (not to be confused with the Mediterranean’s Cap Ferrat!) and Arcachon in the south, the coast is perfect for sunbathing, surfing, walking, and swimming. However, as we experienced firsthand, the cross-currents and tides are very strong so swimming is recommended only in the lifeguarded areas…

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The beaches have one of my favorite things about this time in France—there is so much coast that overcrowding is nearly a non-issue even at the height of tourist season (think Nice or Cannes in August). So if you’re looking for a new sunny spot to try in France, the Médoc may be just the place! 

Next week, I’ll have some more snapshots from southwest France and more French culture to savor. And if you’re on holiday in August like most of the French are at the moment, I wish you bonnes vacances!