Monthly Archives: July 2017

Come to your senses at Château Smith Haut Lafitte.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte is no stranger to contemporary art; the owner, Florence Cathiard, shares her collection with visitors as they wander through the vines and the château – one of the leaders of wine tourism in Bordeaux. She has been systematically adding a piece a year to her collection over the last twenty-six years since they purchased this classified growth of the Graves.

It is no surprise then that the Chateau has taken a step further into the world of art, opening a new ‘Land Art’ installation – The Forest of the Five senses. This new venture is hidden away in eight hectares of woods between Château Smith Haut Lafitte and neighbouring Château Le Thil, which was acquired by the family in 2012 and is now a ‘guest lodge’ for clients of Les Sources de Caudalie.

The entrance to the Forest of the Five Senses walk

I stumbled upon the project a couple of weeks before it opened when visiting their ‘stealth cellar’ built in these woods, with Wine Maker Yann Laudeho. This completely carbon neutral winemaking and ageing facility was created for their second wine, Les Hauts de Smith, for the 2013 vintage. With its vegetal roof and hidden in an old gravel quarry, it is completely integrated into the natural environment.

I asked what the new raised pathways being built were for. “All will be revealed” he said and it was; a couple of weeks later, they opened their new natural sculpture walk.

View of Château Le Thil from the Forest path

It is designed as a walk through the woods, accompanied by local artists whose pieces are installed here. It takes about two hours to wander through, especially if you pay attention to all the surprises. The park of Château Le Thil, with its classified collection of old trees, can be seen at the end of one alley, a contrast to the contemporary pieces.

The Vortex by Durante and Segond – more affectionately known as the spiders web

These include ‘The Vortex’ by Durante and Segond; a giant spider web of stainless steel hanging between two trees and the creations of José Le Piez on the singing island, which uses your sense of hearing as well as sight (and balance to get across on the little ferry). He has also created an ear trumpet installed above one of the little streams that amplifies the sounds of bubbling water.

Jackpot keeps an eye on the raft while José Le Piez makes the wood sing

Listen to the bubbling brook

Its not all new art. Tucked away are old vestiges:a witches seat from an old tree, the old drainage channels, what looks like the remains of a chapel above a spring.

There is also a ‘palombiere’, the traditional hide built by hunters to catch the seasonal doves. They are too eco friendly here for hunting but it shows the old skills using wood and bracken to create a dwelling that is perfectly hidden away.

The Palombiere made of bracken

And they have nothing if not a sense of humour; Gulliver’s Skis by Cyrille Menei is a nod towards the past career of M & Mme Cathiard as ski champions and talking of giants there’s an enormous footprint created by the gardeners. With the goats, lamas and chickens in the farmyard and the majestic working horses used to plough the vines, there is something for all ages, guaranteed to bring out the wonder of nature and the child in us all.

Yann with Gulliver’s skis

There is a nod to wine of course, as well as being a showcase for young artists, it is also a shop window for the Cathiard’s respect for the for biodiversity in their vineyard. Towards the end of the walk, there is a cottage ‘The Tisanerie’, where the herbs and wild plants, used in biodynamic preparations for the vines, are dried and stored. Close by is an aromatic garden planted with herbs and flowers that represent the different aromas found in their red and white wines as well as some of the ingredients used in the creation of the Caudalie cosmetics.

La Tisanerie

It is altogether a peaceful antidote to the rush of everyday life and a welcome change of pace from more classic cellar tours and chateau visits. Follow the path on your next wine tour of Bordeaux.

Follow the path



Star studded Rhone.

Tasting wine works up an appetite. I’m not looking for sympathy; as we tasted our way down the Rhone Valley last month, the high concentration of Michelin stars more than solved our wine induced munchies.

Being spring, the French passion for seasonal produce meant we had asparagus at almost every meal – it was delicious and on a wine tour any nod towards detox is very welcome!

Here are some of our gastronomic highlights should you find yourself in the same position on a Rhone Wine Tour.

In 1934, Andre Pic opened La Maison Pic in Valence, wining his three Michelin stars the same year. He would be proud of his great granddaughter; Anne-Sophie took over the kitchens in 1997 and re established the 3 star status in 2007; the first woman chef to win this accolade.

A history of Michelin stars at la Maison Pic

Her personal passion for certain ingredients is generously shared. Tea (not asparagus) seemed to be a highlight when we were there. Her 3 star-cuisine is breath taking in presentation, taste and inspiration. The same elegance is reflected in the décor that more than makes up for the location, that can take you by surprise.

The interiors as inspirational as the cuisine at Maison Pic

I think this aesthetic made it a favourite with the ladies in the group more than the men! In the seven years since I was last there (I won’t wait so long before returning again) she has spread her brand across this part of town: as well as the hotel, 3 star restaurant and Bistro André she has opened a relaxed ‘Cantine’, a cooking school, a kitchen shop, a patisserie and a deli – selling more of those products she is so passionate about.

Spolit for 3 star choice

I highly recommend the Bistro André; dinner there was one of the highlights of the trip. The atmosphere is less restrained than the Grand Restaurant, the service is generous and the staff very friendly and especially good at pointing out value amongst the famous names on the wine list.

Even the simplest fare has the Anne-Sophie signature at Bistro Andre

If you can’t get to Valence, Anne Sophie can come to you, at least if you are in London, Lausanne or Paris. She opened La Dame du Pic in Paris in 2012 (in French La Dame du Pic means the queen of Spades) now a Michelin star. She also opened a restaurant in the beautiful setting of the Lausanne Beau Rivage Palace in April 2009, winning 2 Michelin stars in October of the same year. She has just opened her latest venture; a Dame du Pic in collaboration with Château Latour in the Four Seasons Hotel in London – it’s on my radar for September so I will report back.

Breakfast at Pic – who gets the domino reference?

La Pyramide is another historical gastronomic monument of the Rhone. Opened in 1922 in Vienne, just where the Rhone vineyards start, it was named in 1925 after the neighbouring Roman obelisque. Chef Fernand Point put it on the map in 1933 winning the very first 3 Michelin stars. He was an amazing character, more or less inventing Nouvelle Cuisine and was the first chef to come out and meet the customers, wrote ‘Ma Gastronomie’ what many called the most important cookbook, and trained such famous names as Paul Bocuse, les frères Troisgros and Alain Chapel.

The view of the Pyramide in Vienne from my bedroom window

The hotel and restaurant re opened after renovation in 1989 and it is still in the capable hands of Patrick Henriroux, who earned his 2 star status in 1992 which he has kept continuously to date – quite an achievement. The wine list, very important on a wine tour, received the seal of approval from our wine experts for being ‘well rounded, deep and relatively reasonably priced’. Sounds like a wine recommendation to me! The cuisine is inventive with a dash of humour – a pyramid of snails anyone?

A pyramid of snails and seasonal asparagus at La Pyramide.

It wasn’t uniquely Michelin star dining all week, honest. I always try and visit The Beau-Rivage in Condrieu when I’m in the northern Rhone, mainly for it’s situation on the banks of the Rhone – you almost have your toes in the water while sipping wine on the terrace. I was particularly impressed by the food this year and it has a really good local wine list.

Asparagus was the star of the show at the Beaurivage in Condrieu

Further south in Avignon, La Mirande gets my vote for a future Michelin accolade (it has 3 knives and forks). When we came here a few years back it was one of our best dining, experiences, we promised to return and we weren’t disappointed. The building is tucked away right behind the Palais des Papes – you almost fall into it when you come out of the gift shop! The 18th century décor makes you feel like you are living part of the history of the city, managing to keep this traditional feel but with 21st century fittings, including very cool TV screens hidden in ancient mirrors.

Aperitif in the courtyard of la Mirande

The walled garden, in the shadow of the majestic walls of the Palace, was perfect for breakfast, the cosy bar serves a mean martini and there is even a cooking school.

Perfect lighting for a late night Martini in the bar of la Mirande

Dinner was brilliant, definitely Michelin star quality but its unpretentious charm is perhaps best kept away from stardom? The wine list offered a very good selection across a large price range with a great selection of the local Chateauneuf du Pape.

La Mirande – The cherry on the cake!

There are many local bistros that merit a stop over for great value food and wines. The Bistrot de Serine, a stone’s throw from Guigal cellars in Ampuis has great food but a very well priced and interesting wine list and, judging by the wine makers we saw there, is obviously a local favourite.

Great wines, great food at la Serine in Ampuis

I mentioned in a previous post about the wineries getting in on the restaurant act. Jaboulet opened their Vineum shop and restaurant in the centre of Tain l’Hermitage where you can taste, and buy, all the range of the Jaboulet wines and a very good selection by the glass offered with a light lunch, right in the town centre.

How Jaboulet puts their corks to good use at the Vineum in Tain l’Heritage

On the other bank, tucked away in Cornas it’s worth searching for La Ruche. Named after a beehive, as the owners consider themselves like bees buzzing around the wineries picking out local favourites, the wine list proves them right, with a wide range of local and more distant Rhone wines at very competitive prices.

Cherries were another seasonal favourite – Cherry clafoutis at La Ruche

OK, so my last recommendation is not a restaurant but it is gastronomy. You really should include a Tour of La Cité du Chocolat in Tain l’Hermitage, if you need any persuading that red wine and chocolate work – this is the place!