Easy Escapes: Le St James Bouliac, Bordeaux, France

Andrea Thompson enjoys a short break to a cultured city renown for wining and dining

Andrea Thompson enjoys a short break to a cultured city renown for wining and dining

Why go: World-famous for its outstanding wine and superb restaurants, Bordeaux has long been a foodie’s dream destination. Add in neoclassical architecture, 11 art galleries and museums, manicured parks, a romantic river setting and squares dotted with markets, cocktail bars and cafes, and it also makes a perfect weekend escape. The city is compact and mostly pedestrianised, so easy to explore on foot, while the surrounding countryside is home to some of the most prestigious vineyards and châteaux in France.

Fountain of delight: fine buildings in Bordeaux’s place de la Bourse © Vincent Bengold

When: Anytime – there’s plenty do in this city whatever time of year you go. Mild, bright and sunny during winter, it makes a nice getaway from the British gloom. Spring through to late summer sees it bathed in a beautiful warm glow not dissimilar to Provence. We spent much of our late May trip by the pool – it was already that hot.

Stay at: The ultra-modern Le St James Bouliac (from £177 until 25 June, saintjames-bouliac.com) in Bouliac. A small village known as the ‘balcony’ of Bordeaux, this haven of calm lies 15 minutes drive southeast with panoramic views overlooking the city. An architectural highlight in itself, the hotel has 15 double rooms and three suites in a pared-down French minimalist style with exposed walls, cool clean interiors, Bang & Olufsen sound systems and futuristic remote control blinds for the huge windows overlooking the sizeable pool and sauna block. The hotel has its own art gallery and landscaped gardens with fragrant orange and lemon trees and a vineyard. The glorious buffet breakfast with its vast array of home-made pastries, fresh breads and tartines is to die for.

Fruits of the vine: fine dining and modern design come together at Le St James Bouliac hotel

Dine at: The hotel’s award-winning, Michelin-starred restaurant Le St James. If you’re a serious foodie, don’t leave without trying the blue lobster starter poached in an aromatic stock or the John Dory main course with spider crab and caviar (at £72 a head for two courses this doesn’t come cheap but you couldn’t wish for a better setting or experience for a special occasion). If you fancy more informal dining, check out the snug Le Café de l’Espérance – the hotel’s sister restaurant across the village square.

In central Bordeaux, visit Fernand (bistrot-fernand.com) on the Quai de la Douane if you’re after that traditional French brasserie experience and a slap-up lunch for under £15. The steak tartare is a speciality. La Tupina (latupina.com) is a more rustic affair with freshly-baked bread and hanging meats on display. For drinks and good times head to Le Saint Georges (1 place Camille Jullian) for cocktails and jazz or live DJ sets later, or Calle Ocho (calle-ocho.eu), a Latin bar complete with salsa music, rum cocktails and tequila.

Chic and contemporary: sleep in style at Le St James Bouliac hotel 

You really must: Sample a tapas, oyster and white wine lunch at one of the impressive seafood stands in the bustling Marché des Capucins (marchedescapucins.com) – the biggest indoor market in the city where you can comfortably eat a quality lunch with wine for £9 a head. Alternatively, make like the locals and peruse the stalls for fresh cheese, charcuterie, bread and pastries and head to one of the city’s many landscaped parks for a picnic.

Don’t miss the sprawling flea market that runs every Saturday in the centre of the city overlooking the water selling a variety of vintage furniture, knickknacks and clothes. Think Portobello Road but half the price. If culture is more your bag, you’ll find Gallo-Roman statues and relics dating back 25,000 years at the impressive Musée d’Aquitaine (musee-aquitaine-bordeaux.fr) and a stunning array of 20th century art at the Musée des Beaux-Arts (musba-bordeaux.fr).

A main attraction for foodies is the award-winning Côté Cours cooking school at Le St James Bouilac. Classes take place in state-of-the-art Masterchef-style kitchens under the expert guidance of the charming and patient Célia Girard, sous-chef to the hotel’s culinary master, Nicolas Magie. Beginners are welcome (honestly, this novice found it surprisingly informal and friendly) and prices start at £32 with a variety of courses covering sweet and savoury themes.

If you want to escape the city for the day the Bordeaux Tourist Office and most hotels organise winetasting trips (from around £50) to nearby Medoc or St-Emilion, home to an impressive number of vineyards and châteaux where you’ll get to sample the best the region has to offer. Lunch is usually included.

Classic France: tour the vineyards and châteaux of Bordeaux © Deepix

Bring home: Wine and cheese – naturally.

Book now: easyJet (easyjet.com) flies to Bordeaux from six UK airports, from £48 return based on two people on the same booking. Transfers by taxi from the airport to Le St James Bouilac cost from £40, and from the hotel to the city from £25. A two-night ‘Discover Aquitaine’ package at Le St James Bouilac costs from £1,404 based on two people sharing including breakfast, a gastronomic dinner at Le Saint James, a dinner at Le Café de l’Espérance (both with drinks), a cookery class at Côté Cours and a day out on a typical ‘pinasse’ boat in the Baie d’Arcachon with oyster tasting in Cap Ferret and a picnic on the Arguin sandbank.

Info: DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Dordogne, Bordeaux & the Southwest Coast (£13.99; DK) covers the region, and see bordeaux-tourism.co.uk and lonelyplanet.com/france/southwestern-france/bordeaux.

Lead image © Vincent Bengold; thumbnail © Gilles Arroyo

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