It happened in the surroundings of Saint-Emilion, we arrived on a stormy afternoon and took shelter at the winery Arnaud de Jacquemeau. Dominque, the current winer maker, kindly let us park Polaris in his property, just as the rain was starting to fall with wild intensity.
The pouring rain doesn´t stop his father from knocking on the door of our camper a couple of hours later and, protected by an umbrella, kindly inviting us for a wine tasting. Delighted, we wrap ourselves in Goretex and join him at the entrance of the cellar. The 2 hours that follow are pure entertainment, fun, learning and of course, wine tasting. This Chateau has a denomination in Biological Agriculture and he explains to us some of the key techniques and processes of the culture. We learn for example that they plant cereals between the grapes lines to increase the air and lightness of the earth, that they plant rose bushes at the beginning of each grape row, since they help with the early detection of harmful mildews in the grapes. He also explains the steps in the wine making process and the different categories of wine and shows us the cellar with the precious oak barrels.
When the wine tasting starts we feel already a little bit wiser, but the fun has purely got started. We have just moved to a little, fresh and dark room of the cellar. Although both Christian and I have attended a number of wine tastings in the past, this one is so much more. More colourful, more detailed, more intimate, done with more love. We learn when and how to breath, how to move the liquid in your mouth, how to hold the glass, how to look at the wine through candle light.
The whole experience brought to life by the cultivated hands of the very man that has spend his life cultivating the vineyard just outside this cellar, all around us. Very special.
The day after, when the rain stops, we tie our shoes, determined to discover the area on foot, to meet face to face with the vineyards, the mighty extensions of glorious vineyards, with the earth, with the lonely roads that criss-cross the fields, the little chateaus where it really happens. The magic of wine.
Our wanderings take us to the town of Saint-Emilion. History says that the Romans were the first ones to plant vineyards here, back in the 2nd Century AD and that on the 8th Century, a monk by the name of Emilion settled in the place transforming it into a place of pilgrimage and prayer. It was then when the monks started the commercial production of wine. The town has the colour of the land and the wisdom of who has lived through many episodes of history. Its charm is not debatable and however it is stolen a bit by the masses of people that roam around tasting and buying and selling. It´s like a crossroads between love and money.
And then there´s the beauty of the fields at sunrise or sunset.
Bordeaux does not disappoint either. Elegant, with some sort of Mediterranean flair to it, but quintessentially French. Monumental, stretching proudly along the river and beyond.
It has a truly enormous cathedral, which is hard to understand and it would take some reflection to admire. Small and big cafés fill the streets with their typical terraces, sharing the space with some pretty nice shops. Oh, and the funfair is in town.
A sort of steam fountain puts an entertaining note to the end of our visit to this city.
Down south we find Biarritz, that having been the holiday resort of choice for the biggest part of the European monarchies and aristocracy at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, it has a considerable dose of glamour, reflected in the architecture of hotels, restaurants, mansions and the casino, right in front of the biggest beach. But the city didn’t rest on the laurels of its former glory and modern architecture has also found a place here.
It´s an interesting mix of old and new, not only in the architecture, but also the people. While the older ones stroll through the promenades along the ocean, the younger ones venture into the water to ride the waves on the beach. It seems that it was the first spot where surfing was ever practiced in Europe, back in the 1950´s and today it appears to be the surf capital of the continent.
Our last stop in France for now is Espelette, a tiny village in the Pyrenees, which is famous for the production of the Espelette peppers, which serve as a key condiment to the traditional Basque cuisine. The peppers hang to dry on the walls of the houses and the whole village´s economic activity seems to turn around them, be it growing them, selling them, or inventing the most unimaginable souvenirs themed around the precious capsicum.