A summer French-themed bridal shoot with the seasoned and versatile wedding photographer esp.LOVE was the perfect excuse we needed to pack our bags and fly to France for a few days.

 

The photo shoot provided a rare opportunity to mix business with pleasure by spending a few days exploring the Aquitaine region in the South West of France. This region presented a delicious three-in-one mix of countryside, city and coast and for three days, she would be our lady and we her suitor. Located close to the French Atlantic coast, Aquitaine’s capital city Bordeaux is widely regarded as THE wine capital of the world. With such a reputation, nothing was going to stop us from ‘dipping our toes’ into the multiple treats on offer.

Landing at the Aéroport de Bordeaux-Mérignac mid-morning, we observed a heavily armed patrol of French Gendarmes. We weren’t sure if this escalation of security was usual or a left-over from the deadly Charlie Hebdo shootings earlier in the year. Unperturbed, we collected our bags and headed to Cestas, a residential town about thirty minutes south west of Bordeaux where our hostess lived. Cestas turned out to be a perfect hub for exploring the region. Although we were looking forward to improving our spoken French, we didn’t complain when our lovely hostess and collaborator volunteered to be our guide and translator.

HDYTI Tip: The best way to see this region is by car. During our visit, the roads were great to drive on. Apart from the expected rush-hour congestion, there was hardly any traffic to deal with.

 

Le Petit Moulin and luxurious countryside

Le Petit Moulin

Our Aquitaine adventure began with the first half of the bridal photo shoot. esp.LOVE (aka Mrs. HDYTI) had scheduled the shoot to take place at Le Petit Moulin, a delightful French villa which doubles as a hotel and luxury wedding venue. Located in Annepont, a small community about 1 hr and 15 minutes drive north west of Bordeaux, this picturesque creeper-covered property was surrounded by lush green countryside; secluded but close enough to the local village and the grand Chateau de la Roche Courbon to give visitors a feel for the culture and history of the local area.

Le Petit Moulin

Voted by Conde Nast Traveller as one of the top 25 villas in Europe in 2011, Le Petit Moulin (aka The Small Mill house) brought to life esp.LOVE’s ideas for the perfect venue for an intimate and romantic French-themed wedding. As the Mrs HDYTI did her thing with her stunning muse, we explored every inch of this gorgeous property with its simple elegance and delicate touches.

Once a working mill, the property has been modernized without losing any of its authenticity. Textured oak wood floors are beautifully complemented by a tiny little stream running through its large dining room. Halfway into the shoot, we were treated to the most amazing lunch by our lovely hosts. Strawberries and smoked salmon with the backdrop of the beautiful French countryside to boot had never tasted so good.

 

Moroccan-Bohemian chic meets Saint-Palais-sur-Mer

Saint-Palais-sur-Mer

The second half of the photo shoot featured a Moroccan-Bohemian theme. For this, we needed some coastline, a secluded beach and a perfect sunset. Our resourceful collaborator had chosen the Plage du Platin beach in the beautiful coastal town of Saint-Palais-sur-Mer (Palace on the sea). With the sun starting to lose its intensity, we needed to move quickly and so under the direction of the dexterous esp.LOVE, we said goodbye to our hosts at Le Petit Moulin and headed towards the Aquitaine coastline.

Saint-Palais-sur-Mer

Upon arrival in the near deserted town of Saint-Palais-sur-Mer, we made our way to water front and set up our gear just as the sun began to hang low over the horizon. Soaking up the sea breeze seasoned with perfumes from scented candles burning in the evening sunset, we wrapped up the photo shoot with a group photo and called it a night.

 

The seduction of Arcachon

Saint-Palais-sur-Mer

Exhausted from the exertions of the previous day, we enjoyed a late start the next morning. Photo shoot done, it was time to begin exploring and so we made quick work of our simple but lovely French breakfast and hit the road. The day before had given us a brief glimpse of Aquitaine’s beautiful Atlantic coastal line. Eager for more, we set out for Arcachon, another coastal town about 55 kilometers west of Bordeaux.

The scenery on the drive to Arcachon was enhanced by giant maritime pine trees standing to attention on either side of the highway as if in a parade. Historically, this region was made up of swampy land and remained largely uninhabited until the mid-1800s when aggressive reforestation began. The maritime pines were introduced to soak up the excess water and now, over a century later, add to the character of the region.

Arcachon

The Arcachon coast features great sea views, clean beaches, sand dunes and a bay area attractive for water sports. Historically popular as a bathing town and being less than an hour from Bordeaux, it remains a magnet for the locals. However, as we visited on a week day and just before the summer holiday rush, we enjoyed walking along a mostly deserted promenade and past lots of attractive but empty cafes and restaurants.

Arcachon

We left the promenade and headed into the town. The wide streets were lined on either side with buildings featuring a mix of different but authentic architectures ranging from the modern to the classical. We meandered our way along Boulevard Veyrier Montagnères and uphill to the expansive Parc Mauresque which afforded us with excellent views of Arcachon’s red clay rooftops, the sparkling sea in the distance and blue skies all around.

Thanks to our light breakfast, the tell-tale signs of hunger soon began to nag and so we headed back towards the promenade in search of food. This being the South West of France we were spoiled for choice and eventually decided on a sea-front restaurant which offered an appetizing selection of seafood and meats. The food paired well with a chilled bottle of Tariquet wine. With the sun high in the sky, we settled in and allowed ourselves to be seduced by ‘Lady Aquitaine’.

 

A vibrant city – Green is good for you!

After enjoying the enchanting Aquitaine coast, our next stop was the city of Bordeaux. Our visit coincided with the biennial Bordeaux River Festival taking place along the Garonne River. The Bordeaux harbour swarmed with sailing enthusiasts, traders, yachtsmen and entertainers all preparing for what is regarded as one of the world’s top yacht races: the Solitaire du Figaro Eric Bompard Cachemire. The city’s excitement was palpable.

Miroir d’eau | Water Mirror

Bordeaux is a modern European city where cycling is well integrated into the public transportation architecture. With dedicated, wide and well signposted cycle lanes, riding through Bordeaux with the wind in our faces seemed like an appealing option. We wanted to feel the pulse of the city and so we ditched the car opposite the Conservatoire de Bordeaux Jacques Thibaud, picked up city bicycles and headed into the heart of the city.

Pont de Pierre

No visit to the city of Bordeaux is complete without seeing the iconic Miroir d’eau (Water Mirror), a reflecting pool of water opposite the Palais de la Bourse. Unfortunately our visions of ‘walking on water’ never happened as someone had turned off the water jets just as we made our quick pit-stop. The expected mirror-like shine was replaced by a blanket of dull grey granite. Disappointed not to get our photo opportunity, we carried on towards the Pont de Pierre Bridge, the iconic bridge connecting the city’s East and West banks, and paused to get our bearings. Most of the action seemed to be concentrated east of the Garonne River and so we remained that side of the city.

Designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2007, the city of Bordeaux comes with a large number of well preserved 18th century monuments and architecture. Following a quick stop at the Monument aux Girondins, a very dramatic fountain sculpture, Mr. HDYTI was slightly disappointed to learn that it was built in commemoration of martyred political figures from the French Revolution rather than something more mythical or divine.

Monument aux Girondins

Although the city had its seedier sections, we had the overall impression of a modern city, proud of its history but not bound by it. We explored the rest of the city on foot: food, gardens and window shopping along Rue St Catherine, one of the longest dedicated shopping streets in Europe. We later moved away from the crowds into quieter side streets, checking out coffee shops which were altogether a more intimate experience.

Our friend had heard about a vegan restaurant somewhere in the city. Walking and cycling had worked up a huge appetite and so with only one working phone between us, we turned on Google Maps and began the hunt. We soon found The Smart Green Corner, a quirky but unpretentious restaurant, tucked away in an alley off Rue Georges Bonnac and a short walk from Parc Gambetta.

Parc Gambetta

Smart Green Corner | Vegan | Gluten Free

This no-frills eatery served an eye-catching and flavorful selection of vegan and gluten free food, enough to turn Mr. HDYTI who is a habitual carnivore into an honorary vegan…at least for the rest of that day. A little sign above the cash register read ‘GREEN FOOD IS GOOD FOR YOU’. With food very sensibly priced and high on quality, we couldn’t agree more!

 

Château de la Grave and the curious cat

Château de la Grave | wine

There are two types of people who visit Bordeaux’s famous wine region: those who can tell their Cabernet Sauvignon’s from their Petit Verdot’s just by sniffing the air and the rest of us who haven’t a clue! To the uninitiated and inexperienced, delving into the intricate details of Bordeaux’s left bank and right bank wine producers and its rivalry with other French wine growing regions like Burgundy can be daunting. We will be honest enough to admit we are in no way oenophiles and so were looking forward to receiving some education on the subject.

Château de la Grave | wine

The next day, we headed 45 minutes north of the city to Bourg sur Gironde. Located on the right bank of the Gironde River, we were headed to the award winning Château de la Grave run by Philippe and Valérie Bassereau. On arrival, we were greeted by Monsieur Philippe and a very curious cat. He (not the cat) immediately began a tour of the winery.

A master of his craft, Monsieur Philippe explained the planting and harvesting process and the methods employed in producing the Bordeaux blend unique to Château de la Grave. He explained his process of leaving the ground to fallow for three years before replanting with the next generation of grapevines and how he tastes the wine everyday to get it just right. There are certainly worse jobs than that!

We learned that 2013 was generally a bad year for the entire region due to poor harvests and a drop in demand from China. Apparently, when the Chinese sneeze, the whole world seems to catch a cold, including here in Bordeaux. At the end of his short lecture during which our friend tried to keep up the translation in whispers, the Monsieur proudly declared in English, “Everyone can make wine…the process is the process. However, not everyone can make good wine!”

Château de la Grave | wine

Everyone can make wine…the process is the process. However, not everyone can make good wine Click To Tweet

Although we didn’t speak his language, his passion for his craft and his produce was infectious. He obviously seemed to know what he was talking about, and so we followed him, spell bound, to the wine tasting room of the château. The cat seemed rather keen to see what we were up to and followed us into the tasting room. While we tasted three of the château’s wines, the cat soon got bored with our sniffing and swirling shenanigans, took up a vantage position where the sunlight came in through the window and proceeded to ignore us for the rest of the afternoon.

Château de la Grave | wine

We needed no further prompting to pick up a few bottles of the château’s 2012 Nectar de la Grave. Pleased with the bargain prices and somewhat better educated about wine, we drove off into the Bordeaux countryside with our prize.

HDYTI Tip: Philippe and Valérie Bassereau rent out holiday rooms at certain times of the year at Château de la Grave. To enquire, go to their contact page here or here. Monsieur Philippe was however very emphatic about not hosting weddings at the chateau though! There are also wine tours across Bordeaux that offer family friendly activities. While the adults indulge, kids can also enjoy various learning activities.

 

When soul food makes you fall in love…

We had come to ‘Lady Aquitaine’ as suitors and we were leaving enchanted. However, she was not done with us yet. There was one more surprise in store for us. Famished after our tour to the winery, our thoughts turned again to food. Driving along a highway somewhere between Cote de Bourg and Bordeaux we spotted a sign that indicated a restaurant was just off the road. Not knowing what to expect, we veered off the highway and were immediately transported back in time. Following a windy country road, we soon arrived at Restaurant Aux Amis Reunis in Saint-Laurent-d’Arce. Located opposite an old church along a deserted village street, we walked in and were soon seated.

Aux Amis Reunis

This was the sort of place which does not show up on review websites. The locals apparently keep this their own little secret but seemed happy to share it with us black strangers. The nondescript décor was overshadowed by a large group of men who appeared to be the village rugby or football team having lunch.

We placed our orders and Mr. HDYTI appeared very curious when his entrée of Chevre Chaud au Miel et Lardons (hot cheese and bacon) arrived. By the time his main plate of tender rabbit with Sauce Champignons et Lardons arrived, he was wearing a very wide grin. At the end of the meal, we were all in love; in love with the food, in love with each other, in love with Bordeaux. Soul food is the kind that seeks you out when you least expect it and leaves you wanting more! We had just found its Bordeaux incarnation!

Soul food is the kind that seeks you out when you least expect it and leaves you wanting more! Click To Tweet

Château de la Grave | wine

As we rounded off our visit, the lyrics from Lionel Richie’s timeless love song suddenly made sense. In the song, he croons to his lady…

You’re once, twice, three times a lady…

With a refreshing combination of coast, countryside and city, Lady Aquitaine had proven that she had a lot to offer. We will certainly be back for more.

Grand Hotel de Bordeaux

Have you been to Bordeaux? What are your favorite chateaux? Have you visited multiple wine regions? Please share your favorites and why. We would love to hear from you and perhaps check out your recommendations. Also watch this space for our ‘education’ on English wines….yes, the Brits also produce wine!

Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).