Hotel Le Saint James – an ideal place for my Anatomie clothes

A match made in heaven: glamorous travel clothes and a luxury hotel. Last week I had the chance to wallow to my hearts’ content in this double luxury.

entrance

Yet again, my Anatomie travel clothes proved to be the ideal outfits. During the day, I wore pants, made of a slightly stretchy extremely soft material. They fit perfectly and have the necessary pockets in just the right places. In black and dark blue I combined them with tops and sweaters.

Anatomie lace top

Anatomie lace top

In the evening my favorite jacket got an outing on the occasion of the exclusive Wine Club meeting which is held every month in the luxurious St. James Hotel Bouliac where I was staying. Black with lace insets in front and back, elegant long sleeves with the cuffs turned back, I got more than one admiring glance from the French ladies, known for their chic.

This is the background: The Le Saint James Hotel in the quaint village of Bouliac, some 20km from Bordeaux is i a rare combination of art and comfort. Originally a farmhouse, French architect Jean Nouvel got to work and created a luxury hotel of just 18 rooms, three of which are suites. Each room is individually designed and features wrks of art, such as a motorcycle sculpture or a sofa in the form of a baseball mitt. They all have in common that they embrace the surrounding hotel- owned vineyards by allowing a view at them as soon as you open your eyes. This is achieved by huge windows, high ceilings and elevated beds, so you litterlayy wake up in the clouds and mist before the sun disperses them, revealing the lush green of the lawns and vineyards.

bed

pool

bar

In the summer you can swin in an outdoor pool lined in black. The hotel features a gourmet restaurant run by 2star chef Nicolas Magie whose creations are truly magic.

us

hake

The bar with a fireplace invites to a quiet drink from the ample menu. Just across the road you can enjoy a more rustic cuisine in the Café de l’Esperance, famous for meat and home made French fried. Desserts and starters can be chosen from the buffet.

goodcafe

There are even more attractions. If you want ot leabr about the secrest of French cuisine, you can participate in a cooking class called Cote Cours and imparted by charming sous chef Celia Girard.

celia

Bouliac itself is a the epitome of a tiny French mountain village with nothing more y a church, a town hall and a boulangerie where the picturesque  owner will be happy to talk to you, provided you speak French of course.

church

boulangerie

Most important is that the moment you arrive at the St. James you feel like family. Kids are welcome and get to chose from three different toys which they can keep.

If you want to visit nearby Bordeaux they will arrange transport for you and if, like me, you are in need of a hairdresser…. one call from reception and she will come and do your hair in your room.

My clothes and I were sorry when it was time to leave, but we will be back.

 

 

 

 

 

Highlights of Bordeaux

Forget everything you might have heard about Bordeaux being grimy and run down. Since several years ago, that image is a thing of the past. On my latest visit to the city on the banks of the Garonne, I could see for myself what a bit (or rather a lot) of sandblasting and tons of fresh paint can do to turn Cinderella into a shining beauty. Add to this miles of pedestrian shopping streets, a cable and noise free tram, green zones and parks, not to mention delightful river cruises and you have a city worth visiting for more than just a few hours, mostly spent at wine tastings.

With over 300 historical 17th and 18th century buildings (only Paris has more) Bordeaux is a paradise for history and architecture fans like myself.

Sadly, I only had half a day but it was enough to get am impression of the highlights which now make Bordeaux so attractive to locals and tourists alike.

Rather than exploring on my own, as I usually like to do and due to the limited time, I went with a tour guide. Great choice! The delightful Bruno Beurrier who likes to be addressed as Mr. Butterdish ( www.bcommebordeaux.com) was full of details and stories and certainly knew how to show as around.

Meet Bruno Butterdish

Meet Bruno Butterdish

Starting point was the elegant Grand Theatre on Place de la Comedie. Opened in 1780 the building was designed as a temple to art by Victor Louis.

teatre

Prevailing performances are and have always been ballet, but it also served as an opera house. In 1991, the interior was restored to its original colors of gold and blue and the result is breath taking. Thanks to Bruno, we had the chance to sneak into one of the balconies and get a glimpse of the rehearsal to a very modern ballet version of The Tempest. I would have loved to see the performance but, sadly, there was no time.

ceiling

gallery

seats

Opposite is the equally grandiose and restored Grand Hotel with a restaurant run by Gordon Ramsey on the ground floor.

grandhotel

Place de la Comedie marks one end of the mile long Rue Saint Catherine, a pedestrian shopping street lined by countless shops from designer to economic. I could escape for a moment to look at librairie mollat, a 120 year old massive bookshop where I could habr browsed for hours.

Bookshop Mollat

Bookshop Mollat

Meandering through the historical center in the direction of the river, Bruno stopped at one remaining black wall to point out to us the before and after of Bordeaux’s face lift.

We passed the huge Cathedral of St. Andre dating from the 11th century although the majority of the construction and looming towers are from the 14th and 15th century. In the setting sun of the afternoon, the sandstone just glowed.

cathedral

Bordeaux also features some striking  examples of modern architecture which of course didn’t need any sandblasting. One is Europe’s longest vertical lift  bridge, Pont Chaban-Delmas which spans the Garonne.

Vertical lift bridge

Vertical lift bridge

Another, surprisingly, the Court of 1st Instance, a cone shaped courthouse with courtroom located in pods.

cimg4574

And, finally, Bordeaux’s latest attraction: La Cite du Vin, a museum cum amusement park  which only opened this year.

Cite du Vin

Cite du Vin

Bruno timed his tour perfectly, because as night fell, we came to the highlight of highlights: Place de la Bourse and the water mirror in front.

Seeing the beautifully illuminated historical buildings arranged in a semi circle reflected in the water is pure magic.

cimg4587

What I missed out on are the several river cruises available, starting from Bordeaux. From just a short pleasure trip to longer ones into the vineyards of surrounding Acquitaine and further afield, they would be another highlight to add to the list.

For further information please consult: http://bordeaux-river-cruise.com/

One thing is for sure: I’ll return with more time to enjoy the things I had to miss and certainly to attend a ballet performance in the Grand Theatre.

 

La Cite du Vin/Bordeaux

Come with me on a tour of Bordeaux’s brand new landmark: La Cite du Vin. The only thing which surprised me was that it took so long to come into being. Bordeaux is after all the capital of wine and THE appropriate location for an outstanding wine museum.

Well, here it is, opened only this year. La Cite du Vin  is much more than a museum, it’s also an indoor amusement park and an architectural masterpiece. Designed by Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazieres, the 55m high building rises into the sky close to the river Garonne. The shape alone is food for discussion.

cite

To me, frankly, it looks like a boot whereas it is supposed to represent a decanter or wine glass which no doubt is more appropriate.

Be prepared for high tech and..darkness. I am a great museum fan, but, I’ll say so right from the start, this is not my favorite. But, go and judge for yourself.

The entrance

The entrance

The huge structure spreads over 10 levels and you follow the parcours permanent right to the top. Along the way you learn everything there is to know about wine. History, cultivation, commerce, transport, you name it, you will find it.

At the entrance you are provided with massive earphones and a hand held gadget because interactive is the key word of this museum. Huge screens tell stories whilst an audio guide whispers into your ear. The screens, displays and images are the reason why this place is so very dark, something that made me feel claustrophobic. Everybody shuffles around with their earphones and gadget, it resembles zombie central. Nobody can talk to anybody else and discuss the exhibits and you can’t ask any questions either because an audiotape doesn’t answer.

I liked the mural about ancient wine cultivation and the bottles, encrusted with shells, recovered from the sea.

bottle

mural

screens

wines

At the ground floor there  are also shops where you can buy wine and a Café. To enjoy this kind of museum cum amusement park you have to be a fan of high tech, otherwise you might run outside after just 40 minutes as I did, to let me eye rest on the waters of the Garonne and enjoy the sunshine after all that darkness.

For quite a detailed guide please consult: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/photo-essays/2016-02-25/bordeaux-s-81-million-cite-du-vin-aims-to-be-the-guggenheim-of-wine

Apart from the eye catching shape of the building, it has, in my opinion, nothing in common with the Sydney Opera House or the Guggenheim in Bilbao to which it is compared, both of which  I have visited.

 

Canneles – Bordeaux’s Sweet Secret

My recent trip to Bordeaux was very much dominated by food. I was invited by the fabulous Hotel Le Saint James. On arrival, I was greeted with a cup of coffee, accompanied by two golden brown canneles. Even the sugar cubes, specially made for the hotel, come in the form of canneles. Cute.

This was my first encounter with Bordeaux’s signature cup cake and subsequently I learned all about it, including how to make them.

canelles

They are bite sized little cakes, generously flavored with rum, a hint of vanilla  and baked until golden brown. They have to be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and won’t keep more than a day because then they get all limp.

The name comes from the crenellated forms they are baked in. In Bordeaux families, the forms are like an heirloom, much appreciated and passed on from generation to generation. The older they are, the better the canneles. There is a modern version made from plastic, much looked down  upon by true canneles  connoisseurs.

According to our tour guide, the hilarious ‘ Mr. Butterdish’ ,the best canneles are made in Caneles Baillardran (www.baillardran.com)  in Bordeaux. If you want to make them yourself, you can buy the forms anywhere in the many shops along Bordeaux’s  pedestrian shopping street Rue Saint Catherine.

Bruno Beurrier aka Mr. Butterdish

Bruno Beurrier aka Mr. Butterdish

At the Hotel Le Saint James, I had the opportunity to participate in their Cote Cours cooking class. The charming chef Celia Girard taught us, among many other things, how to make proper canneles.

Celia Girard

Celia Girard

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients for 20 canneles

600g milk

60g butter

2 eggs

40g egg yolk

180g of flour

300g of sugar

100g of rum

Preparation:

Boil half the milk with the butter. Add cold milk. Mix flour with sugar in a bowl. In a separate bowl mix eggs with egg yolk. When the milk is only warm, pour in flour and sugar mix, then egg mix and finally the rum. Mix well and let the dough rest in the fridge over night.

Grease molds and pour in the mixture nearly to the brim. Bake in 180C preheated oven until  caramelized between 45 and 60 minutes depending on the oven.

I added a few raisins and ground almonds because it goes very well with the rum flavor.

Be warned: they are addicitive!

 

Wielding the cooking spoon – Hotel Le Saint James/Bouliac

Last week, I did something I have never done before. Kindly invited by the fabulous Le Saint James Hotel in Bouliac near Bordeaux , I jumped at the chance to improve my cooking skills beyond scrambled eggs and pasta.

Le Saint James Hotel

Le Saint James Hotel

The hotel owned vineyard

The hotel owned vineyard

Cote Cours are the magic words of a cooking course offered by the hotel to guests and other interested parties alike. Celia Girard, sous-chef to 2star chef Nicholas Magie who is in charge of the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, runs the classes. Given my very basic cooking skills, I was a bit apprehensive. Would she notice and maybe look down her nose at the beginner who didn’t even know how to dice an onion properly?

Far from it! Celia is not only a master cook, but also charming, with a great sense of humor and endless patience. There were six of us, mostly food writers and travel writers like myself.

Celia in her kitchen

Celia in her kitchen

It started great with donning pink aprons. Sooo to a glamourgranny’s taste. I felt like a pro already. My ‘mistake’ was to wear rings though. But, I didn’t get told of by Celia but rather by my fellow pupils. Oh well, next time I’ll know better.

inka

We prepared starters, a main course and a desert, all to be eaten afterwards at a huge round table in the super modern kitchen. Ok, I didn’t wield a cooking spoon, but I’m a master knife wielder by now because I finally know how to chop an onion, finely and without cutting my finger off.

The finished main course. Hake in fig leaves

The finished main course. Hake in fig leaves

Celia’s emphasis is on the freshest products and, if at all possible, anything that grows in the region. Therefore one of the main ingredients were seps, a big and fleshy mushroom, delivered on the spot by a local farmer.

mushrooms

What impressed me was that nothing gets wasted. We had to peel the mushroom stems and the peel was kept. So were the ends of shallots and onions, stems of parsley etc. It all went into a pot with boiling water and converted into a delicious mushroom broth to which later pieces of mushroom, cream and butter were added to make a tasty mushroom cream, poured over the fish.

The difficulty started, even for my seasoned foodie companions, when we had to roll up the fillet of fish, placed on a fig leave in cling film. It needed to be rolled and folded just so… not an easy task. The fish then sat for 5 minutes in a steam oven and came out juicy and tasty. Added to this was a mixture of grapes, crushed hazelnuts and fresh figs, a beautiful combination of flavors.

Rolling the fillets of fish

Rolling the fillets of fish

One of Bordeaux’s specialties are canneles, a sort of cone shaped cup cake, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, flavored with a generous helping of rum. I even got creative and suggested to add a few raisins and crushed almonds which go nicely with the rum.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

I’m happy I got the chance and I can only recommend the cooking class. There are several kinds, one even for kids. Prices vary from €85 for a three course meal to €30 for the kiddy class.

I did of course learn something but the most important thing was the great fun which was had by all. Merci Celia.