What’s the vibe?
If Robin Hutson, of British hotel mini-chain The Pig (and, before that, Hotel du Vin), was French this is the hotel he might have opened. 20 minutes’ drive from Bordeaux, in Martillac, Les Sources de Caudalie is the epitome of carefully put-together rustic chic. There’s a stone manor house at its heart, a small lake and a hard-working kitchen garden behind it and, off to one side a hamlet-like extension of suites.
Great food and wine are the focus at this gastronomic getaway but even the finest dining (the hotel’s main restaurant, La Grand’ Vigne, holds two Michelin stars) is done without fuss. Spend time between meals working off your indulgence with a walk or a bike ride along the 5km of woodland trails that surround the property.
Which room should I book at Les Sources de Caudalie?
The newer, cabin-like suites (designed to reflect the oyster fishermen’s huts of Cap Ferret, in the nearby Arcachon Basin), with their whitewashed timber walls, retro-influenced furniture and spa-like bathrooms, are the ones to splash out on; in the evenings you’ll be serenaded by frogs as you return to your room along flower- and water-lined pathways. In the mornings, step onto your private terrace and watch carthorses ploughing the vines just outside.
While some of the rooms in the main building are the epitomy of classic French country chic, some of the most basic rooms are a little dated (if you’re staying in one of these, make a beeline for the ‘cigar tower’ above the lobby; a lofty lounge with comfy armchairs, antiques and a beautiful old tiled chimney fire, it’s the place to come for romantic views over the surrounding gardens and vineyards).
Or, check in at Chateau Le Thil, a boutique b&b a km or so away. Fabulously romantic, with high ceilings and wonderfully wild gardens, it’s cheaper than Les Sources but under the same management so you can use the free bikes to pedal over to the latter for dinner or a dip in the pool.
The food and drink
The three restaurants at Les Sources have most tastes covered. Celebrate a special occasion with dinner in La Grand’ Vigne and enjoy a meal where even the table salts stick in the memory (one of ours, blended with Bordeaux pimento, was the colour of roast peppers) and the cheeseboard comes with such unexpected pleasures as a fresh cottage cheese from a local dairy served with a dot of cherry jam.
For more earthy cooking, try dishes such as sea bream with crab ‘soup’ and homegrown herbs fresh from the kitchen garden in the La Table du Lavoir restaurant, set in a barn-like room that’s dappled by sunlight on late summer evenings, and by the warmth of a vast open fire in winter.
Or, choose from small plates and fabulous local wines at Le Rouge, a Basque-influenced wine bar and grocery store in the hotel’s gardens that serves bellota ham and ‘coffee gourmand’ – a board of dainty madeleines, tiny choux buns, mini cherry cakes and traditional Bordelaise cannelés served with coffee. Don’t expect wonders from the hotel bar, a tiny space crammed into a corridor; head to Le Rouge for a more atmospheric pre-dinner drink, especially in summer when you can sit outside on a small gravelled terrace.
The lack of a really great hotel bar is a surprising oversight given the hotel is surrounded on all sides by vines. But wine buffs can sate themselves, instead, with a tour and tasting at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, an adjacent vineyard owned by the same family as the hotel. The vines here produce 50,000 bottles of biscuity white (a blend of Semillon, sauvignon blanc and sauvignon gris) and up to 250,000 bottles of smoky, spicy red (a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot) each year. Try before you buy in the vineyard’s wine shop or order different vintages by the glass in Le Rouge, or to pair with your meal at La Grand’ Vigne.
What else is there for foodies to do?
Add-on cooking classes and wine tasting classes run on Saturday mornings. Or book a treatment in the hotel’s Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa, a sybaritic space where treatments are based around the polyphenols in grape seeds (said to have anti-aging properties).
Caudalie brand products are also liberally stocked in the hotel’s bathrooms; if you haven’t bought them before now it’s unlikely you’ll leave without buying some to take home (we loved the Vinosource moisture recovery cream – just the thing after a long journey, and cheaper bought here than back in the UK). The outdoor swimming pool here was being renovated when we visited; instead we made the most of a stylish, second (indoor) pool near the new suites.
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Written by Rhiannon Batten
First published December 2015