France & Spain

For Richard

September 2004.

Coastal, culinary Bordeaux

Dear Richard,

France offers rich culture, food, and landscapes. I have planned a trip that balances all three, as you will wend your way through picturesque towns, your taste buds expanding alongside your mind and soul. With so much to see and so much to savor, approaching France through a culinary lens offers an excellent entry point: your savory experiences will help you orient yourself in the delightful sensory overload that is the French coast.

Day 1: Arrival in St. Emilion

You will arrive today at the charming town of St. Emilion, about 35 kilometers from Bordeaux, and have lunch at L’Envers du Décor. The rest of the day will be at leisure to rest in the hotel, Hostellerie de Plaisance.

Day 2: Wine

Charles, your guide, will pick you up in the morning and you will be driven through the Fronsac wine region to Bourg en Blaye, a beautiful landscape on the Gironde estuary with hillside vineyards. You will take a short tour of the 17th century Blaye citadel, and then sail from Blaye to Lamarque on the Medoc side of the river, with views of the islands and wild banks of estuary. Drive to Pauillac where you will have a special session at the “Ecole des Saveurs” at Chateau Lynch Bages, with an introduction to wine tasting. Lunch will be at Chateau Cordeillan Bages, featuring the most attractive cuisine in this region of Bordeaux. Visit a second wine estate, Prieur Lichine, on the road back to Bordeaux and St. Emilion.

Day 3: St. Emilion

Your culinary passions will be met today by chef Frederic Jombart during an early morning breakfast at the restaurant La Poudette. Then depart for the Libourne, a small producer’s open-air market that sells fruits, vegetables, poultry, and fish. You will accompany Chef Jombart as he conducts his daily shopping for the restaurant, and will come to understand his discerning eye and culinary creativity as he chooses from the delicacies here. Return to La Poudette, where your private cooking course will begin with a three-course lesson hosted by Chef Jombart. The menu will depend on the morning market opportunities and your tastes. This will be followed by dinner—a chance to eat what you have prepared before heading home to Hostellerie de Plaisance.

Day 4: St. Jean De Luz

St. Jean de Luz is an active fishing harbor filled with colorfully-painted boats and a sprawling bay area. Here, in 1660, Louis XIV (France’s Sun King) wed the Spanish Infanta, Marie-Therese, ending decades of war and defining the territorial borders of the two nations. St. Jean de Luz also has a rich history of maritime activities, including pirating practices which brought enormous wealth into the town, as evidenced by some of the more opulent villas that adorn the bay area and a square where local artists paint during the warm weather months.

Tonight, dinner will be waiting for you at La Table des Fréres Ibarboure in Bidart.

Day 5: San Sebastian

Today, explore San Sebastian at your leisure. You may wish to go to the city’s Parte Vieja (old town) with its many restaurant-filled streets, which lies between the Rio Urumea and the bay. Also visit the main square, Plaza de Constitucion, the church of Santa Maria del Coro and perhaps climb up Monte Urgull, from which you will have a panoramic view of the city and its coast. You may also wish to visit Chillida Leku Museum, located about 15 kilometers from San Sebastian, before returning to rest at Hotel Maria Cristina.

Day 7: Santillana del Mar

Today, arrive in Picos de Europa, a large mountain range home to a diversity of flora and fauna. Stop for coffee in Unquera to try corbatas—characteristic local almond puff pastries. Then, continue on through Hermida Defile, a steep gorge with a spectacular ravine. You will also visit the 10th century Mozarbic church, Nuestra Señora de Labena, and Potes, a delightful, ancient village set in charming countryside. Lunch will await you this afternoon at the restaurant Paco Younces, and a reservation has been made for you at Hotel Casa Del Marques.

Day 9: The Altamira Cave

This morning, you will visit the Altamira Museum, which features an impressive replica of the Altamira Cave. At the museum, a professor of archaeology will join you to offer information and insights. The Altamira Cave, a UNESCO World Heritage monument, has two distinct levels, one belonging to the Solutrean culture and the other to the Magdalenian. Ancient tools and cave art make this site one of the most popular and recognizable sites in Spain. The cave itself is virtually impossible to get into, but the museum’s replica is excellent. After exploring, a dinner reservation will await you at Los Blasones.

Day 10: Bilbao

Depart this morning to Bilbao for a one-and-a-half-day tour of the Guggenheim Museum and the Old Quarter. At the Guggenheim, you will find a James Rosenquist Restrospective, as well as an exhibition of Mark Rothko called “Walls of Light.” In the afternoon, you will continue your culinary development with a cooking class at Extanobe. Your trip will end with dinner there and transport the following day to the airport.

Richard, it has been my pleasure to plan this itinerary for your trip to Bordeaux and the French coast. Please feel free to contact me at any time, should the need arise.