The French vacation
For service, hospitality and luxury Le Saint James is right up there on my list of Aspect short breaks over the past 25 years
Time to relax. After putting to bed the 25th Anniversary issue of Aspect, the time had come to give the Publisher some luxury quality time. What better place than France and a luxurious hotel that was also celebrating its 25th anniversary.
I love France and particularly the Bordeaux region, famous for its architecture, vineyards and the distinct regional identity of the area and the people. Hotel Le Saint- James overlooks the Bordeaux and Garonne countryside and boasts a gourmet restaurant to boot. So this is home to Michelin starred Chef Nicolas Magie. The menus here are inspired by the daily market offerings and are always changing with the seasons.
We arrived on a luxuriant late summers afternoon in the quiet backwater village of Bouliac. Picture perfect with a peaceful village square and not a vehicle in sight. At the hotel we were ushered through to the terrace to enjoy champagne and cannelé pastries while taking in the magnificent vista. The hotel is contemporary, stylish and special. Modern art splashes colour on the walls, everything is conducted in the most perfect of Gallic taste. Even the staff have been carefully selected for not only their charm and willingness to please but for their aesthetic looks. There is nothing remotely ugly within the St James walls, even the pool cleaner moved with a certain je né sais quoi.
Upstairs to check out the accommodation, where everything has been finished to the highest possible standard and with a view to savour. There is a giant bed to repose upon, then afterwards a luxuriant shower while enjoying the view, refreshed and ready for a stroll before dinner.
The dining room is spacious and with acres of glass to welcome in the evening light. That evening I enjoyed a magnificent five course meal of gourmet standard. The wines were carefully selected for us, historic as expected. Even before the hotel was built there was a renowned restaurant on the site and the fine tradition of magnificent food has continued to this day.
My first morning began with an awakening to that special view. Turning over under the crisp sheets in bed I opened my eyes to the splendid early morning French light. A soft mist cloaked the outlying pastoral fields with treetops visible above the mists. From the fields a herd of cows glided through the mist in the fields below, grazing towards the hotel in line formation. After a quiet coffee in my room I slipped on my towelling robe and went down to the pool for a refreshing early morning dip. Not a soul in sight, perfect.
The event of that day was a trip to the famous Arcachon Bay. We were chauffered to a quiet village and enjoyed coffee at a waterside café, bathed in the morning sunshine. We then boarded one of the local flat bottomed boats for a slow cruise across the serene bay. On the far shore we embarked at the old jetty of a tumbledown fishermans shack to sample the famous oysters from the bay. With some fine chilled white wine, rough bread, lemon and as many sublime, superb oysters that we could eat, this event turned out to be the highlight of the vacation. In good company and glorious sunshine, the view of the bay from the end of the old jetty was truly memorable.
Onwards and out again over the waters, where our boat beached onto one of the sandbanks. We hopped off and were served up a fine picnic lunch on the sands while the seagulls cavorted, dancing for offerings from our picnic baskets. After a while we headed of home and I dozed off in the late afternoon sunshine at the prow of our vessel.
Our route back to the hotel took us through for a tour of the magnificent town of Bordeaux with majestic triumphal architecture and expansive open squares, brimming with sculptures and culture.
That evening we enjoyed a typically French evening at the local bistro in Bouliac, Le Café de L’Espérance just a few minutes walk from the hotel and through the sleepy village square. I indulged my love of “starters” that night with four courses, the highlight being the gorgeous smoked meats platter. A busy and bustling restaurant , most of the diners were local French families out for a Saturday night. Outside old locals quaffed brandies, smoked Gitannes and exchanged tall tales in the warm evening air.
The next day commenced with a tour of the hotel vineyard and around to the building that houses the vats nursing the maturing wine. The Merlot vines produce the “Vin du Jardin,” which is available in the hotel. This lovely experience was enhanced by the charismatic hotel sommelier who then took us onto a lesson in wines and tasting back at the hotel.
I love my food, but mostly when it has been cooked by an expert in a white apron from a (preferably ) French kitchen. My expertise in cooking is, and always will be lacking, so I was looking forward to the cook school tinged with some trepidation. But after a few hours of prepping and hard learning with my fellow guests, chopping, tasting , cleaning, cooking and yes, “cheffing” this experience turned out to be the most rewarding part of my hotel stay-not to mention eating the fruits of our labour, alfresco under the bright French sun with some stunning wine and good company.
This conclusion to my French stay ended a perfect three days away. For service, hospitality and luxury Le Saint James is right up there on my list of Aspect short breaks taken over the past 25 years.
The current Gastronomic Getaway is available until 30th April 2016
• Three nights with breakfasts in a deluxe room
• One five course dinner in the Michelin starred restaurant including drinks
• Two three course dinners in the bistro Le Café de L’Espérance including drinks
• One lesson in the cookery school with lunch in Côté Cours
• Two hours in ‘Oxy Zen’, their sauna/hamman/hydrotherapy pool partner at 5 minutes from the Saint-James
• A visit to an iconic Château in Saint-Émilion with wine tasting
Rates valid from the 21st September to 30th of November:
• Three nights in between Sunday and Wednesday: e1,055 (based on two sharing)
• Three nights from Thursday to Sunday: e1,280 (based on two sharing)