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Beauty of the French countryside

Wander vineyards in the charming mediaeval village of Saint Emilion in Bordeaux.
Wander vineyards in the charming mediaeval village of Saint Emilion in Bordeaux.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO
Wander vineyards in the charming mediaeval village of Saint Emilion in Bordeaux.
MS ROSALYNN TAY, 50, chief executive officer of digital marketing communications company Dentsu Aegis Network Singapore

Bordeaux is about more than just wine - it has gorgeous landscapes and beautiful architecture

Favourite destination: Bordeaux, France, lets me indulge in more than just luscious wines.

When visiting the famous region in south-western France, one is able to enjoy the elegance of Renaissance architecture and the hospitality of friendly people in the beautiful countryside. The cobbled streets, rolling greens and innumerous vineyards bring me joy and inner peace.

SEE

Time is frozen in the charming mediaeval village of Saint Emilion, 40km east of Bordeaux city and where people have lived for more than 2,000 years.

The hilltop village, which has preserved its old-world atmosphere with Romanesque churches and ruins stretching along steep and narrow streets, offers beautiful views of the vineyards which fill the landscape below.

If you are looking for a breather from the buzz of the modern world, this is it.

Wander the streets of Bordeaux city because you never know what gems you will discover. You will come upon delightful little curio shops, bookshops, local fromageries (cheese shops) and cafes - each one different and with its own unique charm.

  • GETTING THERE

  • Fly from Singapore to Bordeaux via Paris on Air France or via Amsterdam on KLM. Alternatively, catch the train from Paris to Bordeaux, which takes two to three hours depending on the train.

  • TIPS

    • Bordeaux is a worthwhile side trip from Paris, but I recommend taking a week to truly revel in the food, wine and landscape.

    • I went to Bordeaux in June, which was the perfect season. Most travel guides advise visiting Bordeaux between June and August. Weather conditions are pleasant from April to October. However, keep in mind that harvests sometimes take place in September and unless you are a wine connoisseur, Bordeaux may not be as picturesque then. Also, many vineyards may not have as much time to entertain tourists.

    • It would be useful to learn some simple French phrases before your trip so that you can communicate with the locals. If all else fails, flash a big smile. Otherwise, arranging for a French tour guide or asking along someone who can speak French would make for a blissful time in Bordeaux, where English is commonly spoken in the touristy areas, but less so in the smaller towns.

Then make your way to Place de la Bourse, an expansive square near the river with beautiful 18th-century architecture, a fountain and Miroir d'Eau, or The Water Mirror, a vast pool of water that reflects the Place de la Bourse to an amazing effect. It is at its best at sunset and at night, when the buildings are beautifully lit.

Another place to visit is La Cite du Vin (www.laciteduvin.com/en), the only cultural centre in the world dedicated to the living heritage of wine, not only from France, but also from around the globe.

The building is an architectural marvel and has close to 20 themed areas where one can explore the history and provenance of wine through immersive and interactive exhibits.

Visit La Cite du Vin's Belvedere, a glass atrium on the eighth floor and 35m above ground, where you can admire the 360-degree view of Bordeaux while tasting wine from some of the best wine regions in the world.

EAT

The food in Bordeaux is the type that most people will think of when it comes to French cuisine: all things rich and buttery.

Escargot is a must. Duck confit is also especially well-known in Bordeaux and is often available as a plat du jour (dish of the day) in restaurants.

Unsurprisingly, the ingredient that infuses much of Bordeaux cooking is wine and cooking a dish "in the Bordeaux style" means with bone marrow, shallots and either red or white wine.

The region also offers an endless choice of cheeses, which complement Bordeaux wines well.

Le Bouchon Bordelais (www.bouchon-bordelais.com) in Bordeaux city serves authentic provincial French cuisine. This Michelin-starred restaurant, with its casually romantic bistro setting, is a must-visit for a lovely evening with good food.

The menu is simple and affordably priced - €55 (S$88) a person for the eight-to 10-course tasting menu - and changes weekly.

When I was there, I shared a delicious cheese platter of tomme, goat's cheese and gouda with accompanying housemade jam.

Most cheeses in France taste great and you can always ask the server for the house recommendation of the day.

Cafe Lavinal (tinyurl.com/y9aga8f3) is a lovely restaurant and popular lunch spot near Chateau Lynch-Bages in Pauillac.

I recommend the flavourful veal shoulder and roast chicken. There is also a wide variety of wine, which you can order by the glass.

Allow plenty of time to savour your food, then do some wine shopping in the adjacent vineyard shop.

PLAY

What better way to explore Bordeaux than to visit the region's renowned wineries? Bordeaux has white and red wines, but is mostly associated with the red-wine blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Some chateaus welcome walk-ins, although it is best to make an appointment.

You can do so at the websites of popular chateaus such as Chateau Margaux (www.chateau-margaux.com/fr), Chateau Figeac (www.chateau-figeac.com) and Chateau Haut Brion (www.haut-brion.com) or by asking your hosts for help.

I got around in a chauffeur-driven car. That way, I did not drink and drive.

I visited a few vineyards and sleeper wine growers, which have unexpectedly successful wines from a particular vintage or producer, such as the less well-known Chateau des Laudes (www.chateau-des-laudes.net).

I definitely recommend tasting wine from a mix of chateaus.

SHOP

Most shopping takes place in Bordeaux city, which was where I spent hours bistro-hopping and shopping for clothes and varieties of cheese, as well as visiting quaint bookshops.

Bordeaux is home to some of the best wines in France and I shipped home a few cases to enjoy with friends.

I bought some bottles directly from the vineyards which I visited and others from Ets Martin (etablissements-martin.fr), a wine merchant in Saint Emilion.

The welcoming staff are knowledgeable, offer generous tastings and speak impeccable English. There is a wide variety of price points and the best part is that it ships wines worldwide.

If you are short on time, visiting a wine shop is ideal as it will have a great selection of the region's wines in one place.

STAY

I had the amazing experience of staying in the stately Chateau Coulon Laurensac (www.clbx.com) in the French countryside.

It is owned by a Dutch couple who converted a dormant chateau in Saint Emilion into their living premises as well as hotel lodging.

They were instrumental in helping me plan my tour of the nearby vineyards and arranging the car and chauffeur.

I thoroughly enjoyed my leisurely strolls in the fruit yards and large gardens of the chateau.

It is the ideal place to unwind and take in the fresh air.

The loveliest part was having breakfast with a view from the guesthouse as it was so serene and scenic.

I could spend days on end relaxing there.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 10, 2017, with the headline 'Beauty of the French countryside'. Print Edition | Subscribe