Small Barrels visited Les Sources de Caudalie (Bordeaux-Martillac, France) in July 2004. It is a lovely hotel and spa located in the quaint vineyard countryside of Pessac-Léognan. Tranquility and rest are found in every aspect of the hotel –in the spacious rooms, luxury spa, the hotel’s two notable restaurants, and in taking a stroll by acres of lush grape vines.
Les Sources de Caudalie is situated on a quiet country lane in the famous wine producing area of Pessac-Léognan in the Bordeaux region of France. You are mere footsteps away from the Cru Classés-producing vineyards of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte, and a short drive from the renowned Sauternes area. Most importantly, you are nestled in a quiet, serene part of France – a perfect place to relax, rejuvenate and be restored. Life seems to slow down here; and on vacation, its exactly what you want.
Befitting its country setting, the exterior of Les Sources de Caudalie is plain and simple. The building does not cry out for attention –as though it knows that the true beauty is the land in which it’s nestled. Instead of anything ornate, simple, cream-colored walls are the exterior of choice. Attached structures, such as La Table du Lavoir restaurant and the Vinotherapie, are constructed out of deliberately rustic, weathered wood.
Inside, the look is classic and comfortable and hearkens back to a time and place that you cannot identify precisely; it is simply, before. Leather chairs, framed maps of the world as it was once imagined, and weighty treatises hang on the wall. Plenty of natural light pours in from the many windows – the interior is friendly yet elegant. Each wing of the hotel is inspired by a different theme. Our wing followed the theme of Le Comptoir des Indes. The theme pays tribute to the first days of international trade. Consequently, our particular one-bedroom suite, both spacious and welcoming, was outfitted with furnishings in dark woods, and eclectic lamps and accessories ostensibly collected from some merchant’s travels abroad. Even the draperies, with their old world nautical maps, reflected the romance of the “adventurer merchant” theme. The interior design was very tasteful and the effect was completely charming.
The bathroom in our suite was very large and at the center of which was, very fittingly, a deep, old-fashioned footed tub. The shower, I must say, was a bit disconcerting to one used to a curtain or some sort of separation between shower and surrounding floor – a puddly mess ensued (apparently a very common shower style in France, although this was our only encounter with it on our particular trip). However, the bathroom was the location where generous samples of Vinotherapie spa products were graciously left for us, so it was not all distressing.
The service was excellent – very friendly, professional, and there always seemed to be an air of elegance. For those speaking absolutely no French, you will certainly be accommodated here, on the whole. (However, English-only speakers, do be warned that not all staff members are completely fluent in English.)
Outside across the gravel road are the sprawling vineyards of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte’s. A sea of green foliage in the summer, dotted by intriguing sculptures in curious shapes emerging here and there, the view is at once beautiful and a conversation piece. In our opinion, the best place to take in the grounds is at the hotel’s “casual” yet excellent restaurant, La Table du Lavoir. The restaurant itself has a rustic feel, inspired by the fact that this site used to be where grapepickers would come to wash their clothing. The food is very “honest”, with plenty of vegetables, and wonderful fish dishes. We ate outside for dinner and lunch, and looked out at the Château as we sipped its bounty.
Behind the hotel, is a large, breathtaking pond flanked with weeping willows and inhabited by snow white swans. La Grand’Vigne, the hotel’s signature restaurant, overlooks this idyllic landscape. Its food, incidentally, is also exceptional – and our sommelier (strangely enough, from the UK), had wonderful suggestions. But it was the location itself that set the tone for two excellent meals here. We dined outside under the stars, overlooking the swans that glided by gracefully in the pond below. This is an enchanting place, something right out of a fairytale picture book.
And what would a fairytale be if it weren’t fit for princes and princesses? I was royally pampered in the indulgent Vinotherapie Spa while at Les Sources de Caudalie. All of the expected treatments are available: massage, facial, pedicure, manicure, and much, much more. A few signature “twists” have been performed on the usual suspects as well – for instance, enjoy a jet bath with grapeseed oils in a tub actually shaped like a large wine barrel, with an oak exterior! In fact, all the potions, lotions, tonics and sprays used at the spa are made from none other than grapeseed extracts and other grape byproducts. A very resourceful move as the products are made of the very grapes used in the wine production just across the way at Château Smith Haut-Lafitte. Do the Caudalie products act as a veritable fountain of youth or hold the key to “the secret of the slim French women” as the spa literature suggests? I’m not sure, but I know I found relaxation and indulgence at this spa.
I was quite taken by the pool that dominates the center of the spa. The pool itself is large, and the room that houses it is big, with a high ceiling and huge windows. Comfortable seating is available in abundance in this area, and the room opens up onto a large private deck for lounging under the sun and in the fresh air.
Will you come out looking five years younger and five pounds lighter? Perhaps. You will certainly leave the Vinotherapie with a feeling of serenity and a desire to return.
When you are not strolling the gorgeous grounds, dining, or luxuriating in a grape-based treatment, just what are you to do during your stay at Les Sources de Caudalie? The answer: Wine, wine and more wine. Topping the list of things to do is visiting wineries, learning about wine, and tasting wine.
Our first tour was of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte itself, mere steps from our hotel room. We booked our place on this English language tour in advance through the hotel. Once we arrived, it did seem, however, that tours in both French and English are offered daily. Still, it can’t hurt to make your appointment early, if not only for your own scheduling purposes. (A note on winery tour etiquette – be sure to arrive on time.) Our guide was knowledgeable and personable, and the tour itself was quite fascinating – especially when you contemplate the attention to detail given to the volume of wine produced. We tasted the 1997 vintage – certainly not there greatest, but of course, quite thrilling to sip what had been aged in that very room! The only disappointment was the gift shop. Certainly, you could purchase some wonderful vintages there, but the shop itself was much too warm leaving you unconfident about the quality of the wine subjected to such storage conditions.
Sauternes is also nearby, the region where the likes of Château d’Yquem, Rieussec, Climens, de Malle and other famous wineries are located. We spent an afternoon driving the Circuit des Châteaux du Sauternais and had a lovely, if not occasionally bewildering, time. The countryside is quite pretty if you, like us, enjoy gazing at acres of rows of grapevines. We did find the route to be quite confusing at times, even with a good map. We North Americans weren’t quite used to traffic circles, nor main thoroughfares that suddenly become backalleys (“this can’t be right!” was our refrain). Some tips: 1) don’t plan on doing too much else that day so that if (when) you do lose your way, you have plenty of time to retrace your steps and still enjoy the day, 2) do bring a good map and go over it with someone at the reception desk for some tips and clues (we didn’t do this – maybe you’ll have some luck!), 3) know that when “this can’t be right”, it probably is!
On this “circuitous” journey, we chanced upon Château de Malle, which offered tours without an appointment. We would recommend calling ahead, however, just to check on details such as: if you in fact need an appointment, if and when English tours are offered (we happened to be in time for the French tour), if there is an admission charge (there was a 7 Euro/person charge at de Malle), and any other information.
Even more than with our comfortable suite, excellent food, wonderful service, and the first rate spa, we were most impressed with the location. If you have a picture in your mind about the French countryside, it will most likely be realized at Les Sources de Caudalie. The greenery of the outstretched vineyards, the romance of the pond with its family of graceful swans, the winding, tree-lined gravel roads, the little herb garden in front of the hotel – the memories of the beauty of this idyllic place will remain with us all of our lives.
We give Les Sources de Caudalie 5 Barrels – Outstanding!
Les Sources de Caudalie is a four star establishment. Rates fluctuate depending on the low or high tourist season. Basic rooms begin at 185 Euros (low season) and suites start at 305 Euros (low season). For more information on rates and packages, visit www.sources-caudalie.com. Les Sources de Caudalie is located at Chemin de Smith Haut Lafitte, 33650 Bordeaux-Martillac, France. For more information, contact 33 (0)5 57 83 83 83, fax 33 (0)5 57 83 83 84, email [email protected] or visit www.sources-caudalie.com