If you get a chance to visit France’s southwest region of Le Médoc, I highly recommend dining with locals, wine tasting at a château (book in advance) and trying out the latest haute couture at a nudist beach.
Okay, perhaps nude isn’t your style. Just don’t be surprised if the occasional bare Frenchman or woman crosses your path. Those activities are essentials in Le Médoc. However, the secret to seeing it all from an unforgettable perspective is this: rent a bike.
The vine-covered peninsula of Le Médoc offers visitors a taste of the best France has to offer beyond the City of Light. It has the old, rustic character of the French countryside mixed with the salty flavors of the Atlantic and the Gironde estuary. It also happens to be part of a region known for producing wine. It is hailed as the best in the world – Bordeaux.
One sunny afternoon during my two-week stay, my host made a traditional meal of mussels and fries, or moules frites. Naturally, it was cooked and served with a locally produced white wine. This succulent fruit of the sea was fresh from Médoc’s shores. The wine blended perfectly with the sautéed onions and garlic, and the breeze on the outdoor patio. I gazed out across the dirt road and saw how close we were to the vines that produced what was now casting a rosy tint over all that I saw.
After eating, I decided to bike from Vertheuil to the riverside town of Saint-Estèphe. Biking is by far the best way to explore this area. Not only was I traveling like a native, I was also able to smell the salty air, see the grapes up close, and feel the sand at my feet. The one-lane roads were deserted. I often slowed down to walk, and admired fields of golden sunflowers and castles, some well kept and others in ruins. I passed old Roman bridges crossing streams, pastures filled with grazing horses, and most importantly, miles of vines heavy with ripening grapes.
I stopped to take a closer look at the fruit and to soak in my surroundings. It was there in those quiet, peaceful hills that sun, sea and soil combined to produce wine known around the world. A tractor hummed in the distance, a flock of quail rustled in the field next to me. The simplicity of nature’s recipe surrounded me, and the smoothness of its taste lingered in my palate. I found myself right in the midst of where the magic happens, and at once I became a part of it.