Bordeaux and the Wine Country Feature

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Visiting the Vineyards

Touring a region with more than a thousand square kilometers of wine-growing country, 5,000 châteaux, and 100,000 vineyards producing around 70 million gallons of wine annually, you'll find it hard to resist sampling Bordeaux's liquid bounty—but where to start?

The best bet is to head north for the Route de Médoc (also called the Route des Châteaux or the Route des Grands-Crus), armed with maps and pointers from the helpful Bordeaux tourist office (the tourisme de viticole desk is the place for this)—they're at 12 cours du XXX-Juillet in the city center of Bordeaux. Or check out the "Wine Tours" section of the Bordeaux tourist website before you travel: www.bordeaux-tourisme.com. A map is essential, as signage is poor and many "châteaux" are small manors hidden in the hills. Three main wine regions surround the city: Médoc to the northwest, St-Emilion to the east, and Graves-Sauternes to the south. Each boasts fabled vineyards but remember that Baron Philippe de Rothschild, owner of Mouton-Rothschild, drank vin ordinaire at most meals.

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

For more tips go to the Forums at www.fodors.com. "Remember that almost all châteaux are closed from noon to 2 pm for lunch." —at. "We had a 3-hour private tour at Latour, with a movie, a tour, and a tasting. Everything was first class—especially the wine! We also made same-day reservations at beautiful Pichon-Longeville." —oforparis!

By Appointment Only

If you're planning on visiting any of the more famous growers (but this also includes other vineyards), make sure to call or email ahead of time and arrange a dégustation (wine tasting)—many of the labels are "by appointment only" because they're too small to have full-time guides. Even the famous Château Mouton-Rothschild—visited by thousands—requires reservations, at least a week in advance for a regular tour and several weeks for a tour that includes the cellars.

Vineyard Tours

Everyone knows that the staff at Bordeaux's tourist office can help with questions, and because many vineyards are inaccessible without a car or bike, the easiest way to tour those of the Route de Médoc and Gironde is to join one of the nearly daily bus tours sponsored by the city's tourist office (05–56–00–66–00 www.bordeaux-tourisme.com).

Here's the main scoop: These tours depart from (and return to) the Office du Tourisme at 12 cours XXX-Juillet. In the off-season, same-day reservations can be had; in high season, make them in advance. There are day-long trips and also half-days (the latter usually from 2 to 6 in the afternoon).

In high season there's a tour every day, but otherwise it's just a few a week. Most tours stop at two châteaux only—for instance, in the Médoc, you can visit the Château Palmer (Troisième Cru Classé) and the Château Lanessan (Cru Bourgeois)—but there are so many diverse tours that you can go on a different one each day for a week and not see the same domains. Tours are offered in several languages, including English, and usually a bus holds 40 participants.

The Grape Escape

Want to be vigneron (vintner) for a day or night? Some great vineyards now welcome guests: here's the crème de la crème.

The 14th-century estate of Château Smith Haut Lafitte (05–57–83–11–22 www.smith-haut-lafitte.com) now also houses the very successful Les Sources de Caudalie hotel and spa (wine-based treatments; 05–57–83–83–83 www.sources-caudalie.com).

The Château Pichon-Longueville Baron (05–56–73–17–17 www.pichonlongueville.com) has accommodations available in its storybook castle, along with tastings, all by reservation.

Wine king Bernard Magrez has two rooms available at his 17th-century Château Fombrauge; book through his big Luxury Wine Tourism company (www.luxurywinetourism.com).

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