St. Emilion OR How its Grand Cru wines whispered come hither to CrossCountry Bob

Well, let’s get it over with right at the start, the wines of St. Emilion are in a horse race with Cote de Rhône for the wine affections of CrossCountry Bob.  The tannins are easier than the Bordeaux greats and the taste is smooth enough to cause the bottle to drain at an alarming rate (that is not a negative).

A favourite:

A favourite – one of many

There. That particular sacrilege is done.  To those dismayed by CrossCountry Bob’s conversion on the “Road to St. Emilion”, he says, “Travel to St. Emilion, taste as he tasted and your dismay will vanish”.  

Putting wine aside (if that is even possible), what else does St. Emilion offer besides an abundance of French people thriving on the tourists.  Here it is the middle of October, shirt sleeve weather, and the medieval setting of St. Emilion is alive with “touristes de vin”.

Sitting ducks for the French who are predators armed with a smile and suave words.  Speaking of being preyed upon, CrossCountry Bob had duck in a run of the mill French restaurant and, sure enough, the duck itself was run of the mill.  Sometimes CrossCountry Bob never learns it seems or perhaps he prefers to hope for the best.  One lives longer as an optimist (he thinks).  Paintin’ Peggie had prawns but they arrived with the heads still on and she certainly didn’t like that.  The 5 euro bottle of water (high level predation) served with a flourish (bottle top off and water poured before CrossCountry Bob could remember the French words for “no thanks” – in other words a few nanoseconds – those French waiters are no slouches when there are euros to be plucked)…where was I…yes, that water turned out to be a blessing. CrossCountry Bob discovered the next day that very water is available as a six pack of one liter bottles for 4 euros in the supermarche (supermarket) and is a smooth tasting still water that CrossCountry Bob has made his go to water (at least while in France).

French water is better if you ask anyone in France

CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie are staying in the heart of St. Emilion and can walk the town from there.  And it is quite the medieval village, more interesting than the somewhat humdrum city of Bordeaux.

Outside what little remains of the medieval town walls, the countryside is smothered in every direction with regimented vineyards guarded by Chateaux so numerous than even the locals could not possibly have tried the wine from each,

Perfect country for Paintin’ Peggie to create a few spectacular canvases that never cease to amaze CrossCountry Bob who has trouble holding a brush correctly, let alone actually using it.

Artist at work

The nearby town of Libourne has a wonderful Sunday market. Perfect for cafe aux lait with croissant (CrossCountry Bob) and almond pastry (Paintin’ Peggie), and then checking out the French shoppers and picking up a few fresh items for dinner.

That is right.  No French dinner for the fattening duo tonight.  Instead, they crave a big salad with fresh strawberries, a large baguette and a trio of brie, camembert and blue cheese. And, of course, a St. Emilion Grand Cru (Chateau Bernateau) to savor with no quantity guardrails (except the common sense arising from being of a sufficient age to realize that even the best St. Emilion wine requires moderation if one intends to be functional the following morning).

Touring through the vineyards was pleasant in the warm weather. CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie stopped to explore an intriguing Chateau that had nobody about (it seemed).

Then CrossCountry Bob approached a warehouse door to check out a portable windblower and an alarm started up. Uh oh! Must have been a motion dectector by the door in case of wine thieves (thinks CrossCountry Bob). At that point, CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie made a smooth (and rapid) exit up the driveway to their rental car parked on the road. In the car and away…no one in pursuit. Okay, then. That was different.

And so ends the time of St. Emilion. See you at the next stop, a two hour drive east to Sarlat de Caneda, the heart of the Dordogne region and the home of foie gras and a landscape littered with castles from the Hundred Years War between the French and the English.  It was only after that war that the French had time to really become expert at winemaking.  And what did the English eventually do with time on their hands?  You might have heard of the British Empire.  But to the French that is no match for their opinion of themselves and their wine.  After all, CrossCountry Bob can still drink St. Emilion Grand Cru but he can’t find the British Empire no matter how long he searches.  One day CrossCountry Bob will return to England to explore all that, but that day is for later.  Today, CrossCountry Bob is in the embrace of France – liberte, egalite, fraternite – and much wine fit for a king (that would be CrossCountry Bob in his dreams) and also fit for a queen (that would be Paintin’ Peggie.)  

Back in the Travel Saddle – repost

There are a limited number of direct flights to Europe from Vancouver but one of those is Air France direct to Paris.  Back in September, CrossCountry Bob scooped two tickets, departing October 12 and returning November 20.  And with that, the trip was a go.

On October 12, YVR was not crowded and! CrossCountry Bob was feeling blessed at that point. Hence the smiles you see below…

After settling in at the departure gate, CrossCountry Bob started with what were once familiar tasks…passports, check, wallet, check, credit cards, check, charge cord for iPhone, check, charge cord for extra battery – oops.  Well, the smooth oiled travel machine lodged in CrossCountry Bob’s brain was clearly running rough due to lack of use and Covid cobwebs.  This trip will fix that (he hopes).

The actual planning details of the trip are a state secret not to be disbursed at this time to you, dear reader, but will be leaked out gradually as the trip progresses (sorry for the secrecy (not really) but CrossCountry Bob likes to imitate those in charge as that makes him feel somewhat important.

In any event, it was a smooth flight but then a three! hour wait for the train from Paris to Bordeaux (CrossCountry Bob has come to notice that whenever he leaves a large time buffer, the plane leaves on time and arrives early).  One thing the French have right (aside from no mask mandates anymore) is their high-speed trains.  CrossCountry Bob is a big fan (please note that CrossCountry Bob does not hesitate to extend credit to those in charge when they (rarely) do something smart).

But then, high-speed trains aside, reality intruded once again and reminded CrossCountry Bob that not only is he not in charge of anything, the French are clearly not either – as evidenced by (gotta laugh): NO GASOLINE!  Said more succintly: not a good time to rent a car in France.

Which is exactly what CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie are doing today.  In a panic, CrossCountry Bob quickly double checked that the wine makers were not also on strike and that the supply of Bordeaux wines would not suffer.  With an affirmative on that crucial aspect, the trip, not mortally wounded, will continue. Paintin’ Peggie noted that CrossContry Bob had a faint smile when he observed that the French strike about a lot of things but never about their wine.  Gasoline might be essential but wine was important (see how CrossCountry Bob is starting to understanding how those in charge think).

More to follow… meanwhile here is the Bordeaux train station viewed from our hotel window which is a converted stone mansion of some indeterminate age.

Au revoir. Time for breakfast. Most likely cafe au lait and croissants.