Today, I am excited to share a guest post from Nicolle Croft, a fellow Anglophone maman, author, tour guide and wine expert with over 30 years experience in the field! Nicolle lives in the Bordeaux region, and knows the area and its vineyards like the back of her hand. In fact, she just released a definitive wine guide ‘Bordeaux Sip by Sip,’ that explains how to tour the region!
With the updated train line between Paris and Bordeaux, the stunning yet laid back city is a mere 2 hours from the capital. In recent years, the city has been gaining plenty of traction for tourists, and was even listed #2 on the New York Time’s ’52 Places to Go in 2016’! The destination offers a little something for everyone, from chic architecture and dining, to easy-access nature just a stone’s throw from the city. Not to mention of course, the picturesque countryside brimming with some of the world’s most acclaimed wineries.
A mother of three, Nicolle has figured out the best ways to enjoy a wine tour with kiddos along… below she shares her ideas on how to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone!
Wine Tour with Kids...Wine not?
As a parent to a three year old, wine is an important part of my daily survival kit. I cannot say I always savor every nuance of taste (as a professional wine taster I do know the difference) but it is an important milestone to celebrate at the end of another frenetic day and serves as a valued recompense. In moderation of course!
It is possible to take one's appreciation of wine a step further. How about finding out where wine actually comes from, the source of the juice!
Bordeaux, only 2 hours by high-speed train from Paris, is surrounded by châteaux, both large and small, and they have never before been so eager to welcome you and show you behind the scenes. Plus, it is possible to bring your kids along too! As a wine guide for several years in the region, there are a few things to bear in mind to make the experience with kids a smooth one.
Tips for Wine Touring with Kids
As with everything, kids tend to be happy when their attention is captured and they can participate. If you visit during the month of August for example, you can taste the grapes directly off the vines. It is wonderful to taste the different grape varieties. It may even be possible to collect leaves from the different grape varieties, and use them as templates to draw around while the parents are tasting. Or they can do a drawing of what they have learned (remember to bring paper and pens in case there are none available). Other activities - children love to count the barrels in the cellar for example or they enjoy smelling wine and guessing the aromas - does it smell of blackcurrants, cherry, cinnamon or chocolate...?
Which region? Bordeaux is a big wine region. There is a choice of various wine areas, some are only around half an hour from the city center. The less well-known but pretty hilly region of Fronsac on the Dordogne River and Pessac Leognan (with its historical grand châteaux) are the closest - some châteaux can be found within the city itself. A little further, around 45 minutes from the city, lie the two most famous wine regions - to the north the beginning of the Medoc (at Margaux) and to the East, St Emilion.
The Medoc is probably the most famous region with its grand châteaux but the landscape is flat and the vineyards are large and increasingly owned by corporations. There is quite a lot of driving involved between the different famous villages of Margaux in the south and Pauillac and St Estephe in the very north (around 30 minutes from one to the other). It is a peninsula that runs straight up and down, and at the end of the day one has to retrace one's steps (alright if the kids fall asleep, not so ok if not!).
I think that the best overall choice for families is St Emilion for its beautiful medieval village and the pretty vineyards on hills that surround it. The properties are smaller and more family-owned and frankly the landscape is much prettier.
Which Châteaux? Even in some of the most prestigious châteaux, I have never been refused a visit with kids. That said, there is a certain protocol and formality involved when visiting and tasting world-renowned wines. Instead, I would recommend visiting smaller family-owned châteaux, which are better suited to families as they can be flexible and tailor the visit to the children. Some châteaux have visits specially created for children, such as treasure hunts or quizzes. Many châteaux also offer grape juice for children to taste while the parents are tasting something stronger!
How to book? All visits to wine châteaux in Bordeaux are booked in advance - most easily by email (on their website). Always inform the guide of the number of kids and their ages in advance so the guide is able to tailor the visit accordingly. Visits for children are normally are free. For adults it is around 10 to 15€ per person. The tourist information websites in the different wine regions are useful.
There are also sites that group the châteaux available to visit together, such as the excellent Wine Tour Booking website or Bordeaux Wine Trip.
How many visits? One or maximum two visits per day - ideally with no other people, so the guide can be flexible with timings and content of the visit. (It is cheaper to ask for a group visit but just see if it is possible to be on your own or for the guide to advise others in the group of the younger participants so they are aware). Make sure to leave plenty of time in-between visits. Visits take around one hour at least and more time if you would like to buy any wine. This is not required, there is no pressure to buy. Use mappy.fr to work out the timings involved in getting to the châteaux on time.
What to wear? Take a light jacket for you and the kids even in the summer, as the barrel cellars are cool. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes as visits often start in the vineyards.
Lunch-time Have a relaxed lunch in open grounds rather than a restaurant or even prepare a picnic (buying wine from the chateau of course. The châteaux can suggest where to enjoy your picnic, or they may even invite you to have it on the chateau grounds.
My Top Four Kid-Friendly Châteaux (around 40 minutes from Bordeaux city)
1. ST EMILION
Château Panet, St Emilion – This visit includes a treasure hunt, walks in the vineyards, plus you can relax by the lake tasting or picnic as the kids play in the gardens, all while enjoying gorgeous views of the vines.
Château Coutet, Grand Cru St Emilion - Family owned for 14 generations, organic since the beginning, beautiful setting, lots of history and fabulous walks
Château Beausejour Bécot, Premier Grand Cru Classé St Emilion - Underground cellars and tasting of 6 wines and juice for the kids; more expensive 30€ per person
Château la Dauphine (Fronsac 20 minutes from St Emilion) - Beautiful grounds, biodynamic property, possible to enjoy a picnic
Château la Rivière, (Fronsac) - Medieval castle and underground cellars
Château Cassagne Haut Cannon (Fronsac) - Relaxed family setting and playground for kids
Château d'Agassac, Haut Medoc (near to Margaux) - With its fairy tale castle and moat, it captures kids’ imagination. There are also quizzes for older children.
Château Camensac, Grand Cru Classé Haut Medoc (near to St Julien) - Relaxed setting, with possibility to picnic
Château Angludet, Margaux - great family house with grounds, relaxed visits and a terrace for tasting wine and local food specialties
Château de Cerons, Graves red, dry white - Don’t miss saying hi to the estate dogs Laurel and Hardy!
Château Carbonnieux Grand Cru Classé (Pessac Léognan) red and white wine - Ancient château and beautiful grounds
Thank you for this very thorough guide, Nicolle! I know where I will be headed just as soon as possible:)
Get in touch with Nicolle!
Book a Private Wine Guide in Bordeaux www.sip-wines.com Read her Bordeaux Wine Guide Book 'Bordeaux Sip by Sip - getting to the heart of Bordeaux and its wines' Editions Sud Ouest and Bordeaux Wine Blog www.nicollecroft.wordpress.com
Follow on Instagram @nicollecroftsipwinetours