It is always good to bring something back from a luxurious trip away that is more than just a memory in the form of photographs. At Le Saint James you can do just that and more by picking up some culinary skills along the way and impressing your family and friends.
Situated in the heart of Bouliac, a pretty little village on a hill overlooking Bordeaux and its river, Le Saint James is a hotel, but is equally home to the Cote Cours cookery school.
It sits in the contemporary conservatory overlooking the citrus gardens. With space for up to 12 people in each class, guests can choose to take part in a themed lesson or even visit the local market to buy produce before donning their aprons.
Classes are led by on site chefs who share their culinary expertise with enthusiasm at each step. Showing us a basket full of an array of products, some I recognised and others I did not, our chef explained the dishes we were about to cook. Each of us were given the task to chop, peel, stir, marinade as he skilfully put the various ingredients together before we all turned our individual creative flair on to replicate the dishes. The remarkable thing I found was the simplicity of the creative process yet the dishes were definitely worthy of being mistaken for belonging to a good kitchen. The lemon juice marinated prawns wrapped in thinly sliced courgettes brushed with a good dose of olive oil would make a great starter or appetiser for any party.
And learning new skills did not stop there. Everyone knows that a good meal deserves to be paired with a good wine so it is just as well head sommelier Richard Bernard holds wine tasting classes and shares his knowledge on this particular beverage. After all, Le Saint James is all about wines and the beautiful surrounding sloping vineyards. With a total area of 130,000 hectares, Bordeaux is the largest wine growing area in France. Average vintages produce over 700 million bottles of Bordeaux wine. Richard, who was awarded Best Sommelier of France in 1997, gives visitors the opportunity to take a tour of the Saint James wine cellar and allows guests to sample the extensive wines and champagnes on offer. Amidst the sampling, I did pick up a couple of tips, never add ice to wine and screw cap bottles may actually be better than some cork varieties due to contamination.
Dinner is a lavish affair at the gourmet restaurant Le Saint James and home to Michelin starred Chef Nicolas Magie. His menus are inspired by daily market offerings and are continuously changing with the seasons. Portion sizes are plentiful as are the views from the huge bay windows offering panoramic vistas of the Garonne, Bordeaux and of course the rows and rows of Merlot vines that produce the Vin du Jardin which is available to try at the hotel. The vineyard stretches across 12 acres and produces around 900 bottles of wines a year. For those wanting to dine in a traditional French bistro type atmosphere, there is also the Cafe De LEsperance just across the road.
After a gastronomical meal, it is apt to lay your head on one of the king sized beds found in one of the 15 bedrooms and 3 suites at this unique hotel. Positioned at the right height, you can wake up to the outdoor heated swimming pool, the vineyards and the outstanding views of Bordeaux just 10 km away. The contemporary hotel is designed by the famous architect Jean Nouvel and inspired by the tobacco drying barns in the region. So while the exteriors are mainly glass and metal, the inside walls have been painted white, whilst the floors are of polished stone and the beds are made of pale wood. These all help to create a cool modern atmosphere which is extended to the corridors of the hotel. Artwork is also of great importance to Jean Nouvel which can be encountered by guests from the moment they arrive at Le Saint James. The sculpted works of Marc Petit in the citrus gardens lead the way to art work displayed in the gallery.
Good food, good wine and just a short distance away from Bordeaux, this unique tiny hotel is just right for the perfect getaway.