Les Sources de Caudalie is one of those rare hotels to enjoy the mysterious ‘Palace’ designation – a hyper-prestigious mark of distinction bestowed upon just 24 hotels, all of which are in France. Unclear as to what it officially means, to me it represents an endorsement that an operation has proven itself a practitioner of the finest haut hospitalité that the French call their Art de Vivre. Whilst the hotel itself is really quite special, there were two other major components to the site which rendered my stay here totally memorable and unique; the world-class ‘Grand Cru appellation’ vineyard on site, and the shrine to the French beauty house Caudalie, itself stemming from the vines. When choosing a place to stay, one must select the appropriate property for the geography; Les Sources de Caudalie masterfully bottles the essence of this region into one exceptional package. For a wellness escape to Bordeaux, it is a sublime choice, and this post reveals the magical experience I found there!
You might be a bit confused at this point? Perhaps you’ve encountered the beauty brand, Caudalie and noticed it featuring prominently in the name of this hotel? Caudalie beauty’s existence is entwined in a sort of symbiotic triumvirate of the vineyard, the hotel and the beauty brand. The family who own Château Smith Haut Lafitte (the reputed Bordeaux institution decorated with 100 points by Robert Parker for their 2009 opus major vintage – wine buffs will know this to be a big deal) started Caudalie beauty some 20 years ago, as a corollary of scientific research into the very grapes which bestow life-preserving properties to their wines. The findings postulated that the chemical substances called ‘polyphenols’ contained within the grapes’ pips were rich in specific amino acids and antioxidants, which are known to have beneficial applications in skincare.
Blessed with hundreds of hectares of vineyards occupying the favourable south side of the Garonne river, an ultra fertile clay/limestone soil, an aspect benefitting from lashings of sunshine, gentle winds and cool nights, plus plenty of natural irrigation, the Château has a surplus of polyphenols (i.e. grapes) some of which following the harvest, will never make it into their finest bottles. They have other uses of these premium products of natural origin (no pesticides or additives are permitted by the domaine, so everything is organic); hence the birth of the beauty products!
From this natural background, the hotel has sprung up, partly as a way to further commercialise the activities of the vineyard, but also to encourage and cater for the truly fascinating category of wine tourism (we’ll touch upon that a bit later!) and to provide a shrine, by way of a spa, at which to exhibit Caudalie’s essence. Unsurprisingly, those are the products you find in your room, along with a bottle of Les Hauts de Smith to welcome you.
My preference is always to approach a trip from a wellness perspective and this Bordeaux excursion was indeed no different. So, straight in then…
As mentioned, the Caudalie brand was created at family owned Château Smith Haut Lafitte, from the discovery of a method by which to use active polyphenol components found in grape pips.
Their spa harnasses the naturally warm spring water which comes from 540 meters down, and is rich in minerals and oligo-elements. You can either take a swim in the indoor or outdoor pool, rest in the traditional hot tub, or sweat it out in the hamam. A cycle of all 3 is favourable!
Stepping into the 1,500 square meter spa you’ll be greeted by an airy space, high vaulted ceilings decorated by restored old wooden beams. It’s a wonderfully restorative yet energising atmosphere. With windows on every wall you’ll always have a view looking out onto either the endless vineyards, the outdoor pool, the organic farm or Chateau Smith Haut Lafite. It’s incredible looking out onto the vineyards knowing that the products you’re using in the spa contain natural ingredients which come directly from those fields.
Treatments-wise, there’s a generous menu from which to choose. I opted for the signature Honey & Wine Wrap and the signature facial, using only Caudalie products. The Caudalie products use grape, red wine and essential oil extracts in their treatments, and these ingredients are said to help reduce tissue swelling by draining and boost circulation.
I’d never had a simultaneous ‘scrub and massage’ before and I absolutely loved it. The therapists used the Crushed Cabernet scrub, which included all natural ingredients such as olive oil, sugar and grapes. After scrubbing both the front and the back of the body for a good 10 minutes you’re wrapped up in a cocoon for five minutes in order for the oils to really soak into your body. Once that’s done you jump into a quick shower (no soap allowed) and are laid back down for a massage. I can’t tell you how incredibly soft, supple and hydrated my skin was afterwards; it was quite remarkable. I would highly recommend this treatment and scrub if you get the chance to visit.
Product-wise, Cauadalie say ‘no’ to parabens and stay committed to using the highest proportion of natural ingredients as possible, which is a preference I respect and associate with. The brand is environmentally conscious too, as they’re part of the ‘1% for the planet’, movement which donates 1% of its global sales to NPOs that work to protect the environment. So by 2020 6 million trees will be planted around the world
ORGANIC VEGETABLE GARDEN & FARM
The vegetable garden was one of my favourite parts of Les Sources de Caudalie. You’ll find most things you’d expect in a vegetable shop – lettuce, artichokes, spinach, herbs, edible flowers – all used on a daily basis in the kitchens of the property. There are also fifteen hens producing eggs that you may have for breakfast the following morning. Theres also an adorable dwarf goat family who help protect the hens from foxes. Not to mention the rich ecosystem of bird families that call this sanctuary their home too. Nature and an appreciation of the natural world is so closely intertwined with respectful wine production that it is an integral component of this hotel too, which I loved.
There’s a small but high-spec gym on site with a set of dumbbells a couple of Technogym Personal-line machines and treadmills and of course you can always go for a few laps in any of the pools, indoors or outdoors. There are also personal trainers on site. If you let the staff know they’ll make sure to book one in for you. The gym is small but enough for an indoor workout when you need to lift something heavy
There’s also a tennis court to burn off any extra wine-based caloric energy you may have consumed…
BICYCLE, OR GO FOR A RUN
If you don’t fancy going for a swim or running on the treadmill, the hotel has an array of bikes along with routes through the beautiful forests and vineyards for you to venture on. I went cycling and running on a few of the routes and they provide some serious fitness motivation, as well as some stunning scenes and scents. The spring air of an awakening forest is quite intoxicating, and hugely invigorating.
There are hundreds of acres of vines, in their seasonal infancy at my time of visiting and which are constantly ploughed, tilled and cultivated by donkeys and ground staff alike. These eventually bear a fruit which will go on to constitute the 2018 vintage of Château Smith Haut Lafitte. Just 100m away from the hotel, the vineyard runs tours, which I only too happily joined for an immersion into the world of great growths. The impression I took away is one of dedicated and skilled craftsmanship, and significant hidden toil that goes into bringing superior bottles to the tables of oenophiles the world over. You tour the cooperage where 6-year aged French Oak is hewn and tied into the barrels which will eventually age their grapes, visit the fermentation vats, the harvest zones, the deep underground production facilities and barrel storage hanger (an obscenely serene and cavernous underground space where I felt quite at peace), the vines, and a tasting extravaganza of some of the reputed vintages.
THE GASTRONOMIC RESTAURANT
- La Grand’Vigne is the hotel’s gastronomic destination of some considerable repute, having earned two coveted Michelin Stars – a rating which deems it to have excellent cooking that is ‘worth a detour’. They note that “in this 18C orangery, the dishes have the taste and the colours of nature: they are the work of an inspired chef, Nicolas Masse, a master in the art of associating flavours and textures with remarkable precision to appeal to the senses.” As the days passed, I observed that many of the ingredients are sourced fresh from the multiple gardens that the kitchen staff cultivate around the vineyard (along with a hen house and beehives), rendering the produce unusually fresh, and benefitting from the same terroir that gives life to some of the worlds finest vines. This is a light, gentle journey of a meal which eschews the heavy, butter-dependent grandstanding of many ‘gourmet’ destinations. It is about freshness and nature, from ocean to vine, and therefore mirrors the region itself, given its economic interdependence with the lands. N.B, the lemon tart is quite exceptional in its inventive re-imagination!
- I would add that the hotel’s non-gourmet restaurant, La Table du Lavoir, is supreme, being bathed in golden light which streams in through the french windows, and enjoying a homely, cottage-like feel. Once an 18th Century washroom, there is still a huge period fireplace and a stunning vaulted old ceiling wrought from reclaimed Medoc timber. Oak barrels, once used for ageing wine, make for storage tables, and the wall of noise is punctuated by the chirping of birdsong with sparrows dancing about in the eaves above you (this is never threatening, and they are quite house-trained!). You have the feeling of being in someone’s country kitchen, and a peaceful, authentic tranquility. It might perhaps sound somewhat of a gimmick but it’s not; this is a gem of authentic Bordeaux history!
Depending on where you stay within the property, the rooms are housed as cottages, scattered around the hotel complex; I was in the Fisherman’s Village, which is a collection of 12 suites, though there are a further 9 suites and 40 rooms. They’re appointed in country-chic fashion, and of a quality commensurate with the Palace rating,. There’s vine detailing on the wallpaper and you find a bottle of their ‘Les Hats de Smith’ awaiting you on the table. The cosmetics are all, unsurprisingly, Caudalie, and the space homely, comforting, and a good, secluded space into which to withdraw at the end of each day. I found no trouble switching off and sleeping deeply and uninterruptedly here.
OTHER EPIC THINGS TO DO?
- Go Visit Cognac! The region lies just north of Bordeaux, and is world-renowned for the production of superior brandy, known under the controlled appellation of ‘Cognac’. I had booked a tour at the historic Château of Remy Martin, where I undertook the remarkable Louis XIII tour over 3 hours. My exceptional guide led me through several hundreds of years of history, from the origins of the Baccarat crystal decanter to the distilling chambers, and culminating at the 200-year-old barrels housing thousands of eaux-de-vie, which I sampled with awe (I couldn’t photograph that room, the air is filled with explosive alcohol vapour!). This was an educational and cultural indulgence, and I loved every minute of it.
- Visit the Wine Museum! In Bordeaux, there exists the most well-invested, high-tech exhibition space I’ve ever encountered, called La Cite du Vin. The sole topic for this vast multi-storey shrine, is wine; it’s history, it’s significance in culture and civilisations both ancient and current, its development, its regional differences, its cultivation, its future and its economic significance. Simply fascinating. I spent 3 hours here, but could have easily managed double that, were I to have planned the time in accordingly. That may sound crazy, but this is an exceptional space, with so much depth if you’ve a curious mind!
- Dessert! As an advocate of balance and occasional indulgence, there is a permanent place in my heart for dessert. Dessert wine, too, has a place. In the Sauternes classification (and in fact, beyond), there is no peer to Château D’Yquem. Now owned by LVMH, I visited their historic castle grounds and walked through the production process, inspected the vines and storage vaults, learned some detail about the Noble Rot rendering their precious semillion grape sweet and mould-gnarled, and of course, imbibed some of the heavenly nectar itself; pure mead.
Upon returning to London I felt a real calm, one I think you only get from having spent time in the countryside, with less frenetic ‘city’ energy weighing down your consciousness, and therefore able to truly ‘switch off’. But what rendered Les Sources de Caudalie unique, I believe, came from a most remarkable mixture of the cuisine, the wellness, the fresh air, the stillness and what you could legitimately call ‘joie de vivre’, which makes it the perfect place to reset, feel inspired, and return home more motivated than before, having experienced some of the most idiosyncratically French culture that the country can expouse. I absolutely loved it and would recommend it with vigor!