Thursday, May 10th – Day 6, Bordeaux, Pau
Thursday morning we arranged with the lovely people at the Hotel Bord’Eaux to leave our car in their car park until mid-afternoon so that we could go and see la Cité du Vin before heading off to do the two hour drive to Pau, where we would be spending the weekend at what is likely to be the final Grand Prix du Pau, at least in its current format. For now, however, we had wine on our minds. We’d opted to visit the Cite today because it was a public holiday in France, which meant pretty much every single other museum in Bordeaux was closed for the day.
We walked down to the Tourist Information office and the tram interchange at the Esplanade des Quinconces, where our City Pass allowed us to ride the trams to our destination. This all seemed very civilised, and on arrival at the museum (if indeed that is the correct word for it) we discovered a further benefit of the card in that it enabled us to join the priority queue for entrance. It also included free entry to most of the attractions on offer (but not the temporary exhibition, Wine and Music, harmony and dissonance).
The building is striking, and is supposed to represent wine swirling into a glass. I don’t know if it does or it doesn’t, but it’s a great building, both inside and out. A quick coffee and we were ready to go round the permanent exhibition. We were kitted out with an interactive handset and headphones, and set off on our way to see how much we could manage to see. The website claims the average visit is between two and three hours. I have no idea how that can be. We had three hours and didn’t manage even half of the areas.
We managed the world wine tour, worlds of wine, the terroir table, the e-vine, wine over water, all aboard where we were grateful for the opportunity to sit down for nine minutes, Bacchus and Venus, divine wine and drinking and the dark side, followed by a very brief dip into the buffet of the five senses, and then we ran out of both steam and time. The terroir table alone could have occupied us for at least an hour if not more, with stories from wine makers the world over.
There were still 9 of the 19 areas left (the metamorphoses of wine, wine portraits, the gallery of civilisations, the trend wall, the banquet of legends, the art of living, meet the experts, Bordeaux: the city and its wines and the epic tale of Bordeaux). We’d been inside for almost three hours by now, and we needed to get a move on if we were going to get to Pau on time.
Part of the visit ticket gets you to the Belvedere on the 8th floor, where you could enjoy a 360 degree view of Bordeaux, and also sample one of the wines selected for you to try.
We opted for the Mexican and the Georgian wines, and took a stroll around the balcony, overlooking the fact that there were signs saying you were not allowed to take glasses outside. No one came out and told us, and no one shouted at us so we just proceeded normally. We stuck our noses into the shop down on the ground floor (where we tested and proved their claim that they had wines from 70 countries) and made a mental note to return the following week, ready to shop.
And then we hopped on board the tram again, retrieved the car, and pointed it towards Pau, 110 miles away down the Autoroute de Gascogne. The run was smooth, with a short stop for an indifferent sandwich and an iced coffee, and we hit Pau in good time, which was where the trouble started. I’ve been going there since 1989, I know my way round, but I hadn’t bargained for the latest set of roadworks and road closures and nor it appeared had my SatNav. We must have been round past Les Halles at least twice, and the Bosquet shopping centre also turned up more than once, but we eventually battled our way through the place Georges Clemenceau and it’s lovely, welcoming underground car park, where the car would stay until Monday morning. We soon had the keys and were in our AirBnB apartment, which I have to say was very well equipped and incredibly well located. While we were circulating round we saw D and O walking down the street, and ended up getting their attention with some furious horn sounding. Rumour had it W and E were also in place at their apartment, so it would be all present and correct for dinner.
We’d been supermarket shopping the day before for breakfast options as we would be self-catering for four mornings. It being a public holiday we’d correctly surmised that today would not be a day on which supermarkets would be open, so the first thing we did was squirrel the supplies away into the fridge. And then it was time to get properly organised…
Unpacked, showered, and dressed in clean clothes, and having located R, we set off out to walk to dinner at Marc Destrade. It was a little way out from our side of town, but the reviews suggested it would be worth the effort. Our issue was to find somewhere we could pre-book for 7 people, so it was slightly more complicated than usual, and also to find somewhere that was open on a public holiday, and where the owners had not just decided that they would close for their annual holiday for a couple of weeks in May.
When we arrived we found the place almost completely empty but front of house was very welcoming, and the restaurant has the feel of being in someone’s very well kept and comfy home, especially as we were soon seated in a cosy corner with menus and glasses of Jurançon molleux in front of us. Then came the fun and games of having to translate the menu for those whose French (and especially menu French) is not at the same level as mine. Eventually all seven of us had decided what we were having, with Lynne and I doing the sharing thing as usual. While all that was going on, we were presented with a plate of tiny savoury bakes, full of things like local ham or cheese. These were little doses of comfort food and on what was essentially a cold night, they hit the spot perfectly.
Thereafter I’d opted for the “croustillant” of snails, prawns, spring onion and green asparagus, with balsamic vinegar. It was lovely, crunchy, crisp, with the earthiness of the snails contrasting with the seaside tang of the prawns, and the bitter edge of the asparagus. I loved it.
Lynne, inevitable, went for the escalope of fresh duck liver, with seasonal fruits, which turned out to be mostly pears so I’m a bit sceptical about the seasonality claim. It was damn good though, the liver sticky and dense and gooey against the gentle sweetness and slight crunch of the fruit.
Other choices included moules a la Catalan, which turned out to be more than a little spicy, and prawns with smoked salmon, a lime sorbet, and basil. They both looked very good but those who’d chosen them were not about to share! For my main course I opted for the grilled fillet of beef with ceps, on the grounds that mushrooms are always a good thing and you can never have enough of them – I do realise opinions may very on this – and it turned out to be a good choice. The meat was cooked pink, just as I’d asked for, and the ceps again imparted an earthy note to the dish that I really loved. The vegetables with it were perfectly al dente and the whole thing was a pleasure to eat.
Of equal standing was the lamb, roasted with thyme. Again, the meat was perfectly cooked and the simplicity of the dish was a massive part of its charm.
The others chose from prawns, marinated tuna and smoked salmon, with celeriac, Granny Smith apple, and an asparagus flavoured whipped cream portion, or grilled duck breast with blackcurrant jus and red onions or the fisherman’s stew with gentle spices.
That just left dessert and of the two of us I was the only one with any capacity for it. I had the fun and rather fabulous chocolate and caramel “cigars”, shot through with mint and thoroughly satisfying as only really good chocolate can be. The memory of it would haunt my mouth for some time afterwards.
The other dessert options were a very modern art looking frozen parfait of vanilla and blackcurrant, which I assume was very good based on the appreciative noises that came from the diner eating it; a passion fruit mousse with lemon foam, and a “douceur” of chocolate, with a praline cloud, which caused much excitement in D and O, both of whom have a long distance runner’s relationship with anything containing chocolate!
We walked back afterwards knowing we’d be needing a relatively early start, but otherwise all entirely content.