Experience viniculture between Bordeaux and Cognac

Wine is so much more than simply something to drink in France. Rather, the idea of enjoying un verre du vin is deeply embedded in the culture and the local identity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the south-west corner of France that produces some of the most famous wines in the world and has been doing so for centuries. There are myriad ways to discover this varied wine region too; by bicycle, on horseback, floating above the vineyards in a hot air balloon, or via a private wine tour with your own chauffeur guide from the Driver Service Agency.

Soak up the art de vivre of Bordeaux

The Bordelais epitomise France’s art de vivre, the appreciation of beauty in the everyday and the simple pleasures of life. Case in point, the many cafés, bars and restaurants that pepper the city streets where family and friends gather to enjoy a fine glass of wine and a delicious meal together.

Eat at its gourmet restaurants

Bordeaux’s wine might get star billing, but the city’s food scene is also worth shouting about. The rich and varied terroir of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine provides the region with a bountiful larder stuffed full of beautiful fresh produce; tender beef from Bazas, plump oysters from Arcachon, black truffles from Perigord, and asparagus from Blaye. You’ll find all these quality ingredients and more in Bordeaux’s many excellent restaurants. A recent influx of innovative new chefs has moved in alongside the old guard bringing exciting changes to an already dynamic food scene. These days you’re just as likely to find authentic bao buns as you are the traditional magret de canard grillé.

Hop around its wine bars

Where better to sample a glass or two of Bordeaux’s most famous tipple than in one of its many characterful wine bars? Bordeaux’s bar scene is booming and there’s a stool with your name on it whether you want fuss-free and low key or prefer a more sophisticated drinking den. And don’t miss the city’s rooftop bars for a glass of wine with a view. There are many areas for finding a good drink in town: you could pick Quartier Saint-Pierre for aperitifs and the famed wine bar, Aux Quatre Coins du Vin or the Wet Docks for quirky drinking dens. Foodies will love the many stalls of Halles de Bacalan in Bassins à Flots area, which sits in front of the Cité du Vin, whose own wine bars are also worth visiting.

Explore its markets

Regular weekly markets have taken place in every corner of France for hundreds of years selling fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables alongside fish, meat and cheeses. The Marché des Capucins is Bordeaux’s main market hall where stalls showcase the best of France’s south-west including plump strawberries from Lot-et-Garonne, tomatoes from Marmande, cheese from the Basque country, and much more. On Sunday mornings head to the Marché des Quais on the left bank of the Garonne where local tradition dictates you should enjoy a plate of oysters and a glass of crisp white wine post-shop. For fancy fare and hard-to-come-by ingredients visit Les Halles de Bacalan, located in front of the Cité du Vin.

Go on a gastronomy tour

If you can’t distinguish your merlots from your muscadelles or think that all oysters are created equal, then it’s time to call in the professionals. Join a guided walking tour and not only will you discover the best of the city’s food scene, but you’ll come away with a better understanding of Bordeaux’s love of really good food. Wander the markets with a local while tasting regional specialties, discover Bordeaux’s best foodie streets on a guided tour, and visit the Triangle d'Or, the most chichi corner of the city home to fancy boutiques, wine shops and some of the best chocolatiers in town.

Explore Bordeaux's vineyards

A city on the frontier of viticulture

The Bordeaux wine region is the world’s largest and most prestigious wine growing region, where wine has been cultivated since Roman times. Today it’s a vast quilt of vineyards broadly divided into five main regions: Médoc, Graves, Sauternais, Entre-deux-Mers, Libournais and Bourgeais-Blayais. Each has their own distinct characteristics, charm and, of course, wine.

But before you head off into the vineyards, however, stop and pause in Bordeaux. The city’s magnificent Cité du Vin, a museum dedicated to the history, traditions and diversity of wine, is the perfect place to begin your wine journey. Here you can embark on a viticulture adventure through the ages in the highly interactive and immersive newly opened Permanent Exhibition.

Once you’ve finished your digital wine tour simply choose which region to visit first, and how. Pick from a simple tasting or an overnight stay in a barrel; a mountain biking trip among the vines; or a hot air balloon ride or with a picnic among the vines. If you want a pinch a luxury, the Driver Service Agency can tailor you a bespoke wine tour where your own chauffeur guide will show you around the Bordeaux region's many wine castles and vineyards – there'll be a chance to sample the gastronomy and vintages along the way, too.


Bordered by the Gironde estuary to the east and an immense pine forest to the west, the Médoc region is blessed with a mild, humid climate and a rich, earthy soil. Combined, these elements create the perfect conditions for producing some of the greatest and most renowned wine names in all of Bordeaux. The best way to experience these Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wines is along the Châteaux Route, a 80km road that stretches from Bordeaux to the Pointe de Grave, stopping to sample at some of the area’s top appellations along the way including Margaux, Pauillac and Saint-Julien.

Graves & Sauternes

Romans first planted vines in Graves more than 2,000 years ago making it the oldest wine growing region in Bordeaux. Their choice of location, near the small Ciron river and on perfectly draining soil, proved to be extremely fortuitous. Today the region produces four prestigious appellations: Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Barsac and, of course, Sauternes, the world’s most famous sweet white wines. Amid the many award-winning vineyards are small family estates and larger château that offer unique tastings and experiences from a wine and arts taste pairing to the opportunit of walking in the footsteps of a local vigneron.

St Émilion - Pomerol - Fronsac

Perched on a limestone hilltop above the Dordogne Valley is the honey-coloured medieval town of Saint-Émilion. The vineyards planted in the surrounding landscape were the first to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, along with neighbouring designations of Pomerol and Fronsac, the region produces an incredible group of AOC wines. This corner of Nouvelle-Aquitaine also delivers some fantastic historic sites as well as hundreds of fairy-tale castles, mighty fortresses, and world-famous château. Climb to the top of the Place des Créneaux in Saint-Émilion and you’ll understand why it’s been nicknamed the “land of 1001 castles”.


Tucked between the tidal rivers of the Garonne and the Dordogne, the Entre-deux-Mers region has long produced an excellent dry white wine that pairs perfectly with oysters from the nearby Atlantic Ocean. But these are not the only grapes grown here; Entre-deux-Mers is the biggest vine growing region in Bordeaux producing red, rosé, claret, dry white, sweet, dessert and even sparkling wine. There are countless appellations too, including Sainte-Croix du Mont, Côtes de Bordeaux and the sweet white wine, Cadillac. Taste as many as you can by picking a wine estate that offers multiple tastings. The organic certified Château Lauduc, for example, serves several AOC wines in one tasting.

Blaye & Bourg

The storybook village of Bourg and its neighbour, the petite but mighty hamlet of Blaye, sit in the heart of the wine-growing region of the Gironde Department on the banks of the Gironde Estuary. Between them they produce dry white wines from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes and red wines from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the most interesting vineyards in the region is the Clos de l'Échauguette, a micro-vineyard positioned on Le bastion des Pères, a defensive rampart in front of Blaye’s famed Vauban citadel. This pocket-size vineyard is plowed by horses, harvested by hand and produces just 700 bottles of wine a year.

Uncover Cognac

We have the Dutch to thank for bringing Cognac to the world. When Dutch sailors arrived in France in the 16th century, they purchased plenty of white wine but struggled to keep it quaffable during their journeys home. So, they began to distil it into eau-de-vie. Initial attempts resulted in brandewijn, which later became known as brandy. Double distilling, however, produced a higher strength liquid that was later named after the town of Cognac.

In 1715 the first of Cognac’s famous distilleries set up shop starting with Martell followed by Rémy Martin a decade later and then Hennessy in 1765. Hennessy, which started life as an eau-de-vie trading business, is today the most successful cognac exporter in the world.

Much like how a glass of amber-hued Cognac brings a sense of warmth and contentment so does the town itself. This is a handsome, lively and welcoming place that’s well worth exploring.

Visit Cognac's merchant halls

If you really want to understand how Cognac’s liquid gold has shaped and formed this town, you need to head to the source. There are about 270 cognac houses in town but the big four are Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Martell and Courvoisier. A handful of these Merchant Halls offer tours including Hennessy, whose newly opened multisensory experience starts with a river crossing by boat to the distillery cellars on the right bank of the Charente River. Here you’ll uncover 250 years of Hennessy history. Other Grandes Maisons open to the public include Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, Meukow, and family-run Camus who offer two-hour cognac blending workshops.

Cruise the Charente River on a houseboat

Cognac country is an enchanting medley of sleepy villages, age-old châteaux, Romanesque churches, and traditional vineyards, all linked by the gently meandering Charente River. Enjoy these bucolic scenes on board a houseboat as you sail along what Henri IV dubbed 'the loveliest stream in the kingdom'.

The river is navigable for the last 170km, from Angoulême to Rochefort so simply choose where to start your journey. Make sure to stop in the pretty town of Saintes along the way. This has been a market town since time immemorial and was the former Roman capital of Aquitaine - you'll spy plenty of Roman ruins dotted around the city including an amphitheatre that dates to 50AD. Want to see the river from a different angle? You can pedal alongside it, too, following theo 290km-long Flow Vélo cycle route.

Take in a distillery festival

Every day is a cause for celebration in Cognac but visit during the summer months and you’ll see that the region really knows how to throw a good party. The Fête du Cognac has been a flagship event in Charente’s summer calendar for decades. Designed to highlight the region’s famous eau-de-vie, its liqueurs and local foodie specialities such as Charentais melon, Marennes oysters, or cagouille (small, tasty snails), it is held annually at the end of July. Visit during the winter months and take advantage of the Distilleries en Fête when distillers open their doors to the public for tastings and tours. 

Try your hand at a Charentes cooking class

Tie up your apron and go back to school to learn the secrets and philosophy behind French cuisine in Charentes. Not only is the region rich in fresh local produce and quality raw ingredients but it’s home to Michelin-starred chefs. With Grégory Coutanceau, the only Charentais chef to have two Michelin stars, you can pick up cooking, patisserie and oenology tips at his school in La Rochelle. In Cognac, Julien Lachenaud teaches everything from how to debone a fish tartar to the trick behind flambéing with cognac. Learn why seasonal produce is so important with chef Thierry Verrat or visit the market with chef Ludovic Merle where you’ll choose your own menu, cook it and then enjoy it with a glass of wine at the end. 

Feeling inspired?

For more information, head to the official Nouvelle-Aquitaine Tourism website.