Published by Lyn on 25 September 2016
I headed to Le Saint James hotel in Bordeaux to catch up with an old friend from Australia who was arriving with her bike. Here's our review.
One of my oldest and dearest friends was visiting us from Australia after spending a couple of weeks cycling in Girona and then in the Pyrenees, including warming up with the Tourmalet and the Aubisque before tackling the gruelling Figure of Hate sportive. With almost 10 years to catch up on, I figured we'd make a night of it. That's when I found out about Le Saint James.
5 things we liked
Did I say "5 things"? Do I only have to find FIVE things? Can I make it more?
1) Location. A four-star hotel overlooking Bordeaux, Le Saint James is on the east side of the river in the small hilltop village of Bouliac. We took a cab from the station (around €20) as Megsy had her bike bag with her, but the hotel is located a short detour from the river towpath that leads on to the Roger Lapebie bike path for the Canal de Garonne to Toulouse, making it an ideal first or last stop if you're looking for somewhere special to stay on this route in Bordeaux. If you're arriving by bike, just check your map ahead to make sure you leave the river and arrive via local villages and don't end up on the busy 'rocade', which is the ring road around Bordeaux. Consider coming in from the south side of Bouliac or going via Floriac instead. There are also two local buses, numbers 10 and 38 at the time of writing, that connect the train station in Bordeaux to the village (avoid peak hours if you have a bike bag). The hotel has a small fleet of bikes that are available for guest use, and these are ideal for taking a bimble down into Bordeaux.
2) Food. We ate in the hotel's superb Michelin-starred restaurant and were lucky enough to sample the head chef Nicolas Magie's tasting menu. I counted at least seven courses, but I may have lost track of course numbers amid the flavours and textures. There was beef tartare served with sardines – two ingredients I'd never think to put on the same plate; there was tender pigeon; there was goats' cheese wrapped in courgette flowers; there were raspberries and little cream-filled delights, each portion perfectly balanced and finely presented. If your budget can't stretch to a multi-course extravaganza, there's a more affordable three-course option for lunch Tuesdays to Saturdays. The hotel also runs a cafe in the village, and it adheres to the same high standards of quality and produce; it has a menu du jour priced from €18. Real foodies can combine their stay with a course at the inhouse cookery school.
3) Wine. Theoretically I could have put food and wine together but, really, they each deserve their own mention here. The hotel has its own boutique vineyard that makes just 500 bottles each year. The vineyard and the wine list at the hotel benefit from the wisdom of Richard Bernard, a previous winner of the best sommelier in France award. Before we had dinner, he gave us a quick tour of the vineyard and even took us down to the winery to sample the last harvest. Here he is telling Megsy about the grapes.
4) The rooms. We had one of the posher ones available and it came complete with its own ornamental Harley Davidson. Even so, there was ample room for Megsy's bike bag. The beds were comfy, the room had a coffee machine and a healthy supply of coffee and tea options, there were even robes and slippers. Plus our room had a walk-in Italian shower as well as a bath – ideal for tired muscles.
5) The views. The hotel is within easy reach of the city centre but far enough away to appreciate village life and enjoy the views overlooking the vineyard. We woke up to this in the morning:
There are also impressive views from the courtyard, which is positioned just above the pool. The pool is a destination in itself, and comes complete with table service (Megsy, who does triathlons for fun in the same way I ride to the boulangerie for fun, was doing laps of the pool when a waiter appeared poolside to check if she wanted a drink).
This is where we had a glass of wine before dinner:
Yes, I know I said "5 things" but I really am going to make it more. (It's my website so I get to make up the rules.)
6)The staff were super friendly. Some posh hotels are stuffy, but arriving in sweaty and smelly cycling kit is no problem here. Anthony, the hotel's manager, told me this was a particular hallmark of the hotel and something he was very proud of.
7) Art. The hotel prides itself on being an 'architecture hotel', so it likes to look as good as it feels. Art is everywhere, from the prints and original works hanging in the halls and in the bedrooms to the scultpures in the garden. Like this fellow:
8) Breakfast. See the pictures? Yes, that really is one of those meat cutting machines you usually see at the deli – except it's presented here to freshly cut your breakfast hams. Yes, that is my plate full of yumminess. Yes, that is honey from the hotel's own hives. And, yes, a chef will cook your scrambled eggs to order.
I'll stop now, but I'm sure you get the general picture: we thoroughly enjoyed our stay here. Relaxed, friendly, professional and bike-friendly; for a special stay within reach of the Bordeaux city centre, this place is hard to beat.