Chateau de Pitray: Living & Cycling at Le Tour 2017
The 2017 Tour de France pays a visit to southwest France with a stage finish in the medieval town of Bergerac along the Dordogne River, and the following day a stage start in nearby Eymet. Allan Reeves of FranceFromInside.com cycling tours is looking to combine his family’s nearby Chateau de Pitray and Le Tour for a week of cycling, wine and French living.
PEZ got together Allan Reeves, avid cyclist and owner of France From Inside bike tours to ask him about his family chateau bike trips. Initially our interest in his tours was sparked by his Pyrenees Cycling Challenge, a ride that takes you across the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and back, totalling 1000 miles and 100,000 ft in 12 days of riding. We discovered he also hosts cycling vacations at a family chateau in the Bordeaux wine region. Here is what we found out.
Chateau de Pitray
What is the idea behind your chateau bike tours, and combined with this year’s Tour de France?
In a nutshell, come stay in a beautiful private family chateau, situated in the Bordeaux wine region, and immerse yourself in: history, food, wine, cycling, and see the Tour de France by attending stages 10 and 11. An opportunity like this will take you back to a bygone era with a unique chance to enjoy life in a 19th century French chateau for a week, to be welcomed with the hospitality and guidance of a local family like you are old friends. I’ve been riding the local roads in the region for the better part of 20 years and my family has lived on this property for generations going back 500 years. You’ll be in for a special experience, or shall I say you’ll see France From the Inside.
The yellow jersey barrelling through the streets of Bordeaux.
Before we lick our chops about attending the Tour de France (stages 10 and 11) and cycling in the Bordeaux wine region, tell us more about the Chateau and its surroundings.
Chateau de Pitray was built in 1868 (that’s 146 years ago), and is considered a classic grand 19th century French Chateau with a focus on luxury and style. Long gone are the architectural traits of older medieval castles built as forts with the purpose of defence. Of course there are still towers at Pitray, but these are stately with decorative marble staircases. The rooms on the ground floor boast 18 foot ceilings, the walls are lined with oak paneling, and every room has a mantled fireplace and hardwood floors. Since the chateau was built it has been upgraded to incorporate today’s modern conveniences, such as indoor plumbing and electricity – luxuries that were not part of the original construction at the time. My grandfather added a swimming pool, scaled to match the chateau’s proportions – quite a large pool – and an elevator in one of the towers in-between the spiraling staircase. Last year the roof was replaced and much of the stone masonry refurbished – oh the joys of home ownership.
There are 2 dinning rooms in Chateau de Pitray. This is the larger of the two.
The Pitray estate has been in the “Segur de Pitray” family for five centuries. A little more than a third of the property’s 200 pastoral acres are planted with vineyards, the rest by forests and fields. We produce wine and have a winery on the estate. The chateau is in the southwest of France within the world renowned wine region of Bordeaux, about 6 miles from the medieval village of Saint Emilion, a Unesco World Heritage site and also a very prestigious wine appellation. Wine lovers are in for a real treat with all you can drink Pitray wines and the opportunity to visit and taste some excellent vineyards and wines from Saint Emilion and other Bordeaux appellations.
The Chateau Pitray winery produces about 200,000 bottles per year, and these are divided into 3 separate productions: “Madame” and “1st Growth” and “Pitray Wine.” It goes without saying that there will be an unlimited supply during your stay at Pitray.
The view south from the top of the church bell tower at Saint Emilion. Vineyards as far as you can see. In 2000 the village was classified as a World Heritage Unesco site.
So where does the cycling fun come in?
Outside the chateau grounds lie rolling hills, forests, farmlands and vineyards of the Bordeaux countryside, full of charm and beauty, dotted with medieval villages and history dating back to the times of the Romans and beyond. Endless small country roads scatter in every direction, so many that I often think it might well be possible to ride 100 miles without straying farther than a 10 mile radius from the chateau and – this is remarkable – without ever riding the same road twice. Double, triple and quadruple the radius and you can imagine the many, many years it would take to explore each and every one. I have been at it for over 20 years and I still haven’t ridden them all, but I know most of the roads like no other and you are guaranteed an exciting and different ride every day. Yet the sheer density of the options isn’t the only allure, it’s also the variety and beauty of the landscape, and the fact that the roads are so well maintained with almost no vehicle traffic. It makes one wonder not if there is a god, but rather is God a cyclist?
Pictures don’t quite capture the reality of what it is like to be there, but they are helpful to put things into perspective. Rollers, flats and short climbs … an endless maze of wonderment. A guest once said about the cycling in this area, “I can’t give it a 10 out of 10 because that doesn’t exist, so I will give it a 9 out of 10.”
Of course the vital feature of a cycling vacation are the daily bike rides, and the exceptional ones are always those guided by a local, because that means real back-roads – those roads that typically are not part of the more commercial vacation offerings. So follow me and we’ll roll along the tranquil Dordogne River, through forests, past vineyards and century old churches, stopping now and then at the crest of a hill to survey the vibrant but age-old landscape, and you’ll feel at times like you’ve been transported back in time.
Not all of the Bordeaux countryside is densely planted with vineyards. In fact as you head east of Chateau Pitray towards Bergerac the vineyards slowly give way to fields and forests, which makes for a wonderful variety of landscapes to ride your bike.
As everyone knows the Tour de France course changes every year, so it’s a real treat when it comes into the region. And now lets go see the 2017 Tour de France.
This coming year’s edition swoops west from the Alps to the town of Bergerac in the department of Dordogne, with the two stages – numbers 10 and 11 – before arriving in the Pyrenees. Stage 10 will finish in Bergerac, giving us a chance to experience riding part of the course ahead of the pros on race day. The plan for stage 10, a long loop along back-roads to merge with the circuit 20 miles from the finish, and then, like the pros, ride to the finish cheered on by the fans lining the roads. I had a chance to do this one year and it is a thrill. It is one thing to see the Tour, but to experience it as a cyclist on the course is like being in The Show. Believe me, all the spectators are geared up and impatient for the race, and when they see cyclists they go nuts, especially the kids. It is a blast, not to mention totally surreal.
If we played our cards right these crowds like these were cheering for us earlier in the day as we rode part of the course.
And if that wasn’t enough, the following day we’ll return again to Eymet to see the start of Stage 11. People travel from all over the world to see just one stage and so this is an extraordinary opportunity to make it big and see the Tour twice in two days. I’ll have something similar planned for stage 11 which starts from a town just a little south. By the end of the day you’ll be on such a high that the 30 mile ride home will be the perfect cool down.
Rider after rider tackles the course alone, with the yellow jersey going last. By this time you’ll be hoarse from cheering all day long.
What happens when you get home at the chateau?
We’ll eat and drink like Kings and Queens. Henri de Bornier from the 19th century once wrote that “every man has two countries, his own and then France.” It does have a certain poetic truth as France is a country that has many wonderful attributes, not the least of which, an understatement, is food and wine. As I mentioned earlier, “come for the TDF stay for the wine and food,” or something to that effect. Up to this point I’ve talked about the chateau, the region, the race, and now it is time to concentrate on the cuisine. We’ll enjoy some meals at the Chateau and others out at excellent local restaurants.
First-rate French cuisine and vintage Bordeaux wine – grown and aged on the estate and served in the sumptuous dining room – are an integral part of the routine at Pitray.
French cuisine is exquisite, the best dishes, the best pates, the best breads, the best cheeses, the best wines, the best vegetables, the best salads, the best deserts, the best fruits, and on and on. Why is it so good over there?
Let’s just call is savoir faire. It defines and preoccupies French culture. Now imagine yourself inside the Chateau Pitray in an elegant dining room relishing such wonderful food and good cheer, talking about the day’s excitement cycling through empty backroads and attending the Tour de France. Wake up man, this is for real. You did ride on the course today, and you are enjoying a Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe with that Comte cheese.
Home made apple pie French style. But first that comte cheese accompanied with a robust Pitray red wine. I suppose there could be an argument made as to which is the real desert!
It’s no secret that France reliably produces most of the world’s best wines. Naturally so since they have been at it for eons, and in the Bordeaux region, specifically Saint Emilion, the history of wine making goes back to the 2nd century. Over the course of so much time, knowledge and techniques have been refined and perfected. The concept of “terroir” is French, the idea that the right grape needs to be matched with the correct soil and climate. For example, the climate and terroir of Bordeaux is ideal for the merlot and cabernet grapes. These varietals achieve their greatest demonstration on Bordeaux soil, and this is the reason that their wines are delicious, viscous and robust. Even though the focus of this trip is cycling and the Tour de France, it is also your prime opportunity to introduce yourself to one of the most esteemed wine regions of the world.
View of the pool from the 2nd floor at Chateau Pitray.
Living out of the chateau like royalty for a week will be most relaxing, especially owing to the graciousness of the hosts, Monsieur et Madame Count de Boigne, and the elegant accommodations. Not having to pack and unpack for a week will make for an even more pleasurable experience. You will feel comfortable, at home, and part of the family. From the stand point of cycling you will have the amazing fortune to see the Tour de France on two back to back days, live and up close as you ride on part of the course one day, and return the next to see a stage start. All this while you ride the endless backroads of the region with Allan as your guide. Pez Cycling gives a big thumbs up to this trip. Check it out.