Travel: A Week At The Chateau
Few people have the opportunity to spend a week in a French chateau, to say nothing of being welcomed and hosted like old friends of the owners. But that’s exactly what you’ll experience on one of France From Inside’s trips to their family’s Chateau Pitray. Company owner Allan Reeves tells us more about his uniquely intimate European bike trips.
– Special Travel Feature By Allan Reeves of FranceFromInside.com –
Near Bordeaux, France:
Some would say to come for the cycling but stay for the food. Others recommend coming for the chateau and staying for the wine. Each is reason enough to visit, but combine them all with family hospitality and you’ll think you’re staying in heaven – and you’ll know that God has a soft spot for cyclists. (It’s called France.)
Chateau de Pitray in late September as the vines begin to turn color with the fall season. Occasionally sheep are brought by a local sheppard to graze on the grounds.
Built in 1868, Chateau Pitray is in southwestern France in the renowned wine region of Bordeaux. A stone’s throw from Saint Emilion (a UNESCO World Heritage site), the property has been in the Segur de Pitray family for five centuries, producing wine for more than four. A third of the estate’s pastoral 200 acres are occupied by vineyards, the rest forests and fields, traversed by a pair of long paved lanes leading to the chateau.
In this aerial view of the chateau one can see the some of the grounds, with the vineyards above and the winery to the right, and of course the swimming pool. This is also the south facing facade.
Unlike medieval castles – which were built as fortresses to repel invaders – Chateau de Pitray is a grand 19th-century French castle: stately and decorative, conceived with an emphasis on luxury and style. That means 20-foot-high ceilings, thick oak-paneled walls, and winding stone staircases climbing lofty towers – an architectural throwback to a bygone era, though the chateau has also been thoroughly retrofitted with modern amenities. My grandfather even added a swimming pool, scaled to the proportions of the chateau itself – in case you’re wondering, that means big – and an elevator in one of the towers between the spiraling staircase.
The winery produces about 200,000 bottles per year, and these are divided into 3 separate productions: “Madame” and “1er Growth” and “Pitray Wine.” It goes without saying that there will be an unlimited supply during your stay at Pitray.
Live Like Royalty
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 here. Enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail on the balcony overlooking the forests ringed fields, taking the sun by the pool below the chateau; you’ll experience life as it was lived by a vanished aristocracy.
Every room is equipped with a king bed, marble fireplace, hardwood floor, and remodeled bathroom, so you’ll learn just how it’s possible to feel in such a lavish setting. More than anything you’ll feel comfortable and at home, thanks to the warmth and attentiveness of my aunt and uncle, Alix and Pierre-Edouard de Boigne, who become fond friends of everyone who visits.
The hosts and owners of Chateau Pitray, Monsieur and Madame de Boigne, Allan’s aunt and uncle.
Lunch is almost ready to be served in the grand dinning room.
What About The Cycling?
So where does the cycling fun come in? Beyond the borders of the estate are the rolling hills, farmlands, forests, and vineyards of Bordeaux, dotted with medieval villages and pre-Roman history. An endless network of small country roads leads off in every direction, offering a varied mix of flats, rollers, short climbs, and brisk descents. So condensed is the countryside of roads that, within a five-mile radius of the chateau, it’s possible to pedal 100 miles without riding the same road twice; increasing that range, I’ve been at it for over 15 years, and still haven’t cycled them all. Yet the sheer density of the options is not the only allure for a cyclist, it’s also the bounty and beauty of the landscape, and if you come from a crowded part of the U.S., you won’t believe the utter absence of auto traffic on such well-maintained roads.
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.”
The vital feature of a cycling vacation is the bike rides, and the consummate ones are those guided by a local, and that means back-roads – those roads that most definitely are not part of the commercial vacation offerings. Follow me, rolling along the bucolic Dordogne River, through the forest, past the vineyards, pausing by a 12th-century church, stopping at the crest of a hill to survey the vibrant but age-old landscape, you’ll need to check your computer for proof that you haven’t gone back in time.
Chateau de Montbadon from the 16th century … there is a valid reason why the Tour de France has a “cultural” commentator along with the other cycling race commentators … history is everywhere.
Not all of the Bordeaux countryside is densely planted with vineyards. In fact as you head east of Chateau Pitray the vineyards slowly give way to fields and forests, which makes for a wonderful variety of landscapes to ride your bike.
Every year on the first Tuesday of August is the Professional Criterium de Castillon. If you come to Chateau Pitray for the criterium you’ll enjoy the race and the VIP pre-race lunch at the Chateau. Vockler up front with Chavanel a few riders back.
My three annual trips to Chateau Pitray are timed to coincide with the:
• the Tour de France. Trip dates: July 17 to 23 – 2012
• the Pro Criterium Bike Race. Trip Dates: Aug 5 to 11 – 2012.
• the September weekend “du Patrimoine,” staged during the wine harvest. Trip dates: Sept 14 to 20 – 2012.
Overlooking part the village of Saint Emilion and its world renown vineyards. On the backside of the bluff is Premier Grand Cru Classe Chateau Pave, a definite favourite of Robert Parker.
The Dordogne River at the village of Castillon la Bataille, named after the final battle that ended the 100 year war between the English and French in 1453. The battle took place in the fields just beyond the town in this picture.