Nestled in heart of the lofty village of Bouliac, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the port city of Bordeaux, Le Saint James began life as a restaurant and rapidly built a reputation for excellent fine dining. In 1989, the owner recruited a little-known architect named Jean Nouvel to help add a hotel extension, which today boasts three suites and 15 rooms – one of which was be mine for three food-filled days. Le Saint James is not the place to come if you’re on a diet. Luckily for me, I wasn’t.
Inspired by the tobacco farms of the region, Le Saint James – a former farmhouse dating from the 18th century turned luxury hotel – features a warm, russet-toned exterior and an incredible view of the city lazing below. Not for nothing is Bouliac known as the ‘Balcony of Bordeaux’. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t escape Nouvel’s eagle eye. As a consequence, you’ll find beds of differing heights in each room as well as three separate tiers in the restaurant. Even the outdoor sauna has a (one-way, ahem!) window.
While the views take some beating, the interior of the hotel is rather impressive too. Public spaces are punctuated by furniture from the likes of Philippe Starck and Charles Eames, as well as Louise Crusoé’s stunning Wing Chair. If you prefer your art less functional, there’s an in-house gallery which hosts a revolving roster of exhibitions, mixing modern and classical – much like the hotel itself.
But while the décor is pretty and the views sublime, it’s the menu that makes Saint James unique and no visit would be complete without a meal in the Michelin-starred restaurant, where Head Chef Nicolas Magie has been working his magic since September 2012. A deft hand in the kitchen, Monsieur Magie produced a divine seven-course tasting menu using local produce without breaking a sweat. Scallops infused with yuzu, seabass poached in pot-au-feu and Vacherin of Mont d’Or cheeses with an apple emulsion were among the highlights – and I learned how to make some of them the very next day at the hotel’s wonderful cooking school.
While nothing I managed tasted quite as good as Chef Magie’s efforts, thanks to head sommelier Richard Bernard, I can whip up a wine menu good enough to wow the pickiest of friends. In Bernard, the Saint James possesses a little black book of knowledge that would be the envy of any Claret aficionado, as well as the keys to some of the most exclusive wine producing chateaux in the area. Guests can even help with harvesting the grapes of the Saint James’ very own vineyard. And after all that hard work, a glass of their finest in the hotel bar is definitely well deserved.
IN THE AREA…
Once you’ve cooked your way to Michelin-starred brilliance (sort of) and imbibed the local brew to your heart’s content, head out into the gorgeous surrounding countryside to work some of the load off. At pretty Pauillac, you’ll find one of France’s oldest yachting harbours as well as the Château Longueville, Croizet-Bages and Mouton Rothschild vineyards – all of which offer tours and tastings.
Lovely though Pauillac is, a trip to Bordeaux wouldn’t be complete without exploring the city itself – in particular the UNESCO-listed centre. Highlights include the imposing Triangle d’Or, with its honeyed neo-Palladian architecture and monumental Esplanade des Quinconces; the largest square in France. Don’t miss the Musée du Vin et du Négoce, a former merchant’s home that now houses exhibits dedicated to the history of French wine-making. If Monsieur Bernard’s lessons haven’t completed your wine education, a visit to this charming little museum will.
NEED TO KNOW…
Rooms start from at Le Saint James start at €155 (approx. £128) per night. For more information, and to book, see . British Airways offers flights to Bordeaux from London Gatwick with returns starting at £77. For more information and to book, see ba.com.