Here at Oliver’s Travels we’re all about the authentic experience and enjoying everything that’s unique and memorable about the destinations we offer. So if you’re thinking of renting one of our luxury villas in Bordeaux, we’ve got the perfect blog post for you! We spoke to Michel van der Hoeven at the beautiful Chateau de Castet in (you guessed it) Bordeaux to find out what makes the region so special – and nab a few insider tips on where to eat and things to do while we’re at it.
Tell us a bit about yourself… What do you do, how long have you lived there and what makes you an expert in the region?
Having lived in Asia for over 20 years, we decided to return to Europe two years ago and bought the chateau which, after extensive renovations, opened its doors to guests in 2014. Building on our experience in Asia and our work in the luxury tourism and hospitality industry, we decided to extend the attention to detail and personal service so commonly found in Asia to guests at our chateau.
Why should people travel to your region at least once in their lifetime?
France is known for its food, wine and culture and heritage. The Landes, and in particular Gascony, offers all that and more! From the vineyards of Bordeaux to world heritage village festivals and from the gorgeous Basque coast and Biarritz to the dramatic Pyrenees mountain range, everything is just a short day trip away. However, despite all there is to experience in the area, the region still feels genuine and not overrun by package tourists. It’s this authenticity that makes it a great destination.
And what makes people come back time and time again?
The range of exciting things to do, beautiful places to visit and interesting people to meet keep guests coming back.
Summarize the region for us in three words!
People, Gastronomy and heritage.
Have you had any famous visitors or well-known events take place in the region?
The region is host to a variety of international events; be it annual Jazz festivals in regional towns or World Cup surf events along the coast. However, it is usually the small, unexpected events that our guests remember – like when our chateau guest Penelope Cruz had a casual drink and soaked up some village life at a local terrace in St. Sever!
Are there any interesting historical stories of the region?
The Gascony region has been immortalised by D’Artagnan, the hero in Alexander Dumas’ Three Musketeers novel. However, the region’s history dates back much before, with Roman era sights, prehistoric caves and castles dating from the 100-year war. And of course, the Armagnac making history all on display. Imperatrice Eugenie (Napoleon III’s wife) fondness for the region is also widely celebrated, and the hot mineral spring town of Eugenie les Bains still carries her name.
Time for some travel inspiration – give us your recommendations on:
The first thing to do – drop your bags and… Savour a glass of local Tursan wine.
Don’t miss… The many local flea markets, village festivals and “course landaise.”
Best restaurant? Without a doubt, Michel Guerard’s restaurant in nearby Eugenie les Bains is not just the best restaurant in the region, but amongst the best in the world. It has been awarded three stars by Michelin for more than 40 years. Its more casual sister restaurant Ferme aux Grives offers an authentic setting and great regional food and is certainly worth a visit… And make sure to visit the adjacent gorgeous Loulou lounge for an after-dinner nightcap!
Best drinking spot? Our favourite is the local Saint Sever terrace La Muletta (favoured by Penelope Cruz and local Gascons alike). The terrace is informal and overlooks the town church square and offers a good vantage point to see village life slowly passing by. More upmarket with gorgeous design and excellent service is, of course, the Loulou Lounge in Eugenie les Bains. If you are not sure what to drink, why not visit an Armagnac distillery or the local vineyard and sample what’s typical of the region?
Best activity? Try descent the Adour river by Kayak and soak up the spectacular views and silence.
Something free to do? Stroll or cycle through centuries’ old villages and bastide towns.
Best spot for an amazing panoramic view? Hike in the Pyrenees and enjoy one of the many spectacular viewpoints.
Best things to do for families? Attend a “course landaise” (the non-bloody local version of bullfights), which is part of the fabric and culture of Gascony.
Best things to do for a group of friends/adults? Visit a wine cave or Armagnac distillery and sample some of the region’s finest wines or spirits.
Best kept secret? Visit us, and we will tell you!
Best day tour activities? Both Saint Emilion as well as Spain’s San Sebastian are worth spending a whole day exploring, and we would have difficulties choosing between the two! Saint Emilion (combined with shopping and promenading in Bordeaux) offers classic wine châteaux, a world heritage village, caves and the largest monolithic church in Europe. San Sebastian (possibly combined with cosmopolitan beach town Biarritz) offers excellent tapas, some of the best restaurants in the world and an immersion in the authentic culture of the Spanish Basque country. Rather than choosing between either, why not visit both while you are in our region.
What do you think first-time visitors will find most surprising about the area? What should they always pack with them?
The wide range of activities (from local events to beaches and hikes in the Pyrenees) is pretty surprising. With a long and warm summer season, suntan lotion is something that should not be forgotten!
What would your perfect day in the area comprise of?
With so much on offer in the region, a day is not enough to fully appreciate the Landes and Gascony. You need longer to sample all there is to do in the region!
What’s the one experience that really captures the essence of the region for you, and why?
After 20 years in Asia, we still have not had enough of duck. However, the local duck (for which the region is famous) is an entirely different thing than the Peking duck we are used to. The local duck, either as Foie Gras or as Duck Filet really encapsulates the region, its people and the heritage. We therefore always recommend sampling this while here… Of course, accompanied by a local wine and followed by a good glass of Armagnac!
Feeling inspired? Go ahead and have a browse through all of our luxury holiday chateaux in Bordeaux and Aquitaine.