The view of The Garonne river from my bedroom window is spectacular, no question. Particularly as it is framed by the vines in the foreground from Hotel Le Saint James own vineyard. But in all fairness, even that charming montage is surpassed by the sight of the full size Harley-Davidson standing like a silent sentinel next to my bed.
This particular Harley I was led to believe, was the fond pet of the property’s original owner when it was a standalone restaurant, but as famed French architect Jean Nouvel saw it as a quirky cog of his ambitious new boutique hotel design, the Harley-Davidson room came to pass. In fact, Nouvel’s design is certainly something which brings a sense of specialty to Hotel Le Saint James, perched as it is in the tiny hamlet of Bouilac known locally as the “balcony of Bordeaux” for its stunning landscape views overlooking the Garonne and just a few kilometres outside Bordeaux.
His vision, creating an homage to the 18th century tobacco barns that were once everywhere in these parts, manifests itself through encasing the hotel’s 18 guestrooms on two levels in four interconnecting rustic style pavilions, with the 1 Michelin star restaurant at their centre. As a concept, the design works perfectly, the large window spaces and airy rooms giving you a feel of sleeping and eating among Bordeaux’s very vineyards. The charming entrance is framed by a small garden area offering up random pieces of art, and there’s that wow factor as you walk in, when you spot the huge expanse of countryside playing out behind the terrace at the end of the corridor.
The Harley aside, (although I did spot a personal outdoor Jacuzzi in another suite) there is much to admire in the airy guestrooms; arty lounge furniture, a super comfy bed raised on a small dais with crisp high thread linen, your own pod fed coffee machine, floor to ceiling windows, many with sliding doors onto a terrace or deck, electric blinds, soft robes and slippers, a super shower and high end toiletries.
The gourmet restaurant however, is the original beating heart of Hotel Le Saint James and like the rest of the property offers up more remarkable landscape views. Under the proud stewardship of head chef and culinary magician Nicolas Magie you embark on a culinary journey of Aquitane influenced dishes from his home region, but using fresh locally sourced ingredients of course. My asparagus with a soft egg and parmesan is particularly memorable. There is too, something rather delicious in tasting wines created just a stone’s throw away; this is Bordeaux after all, and under the guidance of Sommelier Richard Bernard, an extraordinarily knowledgeable man of all things vine my palate is in very safe hands.
To add to the remarkable unique offering here, I discover a cookery school no less. An opportunity to learn some fascinating secrets behind the food magic and indulge in preparing a frenzy of flavours before wolfing it all down for lunch. I never knew making fresh basil crisps could be so easy – just one lesson and I’m striding around like a proper French chef!
The Hotel Le Saint James has all the bells and whistles of a luxury boutique hotel it’s true, but it’s always people who make the glue that sticks and for me, General Manager Anthony Torkington and his team offer charming, relaxed, informal and discerning hospitality; always efficient, yet never intrusive. Sadly, making that Harley fire up and letting me ride it through the vineyards however was a bridge too far even for them.
Images of food and cookery school (c) Andy Mossack
I want to stay at Hotel Le Saint James. What does it cost?
Lead in rate for a double room is €195.
The Discover Aquitaine package includes:
* 2 nights in a deluxe room
* Breakfast served either in the bedroom or in the restaurant
* A dinner for two in the French bistro, ‘Le Café de l’Espérance’ – including wine
* A day out on a typical ‘pinasse’ boat in the bay of Arcachon with oyster tasting & a picnic on the Arguin sandbanks
* A gastronomic dinner for two in the Michelin starred restaurant, ‘Le Saint James’ – including wine
* A cookery class in the hotel’s state of the art cookery school ‘Côté Cours’
The total price of the package is €1,404 based on two people sharing and is available from April to October 2015 subject to availability.
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