Les Sources de Caudalie

les Sources de Caudalie

I went to les Sources de Caudalie over a decade ago with the intention of bringing a group of guests there. While it was, indeed, a lovely place, it wasn’t really near anything, so folks wouldn’t be able to go out explore on their own unless they had a car. However, it is smack-dab in the middle of Bordeaux wine country, on the Château Smith Haut Lafitte estate, which is an 143 second walk from the hotel and spa. So maybe I didn’t make the right decision after all. I mean – a winery, a spa, and three very good restaurants? — why go anywhere else?

les Sources de Caudalie

For those that are feeling antsy (or thirsty), the hotel and spa is also a 25 minute drive to Podensac, where Lillet is made, and to Sauternes, both of which are my favorite French libations. So if my legs were long enough, I would double kick myself for not planning that trip. (Although if I could, indeed, kick my own backside with both legs, I’d imagine I’d have a pretty good future performing with one of those Chinese acrobatic teams rather than leading people through the French wine country.)

les Sources de Caudalie

I recently had a much-needed break right before the hectic holiday period started, and spent a weekend, sans guests, at les Sources de Caudalie courtesy of a neighbor who works with the hotel and spa. She’d invited me before and I was always too busy. I had too much to do. I couldn’t get away for the weekend. Excuses, excuses… But heck, when you are too busy to go to a spa, well, it seems to me that that’s the time when you really need to go. So go, we did.

les Sources de Caudalie

We arrived on a blustery Friday, typical of mid-November in France, when the weather is turning from cool autumn days, to winter nights, when darkness falls in the mid- to late afternoon. The TGV can whick you from Paris to Bordeaux in around three hours, so we had barely finished breakfast before hopping on a train, and arriving at the hotel – conveniently (which was sort of intentional, on my part) – midday, right at lunchtime.

les Sources de Caudalie

The hotel and spa has a variety of restaurants; a casual wine bar called Rouge, La Table du Lavoir, which features rustic cuisine based on ingredients from the region, and Le Grand’Vigne, a Michelin-starred restaurant. Being in Bordeaux, all the food is meant to pair nicely with the wines, especially those from Château Smith Haut Lafitte, which we were happy to sample as part of accumulating the health benefits of the spa experience. Right?

les Sources de Caudalie

Romain makes fun of me when I pull out a bag of homemade treats for the train; I was wise enough to bring food for the train, whose food isn’t enhancing France’s culinary reputation, but chefs like Nicolas Masse are. And unlike most spas, there are no “spa menus” of “light” choices. But there is a wine bar, called The French Paradox Bar, where you can drink all that red wine that the locals do, and stay “In the pink,” as they say. Or perhaps in France, with all the red wine, it should be “In the red“? (Although maybe not right now.)

les Sources de Caudalie

The spa was opened in 1999 to exploit the polyphenols in the grape seeds, which have anti-oxidant qualities and are considered warriors in the fight against anti-aging. Happily, chocolate has them, too. (And potatoes, another dietary staple around here.)

There were a few échantillons, tiny samples, of the Caudalie products in our room, which I used for a few days. While it’s too soon to tell whether or not I am getting any younger, I did like walking around smelling like fermented grapes. And after an experience at another spa in Mexico, where we were forbidden chocolate for the week we were there, I had a little stash of chocolate that I’d brought along, which is part of my own, personal, anti-aging regime, just in case.

(At least the other spa had a sense of humor, though. One night was “Bingo Night” and they doled out, carefully, M&M’s to use as markers for our cards. The winner got to eat their M&M’s!)

les Sources de Caudalie

Of course, you can’t have a spa without good food – especially in France. And the first thing I ate was a grilled wild mushroom terrine with a velvety-smooth sauce made from Lillet blanc. My friends were very happy with their foie gras mi-cuit (partially cooked) – although I figured that since I was going to spend the afternoon soaking in the waters from les sources, I’d forgo the foie gras in favor of fish as my main course.

les Sources de Caudalie

The weather was mostly rainy for our weekend retreat, which was actually fine with me.

les Sources de Caudalie
les Sources de Caudalie

I welcomed the opportunity to stay indoors, catch up on some reading, and rest in the natural water from the source, which comes from 540 meters below the ground. It’s all pretty low-key and I was happy to just unwind for a few days – no paperwork, no email (they have Wi-Fi, but I chose to stay logged off), comfy beds (if it would have fit on the train, I think Romain would have tried to take ours home with him), and a nice garden, where Chef Masse picks some of his vegetables from.

les Sources de Caudalie

After a few hours lounging in the healing waters, I snuck in a glass of Graves, a white wine from the region – a blend of Sauvignon blanc and Sémillon (Graves can refer to reds well), which gets its name from the terraced, gravelly terrain, where the grapes grow, which gives the wine a distinct mineral flavor, and headed toward the kitchen.

les Sources de Caudalie

Chef Masse had invited me into the kitchen to watch the staff getting ready for dinner service. The club sandwich and French fries they were preparing for room service were tempting me to go back to my room, slip into thae bathrobe, and enjoy the hefty sandwich and les frites with a few glasses of vin blanc. Instead, I stuck around and watched the cooks preparing dinner for the diners in the restaurant, while my dining companion was kind enough to cool his heels at the bar à vin next to the lobby while the chef explained to me that he’s from the Basque region and was influenced by the ingredients he used there.

les Sources de Caudalie

The ingredients include lots of seafood, Spanish hams, Pyrenees trout, foie gras, and sheeps’ milk cheeses, but he was also happy to have access to foodstuffs from Bordeaux, such as sturgeon caviar from the Gironde river, which has become more popular as Russian and Iranian caviar have been getting depleted, wild game hunted nearby, and superb cheeses ripened in the caves of Jean d’Alos, one of the most famous affineurs (cheese ripeners) in France.

les Sources de Caudalie

Back in the dining room, we started with oysters piled with a cloud-like mousse of cucumbers.

les Sources de Caudalie

Then there was a precise round of crab meat with Galician cockles and other shellfish scattered on top.

les Sources de Caudalie

Next, a precarious looking slab of foie gras arrived (safely).

les Sources de Caudalie

Then out came a little roulade of raw, milk-fed veal from the Aquitaine with caviar and a teeny, tiny quail egg yolk perched alongside

les Sources de Caudalie

The wild turbot I’d ordered turned out to be a giant portion, which made me wonder if I’d be able to power through the rest of the meal (and which made me wish the spa had some fitness classes…), before a duo of sweetbreads and carrots arrived; two rich morsels with a parade of baby carrots (unpeeled), showing how French chefs are embracing vegetables, and putting them at the center of the plates.

les Sources de Caudalie

I had a few tastes of the beef cheek served with a bundle of green beans and bâtons of crisp potatoes, all in a lovely, rich jus, which was good, but I was getting stuffed and didn’t want to miss out on the cheese cart, which we’d passed on the way in. There must have been forty cheeses on that rolling caddy, each one at the peak of ripeness. But I’d been eyeing the Langrès, which was so ripe that it had melted into a molten heap and was nearly beyond recognition. However the smell did kind of give it away, even from a few feet away.

les Sources de Caudalie

Finally, out came whisper-thin meringues, which, when cracked open, spilled out a tumble of finely diced fresh pineapple floating passion fruit sauce, and was the perfect ending to the meal. (I made a mental note to ask the pastry chef how he got the fruit in there. But after a couple of bottles of wine, well…we all know what happens to good intentions…) Like magician’s tricks, I guess some things shall always remain a mystery.

les Sources de Caudalie

To finish, the sommelier poured chilled glasses of Barsac, a dessert wine made nearby, similar to Sauternes, but less-syrupy, with more brazen, sharper flavors, a perfect accompaniment to go with the line-up of sweet, meal-ending mignardises.

les Sources de Caudalie

Regular readers will know that I’m not one to make public appearances early in the morning. (And I’m not so good about private ones, either, if you ask Romain.) I am Monsieur Grouché. And while the visions of room service were dancing in my head when I woke up, we braved the rain to run from our room (many rooms are in separate buildings from the main part of the hotel) to the dining room, which had been transformed into a breakfast buffet.

les Sources de Caudalie

While I didn’t indulge in any of the wine on offer, another guest did, and we stuck with coffee. There was a table of spa foods – finally! – but it was too late, as I’d already gone down the road of cannelés, which they had at the breakfast buffet, too.

les Sources de Caudalie

(The previous evening, when I was in the kitchen, they were also baking off tourtières, a Gascon specialty of prunes wrapped with filo dough. The B.I.P., otherwise known as the Bureau National Interprofessional du Pruneau – yes, in France there is a professional prune board – has a tourtière recipe on their website, which uses puff pastry. But Paula Wolfert’s croustade, which is another word for tourtière, uses filo, too.)

les Sources de Caudalie

Since we were at a winery, it seemed (kinda) a shame to spend all the time eating and relaxing in the warm water, so it was nice to get a look at Château Smith Haut Lafitte wine cellars.

les Sources de Caudalie

The weather had cleared and the rain had made the vineyards shiny and colorful.

les Sources de Caudalie

The vines were laid out before us, in beautiful post-fall colors, which surrounded the winery. It was awfully dark in the cellars, but we visited the cooperage, where they make and repair some of their own wine barrels. Then it was upstairs to the tasting room, for sampling more of the Château Smith Haut Lafitte wines, as well as a spectacular Château Bastor-Lamontagne Sauternes. Sauternes wines are made from grapes that are left on the vines left to rot, and become encrusted with a fungus, called “noble rot,” caused by the mists arising off the two local rivers.

The fungus helps concentrates the juices in the grapes and gives the wine its high sugar concentration. Because the grapes are so dry and shriveled, instead of getting a case of wine from each grapevine, the yield per grapevine is just one glass. In the finished wines, which are some of the most impressive wines in the world, you’ll find flavors of roasted apricots, pineapple, toasted brioche, spice, browned butter, and nuts, depending on the bottle. I love it more than anything else in the world and have a bottle stashed away somewhere in my apartment, which I will someday open. (If I ever remember where I hid it, that is.)

les Sources de Caudalie

I am in good company because Thomas Jefferson was also, a fan, and had a collection of 250 bottles of Château d’Yquem Sauternes, which is considered to be one of the finest wines in the world, that he acquired in 1788. (A bottle from 1787 was recently auctioned off for $90,000, which was found later to be a counterfeit. Buyer beware! Another bottle, from 1811 – and presumably real – sold for $117,000.) Jefferson liked it so much that he also put in an order for the current president, George Washington, for thirty dozen bottles.

les Sources de Caudalie

Closer to my reality was lunch at the Spanish-inspired wine bar, Rouge. And as much as I’d like to imagine myself as someone putting in an order for 360 bottles of Château d’Yquem, I am happy to sit around and eat a casual meal in a regular wine bar. Since we’re so close to Spain, and the chef is Basque, many things in the wine bar are sourced from Spain, such as Guindilla de Ibarra peppers, preserved in sharp vinegar.

les Sources de Caudalie

I loved the tuna confit, made with tuna that was line-caught in Saint-Jean de Luz, preserved in olive oil.

les Sources de Caudalie

And whenever I can, I can’t resist ordering a plate of Iberian Bellota ham (shown way up top), sliced über-thin, served with more of those spicy, slender green peppers. I didn’t taste my friend’s burrata with cœur de rumsteak (beefheart) tomato, because I was busy eyeing the items in the adjacent shop. And being a Californian, I can’t order anything with fresh tomatoes, except in the height of summer.

les Sources de Caudalie

But being Bordeaux, there were lots of wines, of course. But also – being Bordeaux – there were cannelé molds aplenty. The egg yolk-rich pastries are an omnipresent specialty of the region, and are even sold at the train stations in Bordeaux, as well as in Paris – for those who can’t wait. It’s said that back when egg whites were used to clarify wine, there was a surplus of egg yolks, so the cannelé (sometimes spelled canelé) was invented, to use ’em up.

les Sources de Caudalie

You can find recipes, as well as different spellings, here: canelés and canelés. But if I had a nickel for every person that told me they wanted to buy cannelé molds, I’d be putting in orders for Château d’Yquem on a weekly basis. I usually warn people they’re likely to use them once, then put them in the back at their pantry never to be seen again. Except a few years later when they uncover them, and decide to sell them at their garage sale.

les Sources de Caudalie

Still, they are pretty and I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade – and lord knows, we had enough rain this weekend. But it gave us one last, final chance to spend time inside, visiting the pièce de résistance. Under what they call les portes du Paradis, “ports of paradise” that are embedded in the floor and open up to reveal a hidden cellar, is where they keep their most cherished wines. (You can actually arrange a visit, if you’re in the area.)

les Sources de Caudalie

We walked down the creaky wooden stairs to the underground cave and found ourselves surrounded by two rows of spectacular bottles.

les Sources de Caudalie

There, some of their oldest bottles of wine are lined up for viewing. It’s easy to see why they keep most of these bottles in darkness, as the labels are decomposing, and some are hundreds of years old.

les Sources de Caudalie
les Sources de Caudalie

We didn’t open any bottles – drat! – but that’s okay. I’d had enough wine for the weekend, and plenty of food. And we headed back upstairs, to hit the soothing waters of les Sources de Caudalie, one more time before heading home.

les Sources de Caudalie


Note: We were guests of the hotel and winery for the weekend.


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36 comments

  • December 13, 2014 11:14am

    A great post! I absolutely love the decaying wine label pictures, so gorgeous!

  • Annalisa Giust
    December 13, 2014 12:15pm

    Wow, you are like the French Foodie Dr. Seuss… “I’d forgo the foie gras in favor of fish”. This is the best alliteration i’ve come across in a long time. Well done! I nearly had a snorting of prosecco incident when I read this. Joyeuses Fêtes, Annalisa

  • Amy -Hunting Valley, Ohio
    December 13, 2014 4:33pm

    What a beautiful post .. this trip sounds like a dream weekend. I especially like how the rainy weather relieved you of any responsibility to go outside and make something of the day.

    You are lucky you seem to be able to eat anything … while all of the food looked beautiful, I have a few food aversions and wish I could get over them and just enjoy it all. Is there anything you simply can’t manage to eat?

    Thank you for once again transporting me from damp, gray Northeastern Ohio to the French countryside.

    • December 13, 2014 5:14pm
      David Lebovitz

      Since I worked in restaurants most of my life, I’ve been around a lot of foods and had a chance to taste a lot of things – from raw turtle eggs, sea cucumbers, jellyfish and barnacles, to truffles, duck confit, and quail eggs. I don’t eat squid or octopus, and when I was in Lebanon, in spite of everyone telling me how good it was, I couldn’t eat raw lamb fat. (I did, however, try the raw lamb liver.) I’m also not a huge fan of offal – I don’t mind a few bites, but I don’t want a whole bowl of the stuff. I subscribe to the belief that not everyone likes or eats everything – and that’s okay. Not everyone has the same tastes or likes what you or I like, or don’t like. You do have some lovely foods in Ohio, where I’ve been, so hope that you’re able to indulge in some of them, from time to time!

  • Brandi
    December 13, 2014 5:13pm

    David, I love exploring France through your posts and this one is no exception. Thank you for sharing!

  • Melinda
    December 13, 2014 5:25pm

    That sandwich!

  • December 13, 2014 6:17pm

    Excellent post. The food, wine and scenery is captivating.

  • Helen
    December 13, 2014 6:28pm

    You lucky guy! I could both taste and smell all this lovely food….mmmmmm. Thanks for the mouth watering delight!

  • December 13, 2014 6:36pm

    What a wonderful post! It reminded me how much I love Canneles but have never made them myself. Just ordered a set of molds so I can make them for Christmas morning. I hope my molds never go the way of a garage sale in the future. We shall see.

  • December 13, 2014 6:37pm

    so, david, you liked the place? ;-)

  • Wendy Wong
    December 13, 2014 6:40pm

    You are soooo lucky!

    But we readers are also so lucky to be able to read and learn from your experiences.

    I learned a lot from this post, in fact, I always learn so much from reading your blogs.

    Many thanks for sharing!

  • December 13, 2014 6:48pm

    now i know what i’m asking for for xmas next year! too true – what better antidote to holiday hecticness!

  • Marika Ujvari
    December 13, 2014 7:40pm

    Bets post!!! I loved everything you mentioned. But the very first photo took my breath away! Yummmmmm!

  • Deborah
    December 13, 2014 7:51pm

    Such delicious writing, David! x

  • Wendyk
    December 13, 2014 8:01pm

    I’m very intrigued by the meringue. Any pictures of it open with the pineapple spilling out? Perhaps there was a hole in the bottom where he spooned the pineapple?

  • December 13, 2014 8:18pm

    I will be on the couch all afternoon reveling in this weekend of yours. Thank you.

  • Denise Dreiman
    December 13, 2014 8:29pm

    Wonderful post. I especially loved the photos. Just wondering what it would cost if you’re a paying customer.

  • bonnie
    December 13, 2014 8:36pm

    David,
    Could you talk the folks at Mary Celeste in the Marais into trying their hand at the oysters with cucumber mousse? I had the best oysters of my life there recently and I know they are inventive with their cuisine and would like this idea.

  • December 13, 2014 8:38pm
    David Lebovitz

    Denise: When I was Googling the hotel/spa, there was a site (Booking.com) that had listed rooms for €250/night. I imagine their site lists room rates, although I’d also imagine during low season the rates may vary even more. Some rooms are in the main building, and others – like where we stayed – were in separate structures, when there are maybe 8 or so rooms in the same building.

    WendyK: I had a picture but it was so dark in the dining room by the end of the evening that it was blurry and didn’t come out well. Maybe I need to go back and see how they made it? ; )

  • Karen Grant
    December 13, 2014 9:16pm

    David,
    Thank you so much for your decadently rich account of your visit to Les Sources de Caudalie. Although we have never ventured there, I feel like I’ve had a tiny peek into the magic of the place. And sitting here in Marin, buried under the rubble of what seems like the worst rainstorm ever with an even worse cold, I feel like I could smell the vineyards and taste the beautiful foods you photographed so elegantly. Happy Holidays!

  • shelley
    December 13, 2014 9:41pm

    Zowie! Any spa that offers french fries is for me!
    But just as entranced at those beautiful lettuces in the garden.

  • ron shapley(NYC)
    December 13, 2014 10:07pm

    Wow……..the photography is superb……The cuisine jumps right off the page onto my plate…I wish……….Oh by the way… Malle has opened a Mustard store in Manhattan…….20+ variety of Mustard, on tap. What a country !!

  • Ethel G Goralnick
    December 13, 2014 10:13pm

    Dear David,
    I enjoy the e-mails about your trips to vineyards and restaurants every week.
    The article on les Sources de Caudalie is the best ever. As a professional
    pastry chef I enjoy and the beautiful photos you take and have very fond memories
    of Paris.

  • ron shapley(NYC)
    December 13, 2014 10:14pm

    I meant Maille but then, you knew that……

  • Barb Byro
    December 13, 2014 11:46pm

    Thanks for a charming and useful article David. My husband has the same attitude and policy about travelling as you do. But he also seems to have similar ideas of what a relaxing holiday should be – core requirement is great wine and great food and a super comfortable bed to stagger into after the food and wine – so he was very taken with the Hotel/Spa complex. So much so that I’ve subscribed to their newsletter and he’s making plans for us to have a little holiday there late next spring.
    We like continental trains, too but we plan to drive there from London so we can load up the car trunk with wine and other goodies on the trip home.

  • Corine
    December 14, 2014 2:54am

    Superbe, comme d’hab.

  • Ann Milliman
    December 14, 2014 5:34am

    Love your writing, and your cookbooks. The only trouble is, I only want to come to Paris if my husband and I can meet you for a meal at one of your favorite neighborhood spots. So appealing.

  • December 14, 2014 1:31pm

    Your weekend away was a treat for both you and your readership. Reading your story was so…soothing.

  • BER
    December 14, 2014 4:48pm

    Thanks for this. We stayed there for several days two years ago. It was wonderful even though it rained every day. The food was wonderful. We also thought the staff were great and very helpful. Thanks so much for reminding us of that pleasant time. Happy Holidays.
    BER

  • December 14, 2014 5:36pm

    Hi there – as a Brit now living in the South of France (Nice) I have struggled to find things that I want to use. In desperation I wrote to Bob’s Red Mills in the US, as it’s their baking powder I prefer. Guess what? They’re coming to France! Their representative from the UK has just relocated to Lyons and they are finally bringing their wonderful products, including a massive range of gluten free flours, cereals and flour mixes, to mainland Europe via France! Thought you might like to know that. It’s made my day as I’m here to try and bring gluten free bread to Nice as well as continuing to make the most amazing French breads from levain nature, which our bakery does already. Hope it helps!

    Natalie

  • December 14, 2014 7:57pm

    I was here as part of a press trip in 2002. What struck me about the spa was the cigar-smoking room (!) on the upper floor. Is it still there?

  • Elizabeth Jensen
    December 15, 2014 12:14am

    I’ve only just stumbled on your pages and my comment is not regarding the above post it is a question. I found you after searching for frypans that last and read the entry on green pan. Just wondering if the opinion is still standing. I have never found a pan with a coating that lasts including one so called green pan , can’t remember brand, and now I have one EUROLUX , titanium ultra , made in Germany which I bought in March for $175 AUD. Last night I noticed some sticking in middle. I have been raving to friends about this pan. Now I’m so disappointed. I guess the coating is on the way out. So just interested in whether there is a long lasting coating out there and whether there is something you might recommend

  • Dick Duff
    December 15, 2014 2:49am

    My wife and I cooked ‘Chicken lady chicken’ from your cookbook, “My Paris Kitchen” last night……..and WOW, what a dish!…..the best chicken we have ever eaten, with your recipe easy to follow, and not difficult to make……. my wife loves reading your beautifully done cookbook…..she attended the Sorbonne in 1959…..we have ordered your cookbook for Christmas presents for friends…..we live in Marin and have been eating at Chez Panisse, upstairs and downstairs, since Jeremiah Tower cooked there, and it is still wonderful……looking forward to some chicken sandwiches with what little chicken we haven’t eat…….thank you for writing this fine cookbook so people can cook your great recipes.

  • December 15, 2014 8:50am

    Caudalie’s Vinexpert Fluide Bonne Mine SPF 15 is a divine crème that works wonders. What a FAB visit!
    Mme Florence Cathiard wrote a terrific book a while back, Art of the Vine: Living in the Land of the Grands Crus before she developed Caudalie. Ages ago in New York at a Grand Cru tasting she generously gave me a bottle of Smith-Haut I treasured for a long time…
    They are an extraordinary company of the highest quality.What an experience!
    Lucky you.

  • December 15, 2014 10:08am
    David Lebovitz

    Dick: Glad you liked that recipe, and the cookbook!

    Elizabeth: I am still using that “green” pan that I wrote about in 2011 and it’s still holding up well with zero problems. I use it a few times a week. (My friends Todd & Diane did a write-up on another brand that they like.) I think the shelf-life of the finish on those pans varies. Mine has performed very well over the years, although I do treat it like royalty – I wash it promptly, don’t use metal cookware, and when done and I’m storing it, I put a slightly cushioned mat inside of it so other pans don’t come into contact with the surface.

    alexa: yes, that’s still up there on the top floor !

    Le four a bois: That’s great news. Thanks ~

  • Lia Tumkus
    December 15, 2014 11:58am

    Dear David, I just can’t stop thinking about that dessert, how on earth did they manage to do that??? I’m so intrigued… Any ideas? Maybe we should put your picture in a dessert forum and see what ideas people come with…

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