Five-day road trip: the long-distance booze cruise holiday
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Ah the booze cruise, an opportunity for us islanders to head to the continent in search of quality French wine at knockdown local prices. But what if you have five days to kill and wine-tasting ambitions that extend past a one-stop-shop to the local supermarché?
Well, how about Bordeaux and the Dordogne region? One channel crossing and 600 miles lie between DriveTribe’s Chiswick offices and the vineyard nirvana of South West France.
The Mercedes Marco Polo proved a perfectly acceptable way to do camping
But what vehicle to do it in? Well, with France famed for its campsites (and journalists famed for their inability to pay for posh hotels) we borrowed a Marco Polo camper from Mercedes. Like a plush hotel that moves, it blends a punchy 2.1-litre diesel engine with two double bedrooms and a kitchen diner though, due to packaging, not necessarily all at the same time.
Before we knew it we were fuelled up and heading down the A2 to catch Eurotunnel LeShuttle to Calais before spearing south. The Mercedes may be a campervan but with 190hp it never felt out of its depth on faster roads, it rode comfortable over bumps at higher speeds and it's seven-speed automatic gearbox made navigating busy streets as labour-free as possible. It's even fun to drive, its steering proving surprisingly accurate in corners and its body resisting lean more than you'd think possible.
To break up the trip we stopped off in Barrou a small village about 360 miles south-west of Calais, while day two was spent getting 170 miles further south-west to Sarlat-la-Caneda. It’s one of France's prettiest medieval towns and home to some of the best roast duck I have ever tasted.
Drinking wine improves cycling (not actually) fact
The vineyards of Saint-Émilion
The real treat happened on day three. After following the winding roads that shadow the Dordogne river, we reached Saint-Émilion. It's surrounded by vineyards that range from small family operations to huge corporations, all within cycling distance of one another.
Guided tours range from the ad hoc wander around the vineyards with the owner to polished tours presented by uniformed staff. Either way, their knowledge is sure to blow you away.
As will the prices. High-quality wine is yours for less than the price of a bottle of water in a posh London restaurant. It's a dangerous situation made better by the fact that most of the land around Saint-Émilion is entirely flat and that bit easier for cycling around.
Vineyards line pretty much every road around Saint-Émilion
Bordeaux museum of wine
Bordeaux is just a 50-minute drive from Saint-Émilion. We spent day four at the Cité du Vin wine museum, which is a must-see attraction for any wine lover. It covers everything you'd ever need to know about wine, from how it's produced and the effects that soils and years have on the taste, to identifying different flavours and understanding the ingredients.
Even if you're not that interested in wine you can't fail to be impressed by the immersive show the museum puts on. And, of course, the free wine you get to enjoy overlooking Bordeaux’s city centre.
Saint-Émilion looks good up top but is even better sampled from the wine cellars below
Crossing the channel
With less than a week to play with and a 600-mile whack down to the Dordogne, we wanted to maximise our holiday time so the 1-hour 30-minute ferry crossing was passed over in favour taking the 35-minute Eurotunnel.
Eurotunnel isn't just quicker, it's also a lot less stressful. You simply drive your car abroad, sit half an hour, then drive it off again. Unlike on the ferry, there's no need to get out your car, remember which deck and where on it you parked it, find something to do during the crossing then lope back down to your parking spot when you touch down on the continent. There isn't even a huge difference in price if you get booked early.
Overnight tickets are the cheapest of all but Eurotunnel offers a variety of options right up to Flexiplus. It gets you dedicated check-in and access to a complimentary lounge with free refreshments, as well as allowing you to change your departure time free of charge.