The Bordeaux wine route is one of the most visited attractions in the south west of France. It’s actually not one but five different wine trails around Bordeaux and one of them is the beautiful Medoc region. “Route des chateaux” is the unofficial name of this magnificent wine trail, which combines nature, history and culture in one beautiful road. If you have more than a day to spend on a wine trip in Bordeaux, you should definitely consider Medoc. In two days, you can see a wealth of beautiful chateaux, taste some of the best wines in the world, go to the beach on the Atlantic Ocean and enjoy the local cuisine. The list of things to do in Medoc is quite long and you can easily turn it into a weeklong vacation if you like. However, as most people go to Medoc for a weekend, I decided to write a two-day itinerary. I tried to cover the most important things to do and places to visit in the Medoc Peninsula, so apart from wine related activities I also included recommendations of beautiful villages to visit, beaches, markets, hotels, restaurants and more. I truly hope this article will help you plan your wine trip in the area and will make you fall in love with the marvelous region of Medoc.
If you’re interested in doing more than just one wine route while in Bordeaux, you should check my list of châteaux to visit in Saint Emilion.
The Medoc wine region in numbers
The Medoc wine region consists of eight appellations (AOC) covering 16,500 hectares, which include Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Margaux, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Saint-Estéphe, Moulis and Listrac. The Medoc wine is classified according to the Bordeaux wine official classification of 1855 with five levels of Grand cru classé, Premier cru classé being the highest of the five. There are five chateaux classified as Premier cru classé in the Bordeaux area, four of them being in the Medoc area: Château Margaux, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour and Château Mouton Rothschild. The fifth one is Château Haut-Brion from the Graves wine area. Visiting the Medoc Premier cru chateaux can be complicated as they are usually open only to professionals or by appointment. But you don’t really need these four to make it an unforgettable trip. There are 60 Grand cru classé wineries, craft and cooperative chateaux and many other incredible wine chateaux that you can visit on the Medoc route. Now it’s time to discover them, so let’s dive into the two-day itinerary in the Medoc wine route.
Day one – Châteaux along the Medoc wine road
Start your day from Bordeaux on the D2 road, which is essentially the famous wine road called “Route des châteaux”. It starts at Blanquefort and continues all the way to the top of the Medoc Peninsula. All along the D2 road, you will pass through tens of km of vineyards and châteaux and through towns like Margaux and Pauillac, names you may know from the labels of Bordeaux’s wine bottles. The Medoc wine route is beautiful and you will enjoy it even if you don’t plan to taste any wine at all. Take your time to admire (and take photos of) the breathtaking châteaux that you will randomly see by the road. Some of them are so magical that you start feeling as if you’re on a movie set.
For the full wine route experience you need to actually visit one or several wineries and taste their wines. However, as you will witness, there are so many of them on the D2 road that choosing one or two to visit is practically impossible without some guidance.
Visiting a château in Medoc – how to go on a wine tour?
Visiting a wine château in Medoc is a marvelous experience providing you with a glimpse into wine-making in one of the most prestigious wine areas in the world. Most guided visits in the wineries will start with a tour of the properties, many of which carry historic value. Often this includes the story of a wine making family over several generations. Some châteaux also hold little art museums with family collections. Others display impressive exhibitions of art in their gardens or even in the cellars themselves. In some cases, the property won’t be very impressive but the warm welcome of the family will make it an unforgettable visit.
The second part of the visit deals with the wine itself. You get to visit the vineyards and hear the characteristics of different types of grapes and blends. In most tours, you will continue to the cellars and see some old and new techniques of wine making. And there’s always the fun part, the tastings, where you get to taste two or three different wines of the château.
There are many wineries who welcome visitors to their wineries but it’s important to know that they usually require prior reservations for the tour. However, if you come spontaneously and ask to have a quick look on the property and taste some wine, many of them will happily welcome you inside (if they’re not in the middle of a tour). If you don’t want to be calling the wineries yourself you can buy tickets to many of the tours through the tourist office in Pauillac.
Don’t try to run and see tens of chateaux, there are just too many of them, just take your time to enjoy a few. I recommend visiting two or three châteaux just for the sake of comparison.
Coming from Bordeaux, make the first stop at the southern appellations, not far from the Margaux area. As it’s located only about 30 km from Bordeaux city, you can make it early and still have time to visit more chateaux that day. Some of the châteaux I really loved in this area are: Chateau du Taillan (book a visit here) which is owned by 5 sisters; Chateau d’Arsac, one of the most beautiful properties in Medoc with an extravagant display of art in its enormous gardens (book a visit here). Closer to Margaux itself you have the charming family-run Chateau Siran (book a visit here) and Chateau Kirwan (book a visit here).
The town of Margeaux
Margaux isn’t very impressive on its own, but there are several reasons for a quick stop there during your trip. First one being Mademoiselle de Margaux, a chocolate shop and factory with chocolates you can find only in the region. The factory was created in Margaux in 1969, and produces delicious chocolates that are inspired by wine. If you’re looking for an original present to bring back home from Medoc, this is one of the best options. Also, Margaux is home to one of the most famous châteaux in the world, Château Margaux. They don’t offer visits to individuals but you can still take a walk around some of their facilities and see the magnificent mansion through the gate. If it’s lunch time, there are a few restaurants in the center. Remember, in France all the restaurants close for a break at 14:00 so try not to miss the lunch slot!
Next on our route du vin is Paulliac, one of the main wine destinations in the Bordeaux area. It’s a very nice town with a charming riverfront where you’ll find plenty of restaurants. If you want to stop for a nice meal of mussels and wine, les Moules du Cabanon on the riverfront is the perfect place. Pauillac is also home to the famous Café Lavinal, one of the most renowned dining institutions in the area. If you wish to discover the traditional food of Medoc, this is the place for you.
After lunch, head to the Tourist Office and the Maison du Vin which is located on the riverfront. Contrary to many tourist offices, this one is a very informative resource to all you can do in the area. They have recently launched a new interactive activity for kids and adults where you get to practice your wine smelling skills. They can also advise you on the closest wineries to visit in the afternoon. There are plenty of impressive chateaux to see in the northern area of Medoc, both in Pauillac, Saint Julien and Saint-Estéphe. Some of the most impressive and interesting ones are Château Beychevelle, Château Cos d’Estournel, Château La Tour de By, Château la Tour Carnet, Château Lafon-Rochet and Château Pichon Longueville Baron. As mentioned above, many of the wineries require you to book the visits in advance so go to their sites to see more details.
Château Loudenne for a special experience!
Château Loudenne was one of my favorite experiences in the region. It’s a 17th-century mansion, known as château rose, the pink house, which you get to explore during the visit. The château is located almost at the end of the wine route and is the only château in Medoc that has a private port, with a beautiful view on the Garonne Estuary. Apart from the impressive property, they have a beautiful garden where you can take a walk after tasting their divine wine. They offer two free tours at 11 am and 2 pm during the touristic period and will welcome you without reservation when it’s less busy.
If you arrive for the morning visit (11am) you can spend the whole day at the château. They offer an amazing picnic basket (which you should order ahead) so if the weather is nice you can have a picnic on the river banks. There are boats that pass by the port several times a week, proposing a guided tour of the Gironde estuary. Book the boat tour at the same day as it will depend on the tide. Chateau Loudenne is open from Tuesday to Saturday, check out their contact details on their website.
Have dinner on the Port of Saint Vivien de Medoc
The northern part of the Medoc peninsula is a magical place most travelers don’t get to see. Starting from Château Loudenne the vineyard landscape starts to change into a completely different scenario of little ports on the Gironde Estuary. Several little port villages lay between the last châteaux and Le Verdon sur Mer, the northernmost point of Medoc. One that I found especially charming was Saint Vivien de Medoc, with a cute little port with several restaurants and bars perched along the river. My favorite one was la Cabane du Port, a charming tapas bar with comfy chairs, great food and a great view of the docking boats. The Kayak Café is also great for a more substantial meal.
Visit Phare de Richard and the traditional fishing houses
Phare de Richard is an old lighthouse turned into a nice museum telling the story of the Estuary and the fishing industry around it. If you come during the opening hours you can climb to the top and see a beautiful view of the Estuary. However, the site is worth a visit even without entering the lighthouse just to see the Carrelets, the traditional fishing cabins. The site also has a very nice picnic area with a small playground for kids.
Second Day – from wine to the ocean – discovering Medoc Atlantic
Soulac Sur Mer – the Arcachon of Medoc
This charming little town is one of the highlights of the Medoc region, located at the very top of the Medoc Atlantique, about 90 km (55 miles) from Bordeaux. Soulac sur mer looks like a little Arcachon, with the city center resembling Ville d’été and the impressive 18th-century villas has a similar architectural style of Ville d’Hiver in Arcachon (For more details about Arcachon click here). Soulac has some of the most beautiful beaches on the Atlantic coast, attracting many French tourists to the area. There are plenty of cute little restaurants both in the center and on the promenade. Seafood is a very important part of the local cuisine and so many restaurants will serve oysters and large shrimps. While there, don’t forget to visit the amazing covered market of the region that sell all the delicacies of the area. Also, if you want to stop for a coffee, Livres Et Cornets is a cute chic cafe on the main pedestrian street.
Sunday Market at Montalivet les Bains
The Montalivet market is not to be missed if you happen to be there on Sunday morning. This is one of the biggest markets in the area, hosting more than 200 merchants all year long. Here you will find all the delicacies of the region, the Medoc wine, oysters from Cap Ferret and Île de Ré, cheese from the Basque country and more. But the real attraction of the market is the oysters stands where plenty of people gather to sip white wine accompanied by this local delicacy. By 11am it gets really crowded so try to make it as early as possible.
Due to its location on the Atlantic coast, Montalivet les Bains became a popular destination for surfers. The city center, which is located close to the main beach, looks like a typical surf resort town with plenty of surf and water equipment shops. All along the main street, restaurant owners will invite you to have a drink or lunch on their terraces. The highlight for me was the gallery café, located just in front of the market, which is both a very chic coffee place and a vintage shop. They serve delicious fresh food and it’s a perfect spot for a brunch. The address is 49 Avenue Brémontier, 33930 Vendays-Montalivet. If you’re travelling with kids, this town can be a nice break for lunch but I didn’t find the beach very kids friendly.
Visit Vertheuil – an old beautiful village
If you’re done with wine and the ocean (if that’s at all possible) there’s one last stop to make on the way back from your Bordeaux wine route. Vertheuil is probably one of the most charming little towns in the Medoc area. It’s located somewhere in the middle of the peninsula so it can be on your way whether you still have some wineries to visit or want to go back straight to Bordeaux. It’s a very small village surrounding the Abbey of Vertheuil that dates back to the 12th century (and reconstructed in the 18th century). At the back of the Abbey there’s a lovely garden with a terrace cafe and even a little playground for kids. The Abbaye of Vertheuil is open from Tuesday to Sunday in the afternoon on July and August.
If you’re hungry there’s a nice little Italian restaurant right in the center of the village called Casa Trogarra.
Where to stay in the Medoc area?
There are plenty of accommodation options in the Medoc area, you just have to decide on the setting and view. You can spend a night in the vineyards and enjoy the calm atmosphere, sleep in a gorgeous chateaux on the Route des chateaux or have a more lively vibe in the center of Soulac sur mer. Here are some good options:
Hotels in Medoc
Château de l’Isle
An exceptional bed and breakfast in a beautiful 18th-century house, located between Margaux and the two lakes of Medoc Lacanau and Hourtin. The breakfast is served outside in the beautiful garden, just next to the pool. They provide their guests with bikes so you can even enjoy a bicycle ride in the vineyards of Medoc. They have only four rooms in the chateau so try and book as early as possible.
Book it here
Relais de Margaux
A 4 star hotel located in a beautiful 19th century chateau in the heart of the Margaux vineyards in Médoc. The hotel has beautiful and spacious rooms and offers a spa and an outdoor pool. There’s also a golf course but it’s currently closed for renovation.
Book it here
Sleeping in a wine Chateau
You’re travelling on the wine road so why not make your hotel part of the journey and stay in one of the wine producing chateaux that also offer accommodations? Here are some options:
Hotel Rollan de By
A beautiful 3 stars hotel located in one of the most gorgeous areas in the Medoc, between the vineyards and the Gironde Estuary. The hotel is quite close to the little ports I’ve mentioned above meaning you have a lot of options for dinner. Rollan de By is an active winery so you can have a wine tour and tastings while staying at the chateau, how great is that?
Book it here
Château du Tertre
This is a beautiful guesthouse, located in a 19th century mansion. The rooms are elegantly decorated and have a view on the vineyards of the estate. You also get a free tour in the château and the cellars, which are quite remarkable. This is the closest hotel to Bordeaux, so if you want to visit Bordeaux and the Medoc area without changing your accommodation, this is a great option.
Book it here
Château La Tour Carnet
If you want to feel like you’re staying in a real castle, this is your best option. Château La Tour Carnet is a famous winery located in one of Médoc’s oldest estates, a former medieval fortress. The amazing room decorations and the setting in a 12th century castle is an experience like no other in the Medoc area. There are only two rooms in the chateau so it’s almost private. The stay here is not cheap but its truly exceptional!
Book it here
Château Pierre de Montignac
This is a more simple and affordable place if you want to stay in a wine chateau. The rooms are comfortable and clean and you get a nice breakfast in the morning. And you even get a gift bottle as a gift 🙂
Book it here
Soulac sur mer – for a more lively stay
Au cœur de la station et de la plage
A charming apartment in the center of Soulac sur mer, just a few minutes walk from the main beach.
Book it here
Villa Le Cid
A guest house in one of Soulac’ most beautiful villas. The rooms are quite simple but the house is incredible and the staff is amazing. It’s located a few minutes walk from the market of Soulac.
Book it here
If you’re visiting Bordeaux for the first time, be sure to check out my ultimate guide to Bordeaux to get familiar with all the must-see places in Bordeaux. To help you choose a hotel in Bordeaux I’ve gathered a list of the best hotels in the center of Bordeaux as well as a guide to the districts of Bordeaux to help you find your preferred location.
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