A Dip in Wine

Photo: Caudalie Spa

How about a glass of red Bordeaux? Or a high-quality white wine? How about a full barrel or, in fact, taking a bath in it? Having arrived in Bordeaux for a spa holiday I intend to do just that.

Written by Meri Kukkavaara, Published in Fine Champagne Magazine No. 5–6

The seeds of gold

Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa, twenty minutes from the city of Bordeaux and in the middle of the top wine-producing region of Graves, has found the source of youth and beauty in vine cultivations, or more precisely in the seeds of grapes. It all started in 1993 when a professor of pharmacy visiting Château Smith Haut Lafitte found that grape seeds are worth their weight in gold. The capability of the polyphenols contained in grape seeds to bind free radicals is unparalleled in the vegetable world.

The secret of the hot spring

The wine therapy spa is on the grounds of the Château Smith Haut Lafitte estate, on a spot where part of the estate’s vines used to stretch in straight rows. The owners of the estate, Florence and Daniel Cathiard, had noticed that the grapes did not grow as well on that stretch of land as they did elsewhere. The matter was investigated, and it turned out that there was a hot spring with a high mineral content some 500 metres under the ground. When the Cathiards’ daughter Mathilde and her husband Bertrand Thomas had – after two years of research – developed and patented the Caudalie series of skin care products based on seed oil, the components for a vineyard spa were all in place. The vines were uprooted from the area surrounding the hot spring, and a spa building was constructed on the spot; its outdoor pool is now full of steaming hot water from the spring. The unique treatments at the spa use this mineral water and various types of extracts from grapes and vines, as well as the Caudalie products.

I have booked only a few days at the spa. I hope that the tranquillity and beauty of the place and its location in the middle of the endless rows of vines will offer a generous dose of pampering for both my body and soul, even in this short amount of time. I know that it has worked for guests before me, as it recently won first place in Condé Nast Traveller 2010 Readers’ Spa Awards, where it was the favourite overseas spa retreat.

Manor romance

My accommodation is at the Hotel Les Sources de Caudalie, a luxurious five-star hotel on the grounds of the estate next to the spa. Its two restaurants make the trip even more pleasant and unnecessary to leave the estate at all, unless I wish to visit Bordeaux. The hotel is an experience in itself. The buildings look as if they have stood there for at least a couple of centuries, despite the fact they were built just ten years ago. The main building is a beautiful manor, while the others are all different but imitate the traditional architectural style of the French countryside. Their aged look comes from using old materials from carefully demolished country houses. Inside, every room has a unique interior, including the suite in a separate cottage-like building by a pond. Although the interiors partly imitate those of countryside houses, there is no question that this is a luxury hotel. No expense has been spared in their stylish creation; to find authentic items such as the antique fireplaces, old tapestries and paintings has been a hard task. The hotel is run by Cathiard’s other daughter Alice Cathiard-Tourbier, together with her husband Jérôme Tourbier.

Cabernet Sauvignon scrub

Despite the delightful surrounding, it is the spa itself I have really come to see. It offers wet body treatments, dry body treatments and the more traditional facial treatments. I am fascinated by treatments that have a connection with wine and grapes and, being in Bordeaux, I intend to savour these during my stay.

On the first day, I have booked a body scrub with crushed Cabernet seeds, a facial treatment and a bath in a wine vat. The spa and the hotel are next to each other, so at nine in the morning I walk through the hotel’s garden and past a misty pond. In the spa I am led to a dressing room, and in a plush white bathrobe I move on to the recreation area. Here the guests find a Turkish hammam, a steam bath and a large warm-water pool with underwater nozzles for muscle massage. There are many sofas for resting in the well-lit and beautiful room, and tea made from vine leaves is available in flasks on the tables. I am told that it is good to drink this between treatments as it cleanses the body. Sliding glass doors open on three sides and if I want, I can wander through them to three different terraces with deck chairs and admire the beautiful rows of vines or the hotel’s minimalistic garden, where the warm and steaming pool is accompanied by an even warmer jacuzzi.

Soon a young beauty therapist invites me to my first treatment – a dry body scrub called Crushed Cabernet Scrub. We descend the stairs to the basement and into a dimly lit, modern treatment room. The therapist asks me to lie down on the treatment table and discreetly leaves the room for a moment. I slip out of the bathrobe while soft, relaxing music starts to play in the room. I am ready and the therapist returns with a bowl containing a mixture of honey, grape seeds, sugar and seed oil. She then proceeds to give me a manual body scrub and massage. The experience is rather unusual, but pleasant and peaceful. After the treatment I rinse the seeds off my skin in a shower and lie down again. This time the therapist applies aromatic oil on my body and massages lightly. Almost an hour has passed in the care of these skilful hands and we are finished. I nestle back into my soft robe and return to the waiting area to be called to my next treatment.

Wine bath and more

After a short while I am called again. This time I enjoy a luxurious facial treatment designed to moisturise and revitalise the skin: a perfect choice after the skin-drying summer. My face is cleansed, gently scrubbed, massaged with oil and finally given a special treatment: facial massage with grape halves. The treatment also includes menthol-eucalyptus facial spray, which is a moisturising treatment under a warm paraffin wax mask. In the meantime, my legs, feet, shoulders and scalp are massaged, and a hot towel placed on my face. The final touch is serum and a light moisturising cream. The skin on my face feels silky smooth, almost as if it had received at least six months’ special therapy at once.

The last treatment of the day is the bath in a wine vat that I have been waiting for. I am taken to a nice, simple room with a large vat on a platform in the middle. Closer observation reveals that inside the vat there is a spacious jacuzzi, perhaps a little less rustic or traditional than I had imagined, but inviting nevertheless. Instead of bathing in wine I now enjoy a long bath in warm mineral water, into which grape seed oil and geranium-cypress oil are poured. The gauze curtains are opened and I am left to enjoy the tranquillising bath that clears my mind. I give in and just stare out of the window, where I can see sky, clouds and row upon row of vines. Even if I cannot say I bathed in wine, this bath in the ascetic room was an enjoyable experience.

On my second day in the spa I experiment with body wraps and ayurvedic massage. First I get a mixture of honey, wine yeast and seed oil on my skin, before my whole body is carefully wrapped in soft cloth. My next treatment is based on an old Indian veda tradition and differs from ordinary massage through special movements, slaps and treatment of the meridian energy channels. The nicely scented geranium-cypress oil is used again, and this time my scalp is also massaged with the oil – so no lunch date right after this treatment.

In search of perfection

Completely enveloped in the relaxing spa mood, I wander between the garden and the spa building on both days, wearing a bathrobe and with a cup of herbal tea in my hand. Following my whims, I dip into various pools. I enjoy the fact that there is no need to talk to anyone and I spend a lot of time looking for the perfect divan that would give me the best view over the vineyards.

The treatments here are also perfect for men; in fact, about one-third of the spa’s customers are men. The most favoured treatments are the same for both women and men: grape seed scrub and honey-wine wraps. Between the spa sessions there is no chance to get bored. The hotel has a gym, a three-hole golf course, tennis courts, mountain bikes for guests’ use and a jogging trail through the nearby woods. The heated swimming pool and outdoor jacuzzi can be used by guests all day. The hotel also arranges on request cooking lessons and wine tastings throughout the year at the Château Smith Haut Lafitte Grand Cru estate and the hotel. The hotel restaurants, La Grand’Vigne and La Table du Lavoir, are led by Michelin-starred chef Franck Salein, and food enthusiasts often arrive here to enjoy their culinary treats.                                            On the last evening, as I enjoy the offerings of La Table du Lavoir, hotel manager Alice Cathiard-Tourbier tells me about the expansion of the Caudalie Spa outside France. The same concept now pampers guests in Spain, Portugal, the US, Brazil and Turkey. All destinations offer similar spa experiences, but are different in both setting and ambiance. Something to look forward to on my next holiday she suggests.

On the whole, this spa delivered what it promised. Two days in their capable hands in breathtakingly beautiful surroundings worked wonders – the good feelings and relaxed mindset stayed with me for a long time. Not to mention my new, velvety smooth skin.

Caudalie Vinothérapie Spas
Spa Vinothérapie Aux Sources De Caudalie
Chemin de Smith Haut Lafitte
Bordeaux-Martillac, France

Ile aux Oiseaux suite at Les Sources de Caudalie

To celebrate Les Sources de Caudalie’s 10th anniversary, the Ile aux Oiseaux suite was newly decorated by Maison Martin Margiela. The Ile aux Oiseaux suite is reminiscent of the cabanes tchanquées (cabins on stilts) in Arcachon Bay.

Maison Martin Margiela’s interior architects relied on contrasting materials and furniture as well as the dissonant interplay between indoors and outdoors. Today, the Ile aux Oiseaux suite has an unexpectedly avant-garde atmosphere combining elegance and minimalism. The suite now features a blend of white, black, and grey colours, as well as trompe l’oeil visuals, second-hand furniture and multiple influences.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte
Grand Cru Classé de Graves

Château Smith Haut Lafitte’s philosophy can be summarised in one sentence: to do the utmost so that every vintage of their red and white wines reflects the full potential of the terroir. The 67 hectares of vineyards are managed increasingly organically, and the grapes undergo natural fermentation and ageing in superb underground cellars.

The owners, Daniel and Florence Cathiard, purchased the estate in 1990. “The reason we chose Château Smith Haut Lafitte is quite simple: it was love at first sight when we visited the château’s magnificent underground cellar, which fits in perfectly with our desire to make one of the world’s best wines,” says Daniel Cathiard. The Cathiards combined the most modern winemaking techniques and age-old methods, using organic compost, small wooden vats and ageing on the lees in barrel.

A special feature in the grounds of this Bordeaux estate is the art, which is spread throughout the landscape. The enormous hare sculpted by the British artist Barry Flanagan has become a friendly symbol that watches over the old Cabernet Franc vines.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte’s elegant red and white wines can be tasted by wine lovers on the estate. Visits and tastings seven days a week, by appointment only.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte
33650 Bordeaux-Martillac