Why We Love France’s Blissful Blaye
Why do we love Blaye? The answer to that question is multi-faceted. To know Blaye, one needs to know its history and its location.
In ancient times Blaye (Blavia) was a port of the Santones. Tradition states that the Frankish hero Roland was buried in its basilica. It was a stronghold which played an important part in the wars against the English (who burnt it in 1352) and the French Wars of Religion (when it was the site of a Spanish naval victory in 1593). The duchess of Berry was imprisoned in its fortress in 1832-1833. The town was formerly named Blaye-et-Sainte-Luce and was renamed Blaye in June 1961.
Blaye is located on the right bank of the Gironde estuary (which is some 3 km (1.9 mi) wide at this point), 56 km (35 mi) north of Bordeaux. A small ferry crosses the Gironde to Lamarque, in Medoc.
The town has a citadel built by Vauban on a rock beside the river. Blaye is also defended by the Fort Paté on an island in the river and the Fort Médoc on its left bank, both of the 17th century. The citadel of Blaye, its city walls, the Fort Paté and the Fort Médoc were listed in 2008 as UNESCOWorld Heritage Sites.
So, you see, Blaye has a notable history, an important location, and a centuries old citadel but, what draws us there is wine. Not just any old wine but excellent right bank Bordeaux wines made by passionate vintners using traditional and modern techniques. Being on the “right bank” of the Gironde river means the primary grape used in blending the wine is merlot. The left bank’s primary grape is cabernet sauvignon.
Mary and I discovered Blaye in 2008 while planning a trip to France for Spring 2009. Being a wine journalist and radio host, I wanted to visit some Bordeaux Chateaux and began researching the area for a place to stay. Using search engines on the internet, I kept having one distinct “B & B” showup in the results. That was Villa Saint Simon in Blaye. All the “comments” online seemed positive. The big plus was that Les Kellen, the owner, was also a real wine pro who conducted visits to nearby chateaux… just what we were looking for. Arrangements were made to stay a few days at Villa Saint Simon in Blaye. Needless to say, we were not disappointed. Les proved to be an outstanding host. The accommodations were excellent and the price was right. We made friends with Les and some outstanding vintners and promised to return someday.
We kept our promise and returned to Blaye in late September. The citadel was still there but something was different. Villa Saint Simon and Les Kellen had added additional apartments, created an art gallery for his partner, Clarissa (which has evolved into the best restaurant / wine bar in Blaye). The wine tours have expanded and the winemaker friends we made in 2009 are still there, producing excellent right bank Bordeaux. We made new friends, drank new wines, enjoyed the bi-weekly outdoor market at the foot of the citadel and recorded multiple interviews for WineLine Radio, which are airing now through December. I have lots more to tell you about our “Blissful Blaye” visits, but, that’s another story.