Every now and then, someone comes up with an idea so brilliant, so utterly amazing, you have to try it immediately. A place where you can drink your wine and bathe in it too? I grabbed my corkscrew and headed straight there.
Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa lies in the midst of vineyards just a few miles from the city of Bordeaux. On arrival, I found that the spa is more than a mere set of treatment rooms and wine vats. What started as a chateau and a vineyard (so many good things do) soon turned into a vin-tastic beauty and health retreat.
Way back in the 1990s, a professor from Bordeaux University of Pharmacy discovered that grape seeds discarded during wine production did wonders for the skin. This is thanks to the seeds’ polyphenols, which help fight damaging, ageing free radicals and strengthen the skin’s blood vessels and circulation. The discovery led to the creation of Caudalie, a line of beauty products based on grape-seed extracts. To kick-start the grape-seed revolution, Caudalie’s founders set up a spa to show off the range. Since the French are even fonder of the fruits of the vine than moi, the spa was a roaring success. A luxury hotel, gourmet restaurants and health facilities sprang up around it.
After I’d changed into swimsuit, robe and slippers, I took a quick peek around. The main part is quite intimate, with a thermal bath surrounded by a few indoor and outdoor relaxation areas and a hammam. My companions for the day consisted not of dozens of lithe, French ladies-who-lunch, as I’d feared. Instead, there were only about 10 people there, including two men, and all of varying ages and, ahem, sizes – hurrah! No need to hide behind the robe all day.
I grabbed a choice spot by the thermal bath and helped myself to a cup of red vine herbal tea. Not as inspiring as the estate’s other house beverage, but refreshing nonetheless. I was then ushered into a private room, where the wine vat loomed large. At last!
As I immersed myself in the bubbling Barrel Bath, I was told that I wouldn’t actually get to sit in wine (sigh) because the alcohol would dry out the skin. Instead, essential oils and grape-seed extract, much better for the complexion, were added to water drawn from Caudalie’s own hot springs. Sadly, no wine was proffered in a glass either, and I was left to wistfully admire the view of vineyards as I reclined in the bath.
After my soak, it was time for lunch at one of the hotel’s gourmet restaurants, where I could finally get my mitts on some vino. And boy was it worth the wait. The estate’s Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte red wine is divine. After a sip, I asked the staff to book me on one of the chateau’s wine tasting courses, then I tucked into the 500-calorie menu. I’d be enjoying the normal menu later, but I was hoping to lose a few pounds on my holiday (something I’d never managed before), so my plan was to eat one lo-cal version a day. With options such as poached egg and wild mushroom cappuccino with a fragrant herb emulsion and fresh fruit ratatouille with star anise, lemon and vanilla soft white cheese, it didn’t feel like diet fare at all.
All that relaxation, good food and wine were taking their toll, so I went for a little lie-down in my room, which was an elegant affair with a few classy wine-themed touches. That afternoon, I was feeling more energetic than I had in days, so I borrowed some clubs from reception and played a quick game of golf on the three-hole course followed by a swim in the pretty outdoor pool.
The next day, it was back to the spa in the afternoon for a Vinoperfect facial. My beauty therapist, Sylvie, noticed brown patches on my forehead (why didn’t someone tell me?!), so she created a special blend of lotions and potions to sort it all out. The facial lasted for an hour and included hand and foot massages and the use of basalt stones on my body. When Sylvie removed the stones, she pointed out how they had gone cold because my body absorbed all their warming energy. And I thought it was because they’d been at room temperature for 45 minutes – silly me! Whether the stones had any effect or not, my skin was certainly glowing – and red. But that settled down in a few hours to leave me with a peaches and cream complexion just in time for my wine-tasting class – magnifique!
The rest of the holiday flew by, with shopping and sightseeing in beautiful Bordeaux interspersed with on-site cooking classes, chateau tours, tennis, walks through the vines, and, of course, treatments at the spa. I finished off my trip with a Crushed Cabernet Scrub, which uses grape seeds, honey and organic essential oils to smooth your skin, and a soothing Sauvignon Massage. By the time I left Caudalie, I was not only mentally refreshed, but, amazingly, I weighed three pounds less than when I’d arrived. My luggage, on the other hand, was several bottles of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte heavier.
Visit Caudalie for the afternoon or a week. Les Sources de Caudalie, Chemin de Smith Haut-Lafitte, Bordeaux-Martillac, +33 (0)5 57 83 83 83, www.sources-caudalie.com