I was sitting on the terrace at Château Carbonneau when it struck me what a bargain traveling in Bordeaux could be. It was late evening, and I’d just finished having dinner with Carbonneau’s owners, Wilfrid and Jacquie Franc de Ferrière, whom, in addition to making very good wine, run their château as a B&B. I had a glass of wine in hand, and beyond the marble balustrade, in the pond at the edge of the lawn, a chorus of frogs had started up—an extraordinarily loud chorus, in fact, which made me think something along the lines of, “Good grief, no wonder the French eat them.” Frogs aside, the night was peaceful and balmy, the moon was shining through the glass walls of the greenhouse to my left—a folly of Carbonneau’s original owner, back in 1867—and the vineyards beyond the yard stretched out into the darkness. Staying here, I realized, dinner included, cost me exactly what I’d paid for a night in a thoroughly nondescript hotel near the Sonoma County airport not long ago. Dinner not included.
That’s the great, unknown thing about Bordeaux: It doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
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My entire plan was to spend three days in Bordeaux—arguably the most famous wine region in the world—without spending any more than I would if I’d taken a three-day trip to, say, Trenton. I’d stay in under-the-radar hotels, eat terrific food at affordable restaurants and visit some of the region’s best wineries—specifically the best wineries making bottles that sell for less than $25.