Stories to fuel your mind

Travelling Europe

Sure, it’s great to achieve Gold Sales Master status – but it’s even better when BMW rewards you with an exotic trip abroad

Share the story

Story by Cary Lau

The travelling I’ve been fortunate enough to do, courtesy of BMW Canada as a reward for hard work, has broadened not just my geographical horizons – I’ve become something of a gourmand, I love to shop and experience different hotels and resorts. It truly is an excellent way to motivate salespeople and it has certainly kept me keen on the title year after year. As a result, I have so many colourful memories to share.


I still remember my first time: In 2002, BMW sent Gold Sales Masters to drive the then-new 02’ 745i from Paris through Beaune, then Avignon through Lyon and down to Monte Carlo. That was my inaugural trip to Europe and it’s been my favourite place to visit ever since. Since that trip, we’ve returned to Europe year after year, travelling to Germany, where we visited BMW’s origin city, Munich, and toured the Welt, the museum and its adjacent 3 Series production facility. Berlin was also a treat, with its modern architecture alongside traditional buildings.

We’ve also hit Lisbon and Funchal in Portugal to experience local port and Madeira wines. We’ve driven through Spain to visit its capital, Madrid, where we enjoyed suckling pig at what is said to be at the oldest restaurant in the world, and in Barcelona we were bowled over by the tapas experience. I’ve also seen Prague in the Czech Republic and Vienna, Austria, where we sampled beer as good as German brews. I’ve also had the honour of seeing most parts of Italy, Greece and Istanbul, Turkey.

I could go on at length about each one of of these trips, but the adventure that stands out most was my most recent trip in January a drive that took us skipping across the French countryside, from Paris to Cognac to Bordeaux to Nice, and then across the Italian border to Genova and Florence.

Sponsored Ads


Landing in Paris in early January was a gamble Charles De Gaulle airport had been shut down due to heavy snow, but luckily reopened just days before our arrival. With such a convenient and efficient subway system, there was no need to rent a car in the city of lights, and because my wife and I were travelling with another couple, getting around by taxi was easy and reasonable.

We couldn’t wait to dine at one of the oldest and most famous restaurants in Paris, La Tour d’Argent, where we would sit down to its most traditional dish: pressed duck or, as they call it, Duckling Tour d’Argent. This meal, to be shared by two, was introduced more than a century ago and costs Euro 130 (or about $180 CAN). The restaurant uses its own press, made of solid silver, to compress a partly roasted duck to extract its blood and juices which are then simmered with cognac to achieve a rich, distilled sauce. This sauce is served over various parts of the duck, served in sequential courses, for intense, concentrated duck flavour that is both earthy and sweet.

Upon sitting at the Tour d’Argent, I was presented with possibly the largest wine list like a Wine Bible I’ve ever seen. Considering the restaurant’s history, it must be at least 400 pages long, with unimaginable vintages of different varietals from all over the world. Of the 15,000-plus bottles on offer, we ended up with a 1986 Chateau Clerc Milon from the Mouton side of the Rothschild family.

This bottle is Chateau Mouton’s second wine and, having visited the winery in previous years, I knew it was a great pair for our prestigious meal. The first plate, the famous pressed duck breast, braised until meltingly tender, was served with its number on a card – since the introduction of the dish, the restaurant has served more than 1.1 million pressed ducks. The second course featured duck confit with light-as-air souffléed potatoes. A truly unique delight and one of the tastiest cultural gems in the country.

Sponsored Ads


A former student of Hotel and Restaurant Management and passionate wine and food fanatic, I couldn’t help but return to visit my favourite chateaux in Bordeaux.  I have have visited four of the five first-growth chateaux in the Left Bank: Lafite, Margaux, Mouton and Haut Brion. First-growth is a designation that was born in Bordeaux in 1855 to classify the highest-ranking red wine-producing Chateaux in the region.

On this trip, we toured Chateau Lynch Bages, a fifth-growth estate in the Pauillac region. It was a beautiful sunny winter morning when we knocked on the heavy doors of Chateau Lynch Bages. An older gentleman answered and invited us inside the small, cozy lobby, hung with artwork from all over Asia. Assuming this man to be the manager, I apologized for being a little early for our tour, which I’d booked a few months prior.

He could not find our details and then informed us that our guide had had a mishap with her transportation and wouldn’t be able to make it to the Chateau. It was then that I noticed our host’s picture on the cover of an issue of Wine Spectator magazine. This was no manager; it was Jean-Michel Cazes, son of the founder of Chateau Lynch Bages and now its sole proprietor.

We couldn’t have been more lucky. Jean Michel invited us to sit on a comfy sofa and proceeded to recount the story of how his grandfather had bought the vineyard for next to nothing, starting off in the wine business at the worst time of all, during the World War II. He himself had studied at the University of Texas in Petroleum Engineering but later returned to his childhood home in the small town of Pauillac to help out with the family’s insurance and wine businesses.

The family had great influence in Pauillac and his father was the mayor then. Thanks to his true dedication to winemaking and strong ties in the community, Jean Michel began to acquire different chateaux, including Villa Bel Air, Les Ormez-de-Pez and Cordeillan Bages, which came to be named one of the Leading Small Hotels in the World, along with its two Michelin star restaurant.

He also acquired wineries from other regions in France, including L’Ostal Cazes in Languedoc Roussillon and Domaine des Senechaux in the French Rone region. Beyond of France’s borders, Jean Michel also snapped up Xisto in Portugal and Tapanappa in Coonawarra, South Australia. All of this success meant that in 2003, 2003, Jean Michel was named “Man of the Year” by Decanter magazine and in 2007 received a Distinguished Service Award from Wine Spectator. In the early 1990s he worked to introduce French wines to China where he has done a tremendous job marketing his brand.

But before red wines from France were embraced in China, Jean Michel conducted surveys among the locals to learn what they thought of his vintages. While the feedback was terribly negative at the time, he could never have predicted the tremendous Chinese market that now exists for premium wines. One of his breakthroughs: Cathay Pacific Airways now serves his wine to first and business class passengers.

After the storytelling, Jean Michel accompanied us on a walking tour of the facility, narrating all of the stages of winemaking, from grape collection and fermentation to aging and bottling. I was a wine lover before, but after spending time by the side of a true winemaker and heir to the incredible tradition of Bordeaux, I can say this passion has definitely intensified.

The wines of this region are exquisite, full-bodied and display such a unique mix in each vintage. You might say that these wines, some of the best in the country, are very similar to BMWs, some of the best cars in the automotive world. And the sheer happiness I experience with a full glass of red is quite similar to the joy I feel behind the wheel.

Jean Michel feels the same – he’s also a big BMW fan and drove a 7 Series in Bordeaux for a few years before upgrading to a new F10 5 Series. Join me in a toast: Santé to Bordeaux wine and Joy to BMW Owners!

Related Articles