September 2023 Wine and Rugby: Introduction

by | Oct 2, 2023 | International Travel, Travel

Our positive experience at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan lead us to highlight the 2023 tournament in France. This time around the ticketing process was more chaotic and difficult (thanks France), but in 2022 we were able to get tickets to see South Africa play Romania in Bordeaux. With those tickets in hand we built a trip using points to fly Iberian business class via Madrid, and so we split our time between the wine region of French Bordeaux and the Spanish Castile y León region (including the wine regions Rueda and Ribera del Duero, among others).

click on maps to see a larger version (France / Spain)

Iberia Flights


When we arrived at JFK we were told by the ticket agents that Iberia “doesn’t participate in pre-check” so our Business Class tickets only got us fast track. This meant a shorter line for the initial boarding pass check but the same security line as everyone else. Thankfully it wasn’t too long of a wait but not sure why that was the case.

Before trying out the OneWorld lounge we stopped into Bobby Van’s for two cocktails – an Old Fashioned for me and a My Tie for Eric and a side of fries – using Eric’s priority pass benefits.

This was our first time in the newish Greenwich Lounge, and it was pretty nice. We found a spot by windows, ordered the cheese plate and pretzels from the Tasting Room, and I grabbed us glasses of Piper Heidsieck champagne from the main area. We watched part of the French rugby match on our tablet, then headed for the gate.

It was a bit of a slog getting on the plane, well past the originally announced boarding time, and the plane was HOT. Whew. Left about 40 minutes late but the captain seemed confident we would make up the time. Eric went to bed right away but I stayed up for olives, the lamb main (with rosemary sauce, potatoes and grilled veggies) and a glass of Eldoze V.T. Castilla (syrah). I read some in my book and then tried to get some sleep. No flight attendant woke me up for breakfast so I was a bit surprised to come to and see we only had 30 minutes left on the flight. Weirdly, even though Eric was awake and watching a show, no one offered him breakfast. We managed to get an omelet with chorizo each but had to eat fast. Landed about 30 minutes early but a lightning storm meant we couldn’t get off the plane right away.

Our transfer in Madrid was intense as we only had an hour layover. Thankfully we got through customs quickly with our fast track but had to go through the regular security checkpoint (again) as the Fast Track lane was closed (I am sensing a pattern). Our gate, K95, was the farthest gate possible with tons of walking and a train transfer so we arrived sweaty and rather harried. Of course, our connection boarded late so we wound up standing around with no updated info about the delay anywhere. Then, we (and most everyone else) had to plane check our carry-ons as it was a tiny jet.

Took the tram to the airport and waited a few minutes for the desks to open, then checked both our bags with three bottles of wine each. The gate area had no air movement and was stuffy so we waited upstairs in a hallway that was measurably cooler. Boarded by walking to the plane for the short, easy flight to Madrid.

Our luggage came out quick and we walked to Enterprise for our car – the farthest car rental away! But still quite close to the terminal. We were assigned a bright blue Kia Sorento, similar to my RAV4. Easy process and we beat the rush as there was a long line of people when we left. While exiting the airport the sign said we needed a ticket but (after some mild panic) the gate attendant just scanned us through.


Check-in for MAD was much easier with a dedicated aisle for business class in the middle of T4. The T4 satellite terminal Iberia lounge entrance was located in the middle of duty free so we walked right past it at first. Thankfully there was a lot of seating space so we found a good spot and grabbed breakfast.

At the gate, we had to do a weird security check where they asked us no questions before we were allowed to board. Thankfully the staff on this flight was way better than our flight from the US. We were in the middle section again and I got all my food and drink from Eric’s side of the aisle.

We started with a glass of cava on the ground, then I tried the octopus appetizer and the grilled chicken main (which I finished)! This time I tried the Rioja which I really liked. For dessert I got the cheese and a generous pour of the Pedro Jimenez sherry.

At JFK, our checked bags came out quick and we were able to check them in for our next flight on AA (separate tickets) using the connecting flights bag drop area. Easy!


EVEN Hotel, Brooklyn
Overview: Really good experience, friendly people, and able to store our bags before check-in. Generous wine pours at the bar, good outdoor seating area for lounging. Comfortable room and able to get late checkout so we could keep the room before we left for the airport. We received two free drink coupons at check-in, so after a day of exploring and cooling off a bit we headed to the bar and enjoyed very generous pours of a Mark West pinot noir and a New Hampshire(!) sauvignon blanc in the small outdoor courtyard under some string lights.

Chateau Champenz, Bordeaux countryside
Overview: Free parking was nice, bed was comfortable and the grounds were spacious. Breakfast was included and was good but you couldn’t pick what you got. Additionally, our room didn’t have air con (as advertised), just a fan set up in one corner, not great on an upper 80 degree day but fine in the evening when it cooled off outside. The wifi was only available in the front two common rooms of the house, not in our bedroom. I guess I looked irritated as the owner then told me “we would just have to talk to one another.” She also had weird rules against eating your own food or drink in any common areas. Would not stay here again.

Cave apartment, Bordeaux
Overview: After a few Whatsapp messages, the manager met us at the VRBO apartment and showed us down two flights of stairs to the cave! Great location, wifi was good, the washing machine was great, drying rack was a big plus, and the blackout inserts were useful. We liked the kitchen area with full sized fridge and overall vibe of the place. Pricier than other options but worth the splurge, good experience overall.

Hotel Apartamentos Aralso, Segovia
Overview:  We lucked into a spot in the free parking lot just a few blocks from our hotel and check in was easy. Front desk was helpful, wifi worked, all amenities offered in the bathroom. Blackout shutters kept the room dark. No regular coffee, only decaf. Asked at the front desk and they said they can’t get the full strength of the brand they like after COVID and they don’t like Nescafe! This apartment was an easy walk from all the main sights of the city, yet was quiet. Would stay here again.

Nexus Valladolid Suites & Hotel, Valladolid
Overview: Parking was an additional charge AND a challenge in the tight underground space but we made it work. Check-in was easy, our room was nice with windows on two sides that opened for air movement. We had a kitchen area with a fridge, dishwasher, coffee maker and plates and cutlery but lacked dishsoap, kitchen towels and coffee. It’s like they thought through half way what was needed. Thankfully, we were able to borrow a wine opener from the front desk as there wasn’t one in the room and, of course, there were items in the fridge for a charge. The internet also went out for a whole day while we were there. Would choose somewhere else on a future trip.

Aloft Madrid Gran Via
Overview: Typical aloft hotel room, nothing special, but we did have nice views from the 4th floor. We also got a QR code guide that listed recommended nightspots, bars and restaurants that weren’t as touristy. Room was quiet, bed was comfortable and it was easy to catch an Uber to the airport in the morning.

Our Itinerary

2024 Trips

San Diego, CA (Jan)
Sarasota, FL (Feb)
Madrid, Spain (Mar)
Valencia, Spain (Mar+Apr)
Palma, Mallorca (Apr)
Croatia (May)
Long Island, NY (July)
Faroe Islands (Aug)
London, UK (Sept)
Bari, Italy (Sept)
Rome, Italy (Oct)
Frankfurt, Germany (Oct)
Grand Rapids, MI (Nov)

2022 Trips

Florida (Feb)
NC Mountains (Apr)
Washington DC (Apr)
Valencia, Spain (May)
Hilton Head, SC (May)
Pacific NW (Jun)
Long Island (Jul)
Florida (Sept)
Chicago (Sept)
Poland (Sept)
NC Mountains (Nov)
Euro Xmas Markets (Dec)