When I first heard about the French town of Cadillac, a community of just under 3,000 people not far from Bordeaux in southwestern France, I thought it was funny that it was spelled the same as the luxury car. However, this French community is pronounced in French (of course). Therefore, Cadillac the town (“kad-e-yak”) sounds nothing like Cadillac the car. While I never would have imagined there could be a connection between the two, I couldn’t have been more wrong! While spending several days in Cadillac as part of a press trip, I learned that the town and the car have a shared history — a history that changed the world.
Antoine de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac (sire of Cadillac), wasn’t actually born in his namesake town but rather 94 miles east in Saint-Nicolas-de-la-Grave. He has been hailed as an early North American hero and intrepid explorer but, in reality, he was a murky character. He was born Antoine Laumet. There’s no record of Laumet on any of the passenger manifests departing from French ports, leading to speculation that he perhaps snuck on a ship. At some point, between landing in Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia) in 1683 and getting married in Quebec in 1687, he gave himself a stately new name, title, and even a family crest.
As the “sire of Cadillac,” he slowly rose through the ranks of industry, trade, and government affairs. As part of his efforts to exert French dominance in the fur trade, Cadillac established Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit in 1701. From this small fort, the modern-day city of Detroit emerged. Cadillac is credited with its founding and honored by the city’s auto industry. The Cadillac car is indeed named for him. The crest you see on every car is that of Cadillac himself — yes, the very crest he invented along with his noble name.
Cadillac went on to even greater prominence when he was appointed Governor of Louisiana from 1710 to 1716. However, his long career was not without controversy. He was corrupt and abusive. He was imprisoned on several occasions (including five months in Paris’s notorious Bastille). In short, he was a grifter, an innovator, and a remarkable individual all in one.
Thankfully, the French village of Cadillac which inspired Antoine de le Mothe’s distinguished name is pure delight. There’s no controversy here! Whether you love history or small towns or just want something a little bit out of the ordinary, it’s a fantastic destination for anyone visiting the Bordeaux region.
Cadillac Has Cosmopolitan Roots
While Cadillac’s most famous “son” would become known for establishing cities and colonies, the town itself is well experienced in hosting foreign powers. Cadillac was founded by the English in 1280 AD and they stayed in the area for about 300 years. The English were a prolific occupying force, founding hundreds of fortified, walled communities just like Cadillac.
It’s Perfect For Exploring
Unlike most European towns, Cadillac and many of its neighbors lack twisting lanes and narrow alleys. It was established, planned, and organized as a grid town so you can explore to your heart’s content without getting lost.
Thick Walls = Big Romance
The walls of Cadillac took 65 years to build using local stone. Today, many sections house little apartments. While I was instantly captivated by the romance of living in a city wall, I was told that they’re not such a hot commodity. The thick stone walls don’t exactly support much in the way of modern conveniences or spacious design. Still, I’d like to imagine that a great romantic screenplay is just waiting to happen here.
History Lovers Will Feel Right At Home
There are two must-see historic buildings in Cadillac and they’re right next to each other. Église Saint-Blaise et Saint-Martin was founded in 1490 and rebuilt in the 1540s. It has unique architecture for a church of this era, as it is connected to the northern city wall. When you see the window sills in person, you’ll get a sense of the thickness of the city wall.
Nearby is the Cadillac Castle. Built in the late 16th century, it was the elegant home of the Duke of Epernon and later a penitentiary for women following the French Revolution. It was finally converted to a museum in the 1980s. Between the two buildings is a small movie theater. At the front doors of the theater, you can find a “tiny library” in the shape of film reels! It was unexpected charming details like this that made me fall in love with Cadillac. It brought me joy to find cozy surprises like this around town. Maybe you’ll discover your own!
However, there’s one thing Cadillac does not have and that’s Cadillac cars. I’m sure there must be a few, just like you’d find anywhere, but I didn’t see any. And there was certainly no references to Antoine de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, founder of Detroit, leader of Louisiana, namesake to one of the world’s most popular automobiles. If you’re hoping to find classic car shows here, you’re sadly out of luck.
It’s A Sweet Wine Spot
The wines here are sweet in more ways than one! Thanks to the town’s position next to the Garonne River, Cadillac is in the perfect spot to make sweet botrytis wines. Botrytis is a fungus (yes, fungus!) that thrives on thin-skinned white grapes, such as Sauvignon Blanc, that grow in misty areas along the banks of the Garonne. This fungus shrivels the grapes and concentrates the flavors, creating a wine that is both sweet and intense. Cadillac is one of the top places in the world to sample sweet wines and it’s a superb destination to gain a greater understanding of Bordeaux’s wine-making culture.
Learning About Wine Is Easy
Wine is a complex subject and a mega oenophile destination like Bordeaux doesn’t exactly make things simple. But Cadillac is home to a wonderful little wine museum which explains things beautifully. There are even a few grape vines planted in the front garden for you to check out. In French, it’s called the Maison des Vines de Cadillac, but I love its English title: The Wine and Vine Museum. During summer weekends, local winemakers are often showcased at the museum and their wines are available for tastings.
There Are Amazing Markets, Bakeries, And Cafes
Time and time again, I was told it was a shame that I couldn’t stay in town for Cadillac’s Saturday farmers market. Locals told me that it’s one of the very best in Bordeaux and, judging from the descriptions of vendors bringing in fresh oysters from the coast and preparing homemade churros, I’d say they’re right. Everyone was in agreement that the market’s canelés were the best of the best.
A canelé is a small, custard-y, cylinder-shaped pastry that’s soaked with vanilla and rum. They’re a specialty of the Bordeaux region and I was told by one source that they emerged as a way to use up excess egg yolks (since egg whites were used in the wine making process). Personally, I found those sold at the bakery in Cadillac to be delicious but I was repeatedly told that the absolute best were only found at the Saturday market. Sounds like a taste test might be in order!
No matter which day you visit, you’ll be happy to find several coffee shops around Place de la Republique square, including a small one inside the delightful Jeux de Mots bookstore. Another popular local stop is La Cave, a cozy tapas bar and wine shop. Their menu offers charcuterie plates, salads, fresh fish, and occasionally Indian-inspired cuisine, with several options suitable for vegetarians.
There’s A Great Accommodation Option
While there is no shortage of accommodation options around Cadillac — plenty of chateaus and estates see to that — the town itself has just one option and happily it’s an excellent one. The Hôtel Restaurant Du Château De La Tour is a three-star hotel offering modern rooms, extensive outdoor space with walking paths and a swimming pool, and an excellent on-site restaurant. This is where I stayed in Cadillac and I was very happy there. I especially appreciated the robust continental breakfast, which included thermoses of hot milk for DIY hot chocolate and an egg steamer to make your own soft or hard boiled eggs in addition to the usual selections of yogurt, cheese, dried meats, fruit, pastries, and breads. The hotel is located directly across the street from an Aldi supermarket and you can walk to the main square of Cadillac in under 5 minutes. While generally wheelchair accessible, there are a few rooms on half-floors, not served by the elevator, and require walking a few steps.
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