Travel and a bit of shopping
First published in Diversions, Autumn 2018
Quaffing First Growth wines at grand châteaux, visiting fairytale villages in Bordeaux and revelling in world-class cuisine three – or more – times a day are but a few of the treats a recent boutique river cruise which the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection offered its pampered guests.
The Connoisseur Cruise starts and ends in Bordeaux; it is every epicurean’s dream trip that covers –amongst other things – vineyards and châteaux.
Once we arrived at our ship, the River Royale, moored off the promenade of Bordeaux City, we checked into our river view stateroom with its Savoir of England handcrafted bed and marble bathroom. As we knew that on this trip we only needed to unpack once – such a plus – we headed to the on-board Salon Gascogne to practice our French. Any excuse would do, if I have to be brutally honest, to sit in the lap of luxury – albeit in a relaxed atmosphere – meeting our fellow passengers from a range of nationalities whilst enjoying an extensive range of beverages all included in the price of your cruise.
Only having to unpack once was but one benefit. Cruising on a river – the River Royale cruises along three rivers namely the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironne – is so gentle that passengers do not have to fear motion sickness.
Other benefits include the following: security is top-notch; Wifi is fast and available everywhere on the ship; there’s an on-board fitness centre (which I, admittedly, didn’t enter once) and a sun deck which we enjoyed especially at night when all is quiet and lights twinkle from the river banks. We could have opted for light yoga or Tibetan exercise with the wellbeing coach on the sun deck whilst watching the sunrise but we were far too lazy for that.
On our first full day – now unpacked and having partaken in our complimentary French champagne as welcome gift in our blue-themed state room – we realised that if we wanted to sample as many as possible of the Bordeaux wines on offer in the comfy lounge we’ll need to grab every opportunity to do so. We didn’t want to miss out on a single shore excursion offered. Inevitably these excursions blew our minds and evoked the envy of friends back home.
On the Connoisseur Cruise you get to know the Médoc Wine Route – with its very scenic Route de la Corniche Fleurie – and its ancient towns, its wines and their winemakers.
Guided bicycle rides through the vineyards or some of the towns were optional. Another confession: I opted to have more wine rather than attempt a wobbly – due to personal skill, or lack thereof – cycle.
Upon entering wine châteaux in France you are tempted to pinch yourself to make sure you are indeed here and it’s every bit as breath-taking as it seems.
My first château visit was to Château de Myrat (www.châteaudemyrat.fr) for a Sauternes (a highly acclaimed dessert wine called noble rot – or more romantically ‘liquid gold’) tasting. For excursions passengers are divided into smaller groups to ensure an intimate experience. This meant that we could fire away as many questions as we had in order to learn more about this famous sweet tipple.
From each chateau the individual groups headed down picturesque country lanes to meet up at Château de Cazeneuve (www.châteaudecazeneuve.com) for an artisanal lunch with Sauternes-pairing. The fortress at De Cazeneuve dates from the 14th century and it was one of Henry IV’s favourite residences.
The next château my group visited was – this beggars belief – one thousand years old and it has remained unchanged since 1855. Yet Château du Tertre (www.châteaudutertre.fr) has something to it that makes one think it could have been conceptualised by an architect in more recent times. After a cellar where we saw a concrete egg that acts as wine tank we walked along a lengthy pool to the stylish Orangerie where we tasted Les Hauts du Tertre 2012 and Chateau du Tertre 2012.
Château Soutard (www.chateau-soutard.com) is but a few hundred metres from the town of Saint-Êmilion and has the most beautiful yet understated open courtyard imaginable.
Yet another château was the House of Rémy Martin (www.remymartin.com) in the town of Cognac which included a historic cellar tour and where we tasted three cognacs with four different canapés.
The Connoisseur Cruise also offers one the opportunity to explore various towns and villages in Bordeaux. The River Royale docks in the ports of Bordeaux, Pauillac, Patiras, Blaye, Bourg-sur-Gironde and Libourne.
Depending on your time of arrival you can spend a few hours in the city of Bordeaux on the day of embarkation; this city offers a lot to explore walking distance of the mooring.
A morning walk in Blaye allowed time to explore Blaye Fortress and Blaye Citadel as well as to to experience the local market where cheeses, pâtés, seafood, canelés (French muffin-shaped pastries with a rum and vanilla filling) and a few crafts are sold.
I climbed the Patiras Lighthouse on Patiras Island before succumbing to cocktails and pre-dinner snacks such as fresh artichokes and an array of bruschetta.
Saint-Êmilion is regarded as one of the prettiest villages in France. Thus many passengers either chose to forego lunch or returned to the hilltop town after their meal at the Le Bordelais Restaurant on the River Royale. Saint-Êmilion boasts a monolithic church, so many wine shops that you lose count of them, a myriad of art galleries and loads of pretty cobbled alleyways.
Libourne offered everyone a village day, or rather morning, to experience the Farmers Market where fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood and honey are sold whilst the townspeople catch up on gossip.
Once the River Royale returns to the city of Bordeaux you are treated to a panoramic coach tour by night in an open deck motorcoach. The next morning you can either opt for a “Do as the locals do” walking tour of Bordeaux or you can explore the back streets of this city by bicycle.
Disembarkation takes place on a Sunday, which is also the day that a great food market is held along the Bordeaux promenade where the River Royale is moored.