BORDEAUX CRUISE SLIPS DOWN NICELY…
Stunning scenery and spectacular wines make for a perfect combination
by Katie Wood
The number of British travellers taking a river cruise grew over 10,000 in 2019, according to research by Cruise Lines International Association — taking the annual total to 150,300.
A river cruise is the perfect type of holiday if you enjoy waking up to a new destination every day, and travelling in a civilised and relaxed fashion — unlike the experience on a large ocean-going cruise, where queueing is the order of the day and you feel herded from start to end.
I’ve been a fan of river cruising for several years now, thoroughly enjoying the floating house-party experience and the fact you can walk off the boat and straight into town centres, without tedious tenders or long coach journeys.
This year I went to Bordeaux with Uniworld. Before boarding I spent 24 hours in this beautiful city, staying at the comfortable central Hotel Bayonne Etche Ona (doubles from £132, room-only; https://www.bordeaux-hotel.com), enjoying superb steak frites at La Brasserie Bordelaise (mains about £18; https://www.brasserie-bordelaise.fr).
Visitors here should make time for the impressive Cité du Vin, a new-generation museum where wine comes to life through an immersive, sensorial approach, all set within an evocative architectural design (£18; https://www.laciteduvin.com).
Joining the boat — River Royale — we were delighted to find that all was pleasantly calm and spacious. The crew were exceptionally attentive, helped by the fact that it wasn’t a full sailing, and the mixture of Americans, English, Irish and Canadians gelled into a party atmosphere by day two.
This is one of the world’s most acclaimed wine regions and this particular cruise allows you to sail on three beautiful rivers: the Garonne, the Dordogne and the Gironde.
From Bordeaux we sailed to Cadillac, then on to delightful Pauillac, the gateway to the Médoc wine route. Blaye was next on the itinerary, and then on to Libourne before heading back to Bordeaux, dubbed the Pearl of the Aquitaine. Highlights of the trip included exploring Saint-Émilion’s astonishing 12th-century monolithic church, and enjoying the Médoc vineyards on a bicycle.
Throughout the cruise you taste regional delights and get to savour wonderful vintages. You visit the cellars of premier grand cru wines in Saint-Émilion, and embark upon a study of Sauternes, meeting the winemakers and enjoying a wine-pairing lunch at the stunning Château Royal de Cazeneuve.
As is common on upmarket river cruises it’s the small, intimate nature of the experience that makes it stand out. At Château Royal de Cazeneuve it was the present-day owner who showed us round this beautiful 12th-century estate, originally owned by King Henry IV, his direct forebear. Our group had the castle to ourselves, first for the tour then as the venue for a private lunch.
The food on this tour is of a consistently high standard and drinks are all included, alcoholic or otherwise. As we were in some of the best wine terroir in the world, many passengers chose to buy wines at the estates and quaff them with dinner.
There’s something very special about tasting the great wines of Saint-Émilion, Médoc and Sauternes in the very place where the grapes are grown, and learning about them from the professionals who care so passionately about their craft. The tour of Château la Tour Blanche was an immersion into the world of Sauternes, celebrating its impressive Premier Cru Classé wine.
At the end of the 2018 season the River Royale received a complete reimagining and is now known as the SS Bon Voyage.
The updated vessel includes four new luxury suites, and has increased its already high staff-to-guest ratio.
Other improvements include an upgrade to all bathrooms from tile to marble; reconfiguration of the gym and spa facilities; and a redesigned top deck with a new outdoor swimming pool, relaxed outdoor lounge and banquette seating with lighting designed to enhance the space in the evening.
Katie Wood was a guest of Uniworld whose eight-day Bordeaux, Vineyards & Châteaux cruise costs from £2,899pp in a river-view stateroom, including all meals, drinks, excursions, transfers, gratuities and port charges (departs September 23 & October 7; https://www.uniworld.com). Fly to Bordeaux from Edinburgh with Ryanair and from Glasgow with easyJet.com