Savouring Bordeaux with Viking River Cruises
Article and photography by Michael Morcos
This would be our third river cruise with Viking, this time through the wonderful region of Bordeaux. We looked forward to this trip as we have really appreciated our last two cruises, they were certainly memorable ones. Our first was the ‘Romantic Danube’ that started in Nuremburg and ended in Budapest followed by the ‘Lyon & Provence’ cruise that starting in Lyon and ended in Avignon. Our Journey ‘Chateaux, Rivers and Wines’ would be Bordeaux round trip and bring us to some amazing historic towns, tranquil countryside, a multitude of chateaux, and of course endless views and visits to vineyards.
As in both previous trips, we would be greeted and treated like royalty, perfection always prevailed, never a dull moment and never a hint of stress. The itinerary was just right with the perfect blend of excursions and sailing time.
Viking has just about perfected the stateroom. They always feel bright and roomy thanks to the light coloured walls and a full-length patio door. We had plenty of storage and cupboard space and even in the washroom my wife and I never had to jostle. The best part was the balcony and we took full advantage spending most of our time there watching the wonderful French countryside. It is a must on all our cruises.
Vikings ‘Longships’ are class leaders. Our ship, the Viking Forseti (Norse God of Justice) was similar to all the other ‘Longships’ we have sailed on. Like a dream, it is very well decorated without being over the top, and there is a sense of harmony and tranquility with exceptional use of space without feeling crowded. We were used to this and felt at home throughout the trip. Kudos to the designers, these ships never felt like boats, where in some other ships you could see rough metal, rivets and know that you are on some sort of floating machine.
First impressions mean a lot, and even though we have sailed on these ships before, the entrance and main hall are very pleasing with its two story atrium. On my first trip, I could not believe that on a river boat there could actually be such a space.
Public spaces are generous and many can be found on the three levels, the top floor gives way to a total 360 degree view and has sunny and shaded areas where you can lounge the day away in the breeze with a good book. The other public spaces include a dining area, reading area and lounge. All are welcoming and comfortable.
For us, the piece du resistance was the Aquavit lounge found at the front of the ship. The seating from here gave us a clear view of where we were sailing to and the breeze made us feel that important sense of sailing. Outside our cabins, we would spend most of this trip there. Breakfast, lunches and suppers were served for anyone that did not want to be in the well-appointed diner hall.
One would never starve on a Viking cruise, on the contrary; this is not the place to start a diet as exceptional gastronomy is served throughout the day. Breakfast was buffet style with a multitude of choices in hot or cold servings. For lunch and dinner, there was a menu tailored towards both vegetarians and meat lovers. Complementary wines and beer are in abundance. Viking had themes throughout the cruise that reflected the local cuisine. Needless to say in France the food was exceptional.
Viking includes excursions to the highlights of the region as part of its cruise itinerary. Well researched, these outings are as easy as getting with your professional guide in small groups and following along. This I found was the best way of seeing a destination in a short time. There was no guessing which way to head. It was all so simple and we thoroughly enjoyed all the outings.
These excursions are voluntary and you can stay behind on the boat or plan your own route. Viking also has optional excursion that comes at a small price for those that have are looking to get another, more specific experience.
Having travelled extensively in Europe and France, I would say that the town of Bordeaux is exceptional for its beauty and elegance. There is something for just about any traveller. Recent major transformation has brought back its place as a commercial and artistic past. The compact city center is easy to navigate and is also friendly and welcoming.
Second only to Paris in French historic monuments, Bordeaux’s well preserved 18th-century urban areas make it a renaissance fan’s dream. It has been called the essence of elegance and has been renovated through the restoration of grand facades and especially the renovation of the riverfront.
On a tour of the city center, we visited some of Bordeaux’s highlights, including the Place des Quinconces, one of the largest squares in Europe; the neoclassical Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux; and several spectacular churches. Visit the Musée d’Aquitaine for a guided tour of the collections that highlight the region’s triangular trade route and Bordeaux’s position in it.
Cadillac and Sauterne
The cruise would start. We sailed upstream along the Garonne River to Cadillac, a small town that gave its name to the American car brand. On the tour we visited the imposing Château des Ducs d’Épernon and their park land, which is on the list of Remarkable Gardens of France.
Later we went across the river for an excursion to Sauternes, where a trip to a winery showed us how the area’s sweet dessert wines are made, and we even got to sample some. Sauterne’s wines are very rare due to this region’s morning fog that creates a ‘Royal Rot’ that helps produce a superior tasting white wine.
Libourne and Saint-Émilion
We disembarked and visited the picturesque Libourne. Our walking tour was filled with buildings dating as far back as the 16th century and we had the choice between an exploration of the Bergerac area in the Dordogne to learn more about truffles, a great French delicacy, or a wine tasting, at a nearby château, of some local vintages from the Saint-Émilion and Pomerol appellations. We chose the wine tasting and were not disappointed. The city is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we enjoyed the town’s superb medieval lanes and delightful views of the surrounding vineyards from the upper town.
Bourg and Cognac
We would tour Bourg, where the tour took us through the historic village and in the afternoon we went to the charming medieval town of Cognac, birthplace of one of the world’s best-known types of brandy. Visiting the Camus family business, one of the most tradition-steeped Cognac houses in the area, we got to try blending ourselves.
Blaye and Pauillac
Day 6 would find us in Blaye, home of the citadel of Blaye, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It dates back to the 17th century. We took a guided tour of the citadel and were struck by its size and beauty.
Later we sailed down to Pauillac where a tour of the wineries gave us some great wine-tastings, including the area’s famous full-flavored Margaux. A ride around the countryside also brought us to the chateau Prieure Lichine for a tour and wine tasting and enjoyed a feast, French style, in the beautiful Chateau Kirwan, a memorable time.
And finally we arrived in Bordeaux. As we are foodies, we were welcome to visit a market with the Viking Chef to see where the local chefs find their fruit, vegetables, meats and fish. We were also able to pick up some gifts- some Bordeaux from Bordeaux, amongst the most expensive and sought after worldwide.
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