For generations, Bordeaux has been synonymous with wine. Who can resist a glass of one of the region’s specialties like Pétrus, Saint-Émilion or Sauternes? But now the city and the region are the go-to spot in France – in fact it’s just been voted the top European tourist destination.
Have you ever thought of Bordeaux and boating? We think a leisurely river cruise along the liquid paths of the area offers one of the best ways to discover both the wine and region. So recently we hopped aboard CroisiEurope’s river cruise ship, the MS Cyrano de Bergerac, a colorful French-designed ship launched in 2013. If you want a perfect introduction to Bordeaux wine, food and culture, this is it!
With a week-long itinerary of tastings and tours, the one-week informal cruise starts in Bordeaux, and heads down the Garonne river to join the Gironde estuary and eventually the Dordogne river. We tasted wines from this rich and diverse land; saw well-known wine chateaux like Lafite-Rothschild, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild; all the while learning and sussing out secrets of the region.
One day, a walking tour on fabled hilly cobblestoned lanes in medieval Saint-Émilion, the next day meeting a family to learn the importance of “noble rot” of Sauternes and Barsac wines. The family has owned the vineyard since 1814!
Everyday, we tasted and learned about Bordeaux’s iconic wines. Beyond the wine, local guides explain historic places and their stories. We explored the Chateau de Roquetaillade near the walled town of Cadillac. This magnificent and prestigious medieval castle and its grounds are listed as an historic monument. The interior of the chateau remains a masterpiece of Viollet-le-Duc from the 18th century. Mooring overnight in Blaye, we visited the imposing Citadelle, built on Roman ruins and legendary Roland’s grave. Designed by Vauban, Louis XIV’s military engineering genius, this location gave the French an ideal look-out to watch out for the invading English.
Gourmet meals, prepared by a talented chef and his small team, and wines are included each day, all with a nod to local vintners and farmers. Lunches and dinners onboard feature French regional classics such as blanquette de veau and confit de canard. The confit, a new dish for our fellow diners who hailed from Poland, Istanbul and California, was a big hit at our table – bones were scraped clean and many of us ordered seconds. There’s nothing quite like local confit de canard.
This river cruise is not an “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” type of vacation. On the ship, we enjoyed relaxing moments gliding slowly through the water, while savouring local flavours and learning about traditional food like cannelés. These are small French pastries with a soft and tender custard center and dark, thick caramelized crust in the shape of a small, striated cylinder. We came away from this cruise with a deeper understanding about the food, wine and landscape thanks to our authentic Bordeaux boating experience.
Kathy Morton and Debra Fioritto, certified by Atout France as “France specialists,” are travel planners for New York-based Tour de Forks. Recipients of the Julia Child Endowment Fund Scholarship, they design personalized epicurean adventures in France. Past clients include Ina Garten of Food Network and Barefoot Contessa fame. Join Tour de Forks for an uncommon epicurean adventure in France. For more information, visit: www.tourdeforks.com. Tel: 212.327.3424. Kathy Morton is also the France Today Ambassador for Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina.