Among the many things I really like about taking a cruise, is that each evening you are left a programme for the following day giving information about onboard activities, excursions and including weather forecasts and other helpful information. This is a life-saver with so many great options on offer each day. The other thoughtful touch I enjoyed was a little something each day, like a set of French recipe cards, some postcards, chocolates or beauty products (or maybe that was a hint!….)
According to the programme, today’s line-up includes the ancient towns of Blaye, Bourg and Libourne – all important wine transportation or trading towns, and we are in luck because it’s market day in Blaye (pronounced Bly). We are out of luck with the weather though as its really raining and windy. Not daunted, we are handed umbrellas by the ship crew and head off.
French markets are a visual feast and the Blaye market was no exception – lots of oysters, poultry, fresh fruit and vegetables and of course bread, cheeses and other local produce.Walking over to the UNESCO Citadel of Blaye, our lovely guide Sarah re-enacted the particularly advanced defence aspects of the fortress. This town was a disputed hotspot over hundreds of years and was destroyed by Protestant forces in the late 16th century. After the damaging years of the wars of religion, Louis XIII repaired the fortress and started installing a modern defence system which included the groundbreaking “star-shaped” battlements that changed the outcomes of battle sieges to come.Back to the ship for a dry-off and we set sail to Bourg, a town with a sleepy feel to it (maybe it was the French 2 hour lunch hour) but we were still entranced by one of the tales attached to the town and now responsible for the famous “Fig of Bourg”.Legend has it that when Louis XIV visited the town with his mother in 1650, he was too small to pick a fig he saw hanging from a tree. A passing Monk lifted him up to get it but was later arrested for touching the King which was strictly forbidden. The Queen later pardoned the Monk and in memory of this event, the locals make a delicacy of a fig wrapped in chocolate and called the ‘King’s delight’. Sold at the Patisserie Blanleil at the top of the hill, today’s treats are a mix of almond pasta, fig, white chocolate and fig alcohol – delicious!A final vineyard and tasting for the day was to be had at the prestigious Medoc vineyard of Chateau du Tertre, a premier Grand Gru Chateau – a thousand-years-old vineyard, stretching over 52 hectares, which remains unchanged since 1855. Now owned by a wealthy Dutch businessman, it is an iconic vineyard known not only for its famous wine, but also its stylish decor which I couldn’t get enough of. The winery is very chic and apparently used to entertain business guests as well as being a functioning vineyard – they even sell coffee table books on the Chateau’s decor in the gift shop! A really good tour and tasting and a spotless winery.
The great thing about a river cruise is that you are docked right there at the heart of the historic town, or a very short walk away, so after a few treats in town, it was back on board the River Royale to change for the cocktail hour. There’s something kind of nice about sitting in the cocktail lounge sipping on a G&T and listening to the versatile onboard pianist, as the ship departs from Bourg and sets out on a 3 hr cruise to Libourne where we will overnight….