After yet another lovely evening with great food, wine and great entertainment on board the River Royale, we woke to some better Bordeaux weather and the chance of spending a full day in this beautiful, versatile city. Uniworld offered us a number of options for the day – bicycling tours with a local cycling company or a walking, tram and food tour with an expert guide and with complimentary tickets to La Cité du Vin and for the tram.
Also on offer in the afternoon was a 2-hour specialist onboard wine tasting experience with the in-house Sommelier, Nico which included a full tutorial on wine appreciation and a blind tasting session to see how well you had been listening. While exceptionally popular with other guests who firmly recommended it, we decided to get some exercise for the day.Bordeaux is a fascinating port city on the Garonne River and now one of my most favourite of all European cities. The architecture is comparable to the grandeur of Paris (without the crowds), it is flat and easy to get around, has brilliant city transport, great restaurants and fantastic shopping down the 1.2km Rue St Catherine. Add to that the sublime and extensive surrounding wine region, the beautiful beaches and coastline and the proximity to Paris, this has to be one of the best regions and cities to live in.It’s known for its Gothic Cathédrale Saint-André, the 18-19th-century mansions which all sprang up as a result of the flourishing wine trade and notable museums such as the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux and the Musée d’Aquitaine which we visited. Public gardens line the curving river quays which become a hub of activity and family gatherings on the weekends. The grand Place de la Bourse, centered on the Three Graces fountain, overlooks the Miroir d’Eau reflecting pool and there are some pretty spectacular town gates as well, the Porte de la Grosse Cloche and Porte-Cailhau. The city has embraced modern architecture and sculpture and it seems to sit quite comfortably alongside its historical counterparts. Particularly popular are the Halles of Baclan, an open plan foodmarket and cluster of restaurants, right next to La Cité du Vin.
and the modern….
Our tour began in the old city – with the promise of chocolates, creme puffs and other treats that this city is well-known for. Sarah explained how just a few short years ago, Bordeaux was a bit grubby and rough around the edges and the buildings had mainly become blackened by soot and car pollution, giving the inner city a slightly oppressive feel. A forward-thinking mayor who incentivised the Bordelais to clean their buildings and embark on a city restoration programme has turned all of that around and the city now has quite a warm glow to its limestone buildings.
First stop is the Canelés Baillardran – Dijeaux Café where the famous Bordelaise Canele is made. This little delicacy is a small pastry, flavoured with rum and vanilla has a custard centre and a dark, thick caramelized crust. It takes the shape of small, striated cylinder up to five centimetres in height with a depression at the top and we were told, developed directly as a result of the wine trade – but not from the grapes. During winemaking, egg-whites are used to “fine” the wine as impurities and sediment will ‘stick’ to it. The result was a massive surplus of egg yolks and it is told that the nuns of the Couvent des Annonciades developed a secret recipe in the shape of church pillars to commercialise this surplus!. Clever gals!Next the very popular Dunes Blanches chez Pascal Bordeaux where we are treated to a genuine choux pastry creme puff, filled with vanilla creme and topped with icing sugar. Originally developed near the Cap Ferrat area, these delicious little puffs are supposed to mimic the white sand dunes of nearby Dune du Pilat on the Bordeaux coast. We watched as people filed into the shop to purchase little boxes of these treats which can apparently make you a lot of friends if you are new to the city and invited for morning tea.Lastly and before heading back to the River Royale for lunch, is the new but popular artisan chocolate shop Hasnaâ Grand Cru on the Rue de la Vieille Tour. Nothing to do with wine, but the beans are apparently selected from the first growth on plantations around the world and cover countries such as Madagascar, Indonesia, Cuba, Cosa Rica and Bolivia. We sampled some plain dark, some ganache and some praline – all of which were delicious and there was no shortage of customers, despite being a pricey little chocolatier!A short stroll down Quai to the evocative and stunning building that is La Cité du Vin and we are lucky to get there at 1.30pm and just before the Saturday apres-lunch crowd arrives. Our tickets allow us immediate entry, audio tour and a complimentary glass of wine on the top floor but first, we head up to the array of interactive, sensorial displays for which this museum is now famous.There is no doubt that this is the way young people prefer to learn, but me – I’m still a bit old-fashioned and found the jostling, slightly inconsiderate crowd who linger and hog some of the displays a bit annoying.As this is the last night of our river cruise itinerary, the Captain and crew have a treat in store with farewell cocktails and a special gala dinner, so we don our glad rags and head on up to the lounge.
We’ve made some lovely friends from the UK, Australia and all over the United States, and have nothing but praise for the wonderful staff of Uniworld and the service we have been given. Nothing was a problem, everything little detail is covered and the entire itinerary is well thought out with all sorts of interests, fitness levels, ages and activities considered. Even the weather could not stop proceedings as there always seemed to be a Plan B if the weather hampered Plan A.
I wanted to know more about wine, about Bordeaux and about the rivers and environs of the Gironde and I came away feeling the richer on all of those subjects.
Thanks Uniworld Boutique River Cruising! Hope to cruise with you again!