DAY 6 : River Cruising with Uniworld – BORDEAUX VINEYARDS & CHATEAUX …

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.

img_0696.jpgAlso 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.IMG_0988 2Bordeaux 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.img_0681.jpgIt’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.

The old…..

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.

IMG_0686First 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!canelsNext 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.dunes-pic.jpgLastly 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!img_7820.jpgA 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.img_0645.jpgThere 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.IMG_7830As 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.img_7841.jpg

 

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!

 

 

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DAY 5 : River Cruising with Uniworld – BORDEAUX VINEYARDS & CHATEAUX …

The River Royale docked overnight in Libourne so that we could enjoy the weekly Libourne market and also experience another wine tasting experience. Our local expert guide Sarah collected us at 9am and we walked over the bridge to the market, held in the Bastide town square. Sarah explained that the had been given a small budget by the Cruise Manager so that we could purchase some of the local treats to try at the market but also take to our wine tasting. It’s another grey day, but the colour and bustle of the market continues on regardless.

img_7789-e1523194397722.jpgSarah skillfully negotiated for bread, cheese, strawberries and chocolate with the local stallholders and the cheese man nearly got the better of her!

Being Easter, the surrounding shops are full of Easter themed windows and the French really take Easter and chocolate very seriously. The fish-shaped chocolate being sold is called “Fritures de Pâques” is the symbol of Christianity and comes dark, milk and white chocolate options – all delicious.

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Back on the bus and we are really looking forward to meeting an ex-Parisian couple, Nathalie and Jerome who purchased the ruined Chateau Boutinet and 23 hectares of woodland and vineyard in 2011. Just outside the village of Villegouge, the land is south facing on a clay-limestone hillside, and the thing that you notice first from the driveway, is the large white Yurt that doubles as a function building and tasting room.

img_0983.jpgThey began their conversion to organic in 2017 but because of constraints put on them by the bank, have had to put the Chateau restoration on hold for a time. The forest that was growing in and around the main buildings have been cleared and they are only inhabiting the old ex-implement wing to the left at present in the hope to one day return the Chateau to its former glory and according to the early century photographs they have.img_0980.jpgCurrently selling 2/3 of their Merlot crop to the local co-operative for cash-flow, from the remaining 1/3, they produce their current 3 Boutinet wines – the one we will be trying today is the Clairet de Boutinet. Nathalie had to twist Jerome’s arm to get him to agree to the modern and stylish label she helped design on the Clairet bottle, especially as labelling of Bordeaux wines seems to follow a more traditional path.

Nathalie explained that most people have a misconception when it comes to what is known in English as Claret and that the French term is actually Clairet. Clairet today is similar to the light wine of the middle ages that was exported to England and also called “vinum clarum” and “vin clar” and where the English name Claret actually comes from. The problem is that us English tend to think of Claret as a heavy red wine, which is actually not Claret at all! Nathalie explains that Clairet (similar to a rosé perhaps?) should be a perfect companion to enjoy with a barbecue salad, cold cuts and tapas!  It is considered a speciality of the Bordeaux region but Nathalie was still quick to point out that it is not a rosé.

Their other two vintages, the Château Boutinet and Thalie de Boutinet are described as fuller, rounder and more elegant wines, but right now I’m sticking with the Clairet which were enjoyed with the bread, cheese and strawberries bought from the market, while the rain came down outside of our French Yurt!

This hard-working couple deserve to do well and offer a range of add-on aspects to their business such as hiking through the vineyards, followed by homemade tapas accompanied by their own wines – in the sun or if raining – in the Yurt!

Back on the River Royale in the afternoon, we set sail back to Bordeaux and our docking place outside of the spectacular Cite du Vin. Unfortunately when we arrive there, two French Navy destroyers have “taken our dock” but in the spirit of reconciliation, the Captain decided not to argue with them and proceeds a few minutes back down to the Quai des Chartrons for the night.

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DAY 4 : River Cruising with Uniworld – BORDEAUX VINEYARDS & CHATEAUX …

A peaceful night’s sleep was had after the River Royale docked last night on the Avenue du General de Gaulle in Libourne, the Bastide town founded by the English Lord Roger de Leybourne of Kent and built to protect the citizens of the town during the “100 Years” wars. Libourne hosts one of the largest weekly food markets in the region and is the wine-making capital of the Northern Gironde.IMG_0972After another foray into the extensive selection of breakfast goodies, we are visiting one of the “holy grail” wine areas of  Bordeaux, where serious wine lovers, snobs, aficionados and just plain guzzlers like us all want to have visited – yes it’s the appellation and town of St Emilion, a commune in the South West Gironde and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Full of steep, narrow cobbled streets, Romanesque churches and ruins from various periods in history, it has more wine shops that you could shake a stick at. Growing some of the finest Bordeaux red wines, the main grape varieties grown are Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from which most St Emilion wines are typically blended.img_0578.jpgThis area was the site of the first vines introduced to France by the Romans as early as the 2nd century and the limestone slopes surrounding the village and making up the St Emilion appellation, sit on the slopes of the Dordogne river and cover an approximate area of 5,400 hectares. Amazingly, St Emilion appellation only represents around 6% of the total Bordeaux wine production.img_0581.jpgLand prices in the St Emilion region of France appear to be some of the most valuable vineyard lands per hectare and most of it is tightly held in large Chateaux or estates so rarely changes hands. Saint Émilion wines were not included in the 1855 Bordeaux classification but rather have their own formal classification system which was begun in 1955 and is regularly reviewed for quality, unlike the 1855 classification. Because of this prestige, the land and Chateaux are grand and most often pristine. img_0752.jpgThe village itself is definitely worth visiting but I warn you – it’s very popular with the tour buses and so you need to get there early or be on an escorted tour because you won’t have a show of seeing anything worthwhile without a guide – except of course the sweeping views across hectares of vineyards. The village is largely uninhabited now that it has become such a tourist mecca. Some of the cobbles in the streets are round and quite hard to walk on but the French describe this process as “walking on the heads of the English”. Nothing sinister, but apparently when the old wine ships came back empty from an English trade run, they had to fill their holds with ballast. That ballast was often stone from the English coast, so it was an enterprising and sensible use of unwanted stone.

One of those very special things you can only enjoy with a formal guide (and with Uniworld it is one of the many all-inclusive excursions on your cruise) is a visit to the catacombs and original hermitage of Emilion, the 8th-century monk who dedicated himself to a life of poverty and whose first church was carved from the rock. The guide needs a special key from the Tourism office and entry is strictly controlled.

The first stop on the tour is the only part that is above ground – the Holy Trinity Chapel. Built by Benedictine monks on top of the hermitage to protect it, the wall and ceiling frescoes in here date from the 13th century and are only relatively vivid because the building was used for a number of years post Revolution, by a cooper. The soot from the fires used in the making of barrels formed a protective layer and preserved the paintings so that when they were cleaned a little over a decade ago,  conservators were able to reveal something of their original splendour. Unfortunately, no photos allowed.

Directly below the chapel is the hermitage, the original cave where the young Emilion, made his home after fleeing the notoriety that accompanied miracles he had performed in Brittany, lived twelve hundred years ago. The cave is small, but a crude bed and chair were carved into the wall and a small spring that flows through the cave and is said to hold magical powers.

Across from the hermitage is the entrance to the catacombs and the monolithic church, which was apparently built because the hermitage had become a major pilgrimage site on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrims walk. According to folklore, Emilion’s body was laid there, underneath a dome that was carved to replicate the dome above Jesus tomb and once open to the sky for Pilgrims to peer down into, but now sealed. We made our way in the semi-darkness along passages lined with openings where bodies were once laid and then into the massive church space – entirely carved from limestone and the largest of its kind in Europe. Two enormous original rows of columns support the ceiling; are now surrounded by metal bars, put in place to support the compromised limestone and the weight of the bell tower above. Originally, the walls would have been decorated with colourful frescoes, but since the church was used as a saltpetre factory during the French Revolution (saltpetre occurs naturally on damp dark walls and is harvested literally by scraping it off), only faint traces of painting and carved decoration remain. Interestingly, many of the carvings were quite pagan, including signs of the zodiac which are rarely found in churches.

Our tour guide informed us that some believe the “Holy Grail” may, in fact, be hidden somewhere in St Emilion – but we didn’t find it on this visit!

Our tasting programme began with a visit to Chateau Fonroque, a Grand Cru Classé estate now operated under strictly organic and biodynamic principles – and the first Grand Cru Classé vineyard to gain certified biodynamic status. Our very interesting guide was Caroline and she showed us first the vines and then some of the equipment used in brewing the many natural insect and disease control methods that they are trialling, including infusions of herbs such as mint and chamomile.

After a brief tour of the working winery, it was off to the tasting room to sample their 2011 vintage which was very good and a nice end to the day’s touring.

 

All on the tour agreed that the St Emilion visit was a not to be missed experience and that a visit to Bordeaux would not be complete without it.

IMG_0967Back to the River Royale for another tough cocktail hour followed by another delicious 4-course dinner!

 

 

 

 

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DAY 3 : River Cruising with Uniworld – BORDEAUX VINEYARDS & CHATEAUX …

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!….)

IMG_0732According 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.img_77581.jpgWalking 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.blaye-citadel.jpgBack 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”.img_7763-e1522931589906.jpgLegend 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!figue-de-bourg-1-500x500A 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.IMG_7706

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….img_7762.jpg

 

 

 

 

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DAY 2 : River Cruising – BORDEAUX VINEYARDS & CHATEAUX

DAY 2 : Uniworld Boutique RiverCruise Collection – BORDEAUX VINEYARDS & CHATEAUXIMG_0747 2Our first day of introductions to the diverse wine districts of Bordeaux. It was Sauternes today – the sweet white wines of Southern Bordeaux, traditionally considered a dessert wine, the industry is keen to display how versatile these wines really are.

When taking you on excursions, Uniworld splits the cruise into smaller groups so that when you visit a destination, you travel with only around 30 other guests which is really practical, and so we head off on a coach to the small area of Bommes and the vineyard Chateau La Tour Blanche (or the White Tower) for some tasting. The ship sails on to Cadillac and meets us later in the day.img_7647-2.jpgChateau La Tour Blanche was prestigiously ranked a ‘Premier Cru’ or ‘first growth’ in 1855 and when its last owner died in 1907, he bequeathed the estate to the French government on the proviso that they set up and ran a practical, non-fee wine school for budding viticulturists. The unique microclimate and a nifty little fungus called botrytis cinerea conspire to turn some of the bunch’s fruit into highly sugar concentrated, crystallised fruits which in turn contribute to the unique fruity and spicy character of Sauternes. Served chilled they are a delicious aperitif but also pair well with many other foods – as we were to later learn.IMG_0769 2

 

Back on the bus and off to a memorable luncheon at the Chateau Royal De Cazeneuve. With faultless food presentation and taste and a magnificent selection of Sauternes matched to each course, we were guided through the history of the Chateau and the characteristics of the wine throughout the meal.

This 12th-century Chateau once belonged to Henri IV of France and contains an authentic and original collection of furniture and artefacts. The current owner who is descended from the royal line of former owners was on hand to greet us and provide information on the history of the chateau. Uniworld’s own professional guides had an exceptional knowledge of both wine, the region and the history of the chateau, so all in all, a very valuable and educational day.

Back onto the ship late afternoon, we had time to freshen up and put on our glad rags for the welcome reception and gala dinner. We were warmly welcomed by the entire management staff including the Captain and after a few glasses of bubbles and canapes enjoyed an outstanding 4-course dinner which surprisingly was very easy to “fit in”. I put it down to the excellent wines assisting greatly with the digestion process! For those of us who stayed up until midnight, we were treated to a magnificent experience of passing under the Pont de Pierre Bridge and viewing the night skyline of Bordeaux as we headed back to the city port.IMG_7683 2

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Europe Food France Gardens History

DAY 1 : River Cruising – BORDEAUX VINEYARDS & CHATEAUX

DAY ONE : Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection – BORDEAUX VINEYARDS & CHATEAUX

E62FFFCA-31E6-494B-AC8B-94E898E5D874It’s a bit of a grey day in Bordeaux but that was all forgotten when we crossed the Quay des Chartrons and stepped aboard the RIVER ROYALE. Welcomed warmly aboard with a minimum of fuss, we were shown to our impressive stateroom which was immaculate and where every little detail had been considered.

Afternoon tea snacks and drinks in the comfortable and inviting bar were the next steps before being formally welcomed on board and starting to mingle with the other guests. Presented with an impressive programme for the week, we began to relax and get just a little excited! Dinner was delicious and served on the Bordeaux deck by efficient and friendly waiting staff who gladly recommended regional wines with each course -needless to say, the 4-course dinner was exceptional.

781BE33B-89B3-4F9D-9313-3154D18ECF40Most of the guests are North American, with only 2 Brits, 2 Kiwis (us) and 2 Aussies so that’s about 106 Americans but we can handle it! Bedtime was a treat with the special English Savoir beds and a pillow menu to choose from. We slept like babies – the staterooms are very quiet and dark and you feel like you’re floating in your bed which was just as well as we have a serious day of wine tasting coming up tomorrow!…..over and out. 

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