Wine & Oysters in Aquitaine
I felt it was time to try a river cruise, and what better way than a slow boat through the vineyards of Bordeaux with a little wine tasting along the way?
Our beautiful home for the week was the MS Cyrano de Bergerac, one of CrosiEurope’s newer river boats. Just 5 years old this elegant vessel has everything you need to enjoy drifting along the famous Garonne and Dordogne Rivers and exploring the attractive countryside around Bordeaux.
This was a Saga holiday so, as always, Saga laid on the whole 9 yards in the form of door to door pick up – what a civilised start to any trip. No fuss with parking or traffic, just a lovely man to help you with your bags and whisk you to the airport.
Arriving in Bordeaux we are met by our Saga rep, Jennie, and joined the rest of our small group, before setting off by coach to take a tour of the city and to enjoy a leisurely lunch. Jennie arranged for us to board a little early and before long we are settling into our pretty perfectly designed cabin.
Our first dinner experience beckoned, and I was pleased to note that casual dress was the order of the day. No need for dinner jackets and evening wear unless you really want to. There is only one sitting for each meal and tables are allocated on arrival for the duration of the cruise, so you will soon get to know your fellow passengers. The light and airy dining room continued with the cheerful turquoise theme and the big picture windows insured great views. Breakfast is buffet style with hot items cooked to order. Lunch and dinner are from a set menu which is posted ahead of time should you wish to request alternatives. We found the food exceptional, imaginative and typically French. The accompanying wines were of a good standard and very generously offered throughout the meal. The holiday is all inclusive so unless you yearn for a premium champagne or wine your wallet can stay locked away for the week.
It soon become apparent that the crew of the Cyrano are the stars of the show. What a wonderful bunch they are, so friendly and helpful and although the ship is French you will have no problems with language as English is spoken throughout. Unlike a sea cruise, river cruises are much lower key when it comes to entertainment. That’s not to say you will feel short changed, quite the opposite. We laughed our way through the mid-week ‘Crew Show’ It was the first of the season and a few nerves were noticeable, but boy did those young people give their all and we all cheered and clapped and enjoyed every minute. On other nights we enjoyed a selection of music and lots of dancing. All the stops came out on the last night for the Captain’s Gala Dinner. The show piece was a secret menu of Foie Gras accompanied by a speciality wine, veal, cheese and finally the showstopper, a parade of baked Alaska complete with fireworks. Our meal was served with impeccable timing as we cruised leisurely along the pretty Bordeaux waterfront admiring the twinkling lights.
The majority of passengers on our trip were French but there is no mention of Brexit, (phew) just plenty of laughs along the way! On the first morning I find myself joining in with keep fit on the sundeck – amongst a group of exuberant French who delighted in my misunderstanding of all instructions. Actions speak louder than words most of the time!
We soon fall into a delightful and relaxing routine of eating, drinking, laughing – oh and wine tasting. Did I mention this is a wine cruise? As well as excellent wines from the Bordeaux region being served alongside each meal, the excursions enable us to explore the surrounding countryside and visit a number of vineyards. Firstly, the famous Medoc region and then a contrast as we enter Saint Emilion and finally the area that gives us sweet Sauternes. The excursions also give you the chance to appreciate the small towns and villages along the way such at Libourne, Cadillac, Pauillac and the ancient citadel at Blaye. As always you can opt to explore on your own and the beauty of river cruising is that the boats nearly always moor close to the town centres and walking is easy.
A word on excursions – they can seem expensive and it can be hard to choose in advance when you don’t know what the weather will be like or what you may feel like on the day. I can only suggest doing your research beforehand, so you can be prepared should you wish to go it alone. On this particular cruise the standard of the excursions was excellent and if you have an interest in wine then the chance to learn about the history, production and, of course, the end result, is a real treat and worth every penny. If coach travel is not for you there is the option to experience more active excursions such as biking, hiking or the ultimate memory of a helicopter flight over the Medoc region.
As a contrast to wine we had the chance to take a full day trip to Arcachon Bay. We stopped en route to taste and learn about oysters in the village of Larros and enjoyed a fishy lunch at a local restaurant. All washed down with beautiful wines – of course!
We continued on to the seaside area of Arcachon Bay and a took a windswept boat trip to see the oyster beds and the Dune de Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe. I wasn’t too excited by this and was wondering if I had done the right thing choosing this trip. But it turned out to be a great day out, the sand dunes are a spectacular sight and once we were back on dry land our coach took us to the foot of the dune where we climbed to the top to enjoy magnificent views.
This cruise gives you ample time to discover Bordeaux, a city with a rich history and understandably the city has UNESCO World Heritage status for it’s beautiful architecture. The Cyrano docked in the centre of the city and the riverfront is exceptionally attractive, particularly at night when the twinkling lights are reflected in the water.
Saga Holidays offer a selection of river cruises throughout the world, but if you fancy following in my footsteps then they are offering a special offer of 7 nights all-inclusive from £1,469 per person, based on 2 people sharing a Main deck cabin departing on 19 Oct 2018 onboard the MS Cyrano de Bergerac including offer discount, with flights from Gatwick to Bordeaux with the scheduled services of easyJet and British Airways on selected dates. You can find all the details here.
For more information on Bordeaux and surrounding areas visit https://uk.france.fr/en/bordeaux