Drifting along the Dordorgne and Garonne rivers with CroisiEurope

Marion Ainge savours more than a taste of French wine and her first oyster!

Situated in the heart of the Nouvelle Aquitaine area, the enchanting Medieval village of Saint Emilion might be small but it’s big enough to boast 75 wine shops.

On this CroisiEurope Garonne and Dordogne river cruise, explore vineyards and visit other attractions within the heart of the Bordeaux wine region.

Our ship

Cyrano de Bergerac

Streamlined, stylish and shining white in the afternoon sunlight, the Cyrano greets me as, excitedly, I step aboard to see smiles of welcome from Luana, entertainer/receptionist from Portugal and other members of the crew. It’s easy to get around and you don’t need a map ! There are 87 air-conditioned cabins with a capacity for 174 passengers. Free wi-fi, too.

My cabin

In minutes I’m in my top deck, spacious double room which has a full width sliding window enabling splendid views of the ever-changing scenery, loads of storage space, a small, well-fitted shower room and a very comfortable double bed.. All cabins sit above the waterline and have tea/coffee-making facilities.

Onboard the Cyrano de Bergerac

Launched in France in 2013, a Cyrano package includes a varied, interesting selection of excursions. All members of the multi-nationality, French/English speaking crew are friendly and attentive. Always smiling, it’s evident they genuinely care about guests and do all they can do keep everyone happy, well-fed and entertained. The target audience is over-50s, but on this cruise the average age is perhaps 60s and 70s, with some in their 80s. CroisiEurope‘s cruises in France attract a lot of French passengers but also British, American, Swiss, Belgian and German guests.

On board

Cyrano de Bergerac terrace

Facilities and Entertainment

There are plenty of chairs and recliners on the sun deck.. The bright, modern bar and lounge area features a dance floor. Evening entertainment includes fun quizzes, games and lots of dancing. I’m up on the floor almost every night and dance with purser, Pedro, from Portugal (who also plays the guitar for us) fellow purser Didier from France and inspiring passenger 88 year-old Roger from Paris who shows a few impressive moves. Hostess, Tatiana, from Portugal has a great singing voice. On our last evening, two female ‘French Cabaret’ artistes certainly surprise the audience. Oh la la! It was all frills, feathers and frou frou! A big girl with a huge voice opened the show in a bold red frilly dress. Then, wearing not much more than a thong, black high boots and a sparkly bra, the next entertainer strutted and posed around the dance floor. Some of the men nearly choked on their peanuts! A few of the wives didn’t look too happy!

Dining on the Cyrano de Bergerac

It’s a French craft with a French chef and lots of French passengers, so you’d expect the food to be good and it is – excellent in fact. In the elegant restaurant, the hot and cold breakfast is buffet style with three, sometimes four, set courses at lunch and dinner. Presentation is polished and delicious meals are linked to local gastronomy. Our gala dinner begins with oysters followed by foie gras, quail fillet in a port wine sauce , roasted Cabécou cheese on toast with balsamic vinegar and strawberry foam then the finale, traditional dessert finale Baked Alaska flamed in Grand Marnier arrives.

Our excursions

Château Laffitte Carcasset, St Esteph

Royan

Situated on the Atlantic coast, Royan is a seaside resort in the Charente Maritime region of Nouvelle Aquitaine. The Belle Epoque villas contrast with the modern, post war architecture, such as the Notre Dame de Royan Church. At the Château Laffitte Carcasset we savour a taste of their renowned Medoc, harvested from the best wines in the appellation.

La Corderie Royale rope-tying

Rochefort and La Rochelle

A port on the Charente Estuary in south west France, Rochefort is built on drained marshland. The surrounding protected wetlands with their luminous beauty, are a haven for birds, otters, flora and fauna and a fertile oyster-producing area.

Within the Corderie Royale Internationale Museum, which dates back to 1666, ropes were produced for the French Navy. In the seamanship workshop, we watch a demonstration of marine knots. I’m invited to try my hand at producing a rope. Well, actually, I just turn the handle of a 19th century machine.

La Rochelle harbour

La Rochelle

The harbourside of the fascinating 1,000 year-old town is packed with rugby union supporters awaiting the Heineken Champions Cup Final match v Ireland’s Leinster to be shown on big screens. (La Rochelle won by 27 points to 26).

The old town has half-timbered, Medieval houses and Renaissance architecture, including passageways covered by 17the century arches. The iconic twin towers frame the harbour on the Bay of Biscay.

Wine Tasting

Marion tastes Saint Emilion Grand Cru at Vignobles Merias

Saint Emilion

‘When you’re in Saint-Émilion, I hope you can try some Saint-Émilion grand cru,’ said my son, who’s a bit of a wine buff! The opportunity comes at our visit to the Vignobles Mérias, Château Cadet Pontet, owned by the Mérias family for five generations. The vineyards, located on the clay limestone hills, cover almost 22 acres of vines, most of which are around 40 years old. Their sought-after grand cru is rich, full-bodied and complex with good ageing potential. (Minus the rich, sounds like me!)

The charming, Medieval village of Saint-Émilionhas around 2,000 inhabitants and 75 wine shops. After a light shower of rain, the narrow, steep, winding, cobbled streets look slippery, but fellow passenger Roger, 88, perseveres using his walking stick, with the rest of us. Unsurprisingly, it’s dark inside the monolithic 12th century underground limestone church. At 38 metres long and 12 metres high, it’s huge and possibly was built underground as Medieval Christians associated caves with Jesus.

Marion at the Chateau Simon vineyard

At Château Simon in Barsac we meet Pauline and Anne Laure Dufour, owners of the 200 year-old family business and taste the sweet notes of their golden-hued Sauternes.

Oysters at Arcachon Bay

We leave the Cyrano moored in Bordeaux, a city of classical buildings and 8th century architecture to travel to the upmarket Arcachon Bay. A 2/3 bedroom villa can cost around 3000 euros per week to rent. But visitors also come to taste the oysters, 30 million tons of which are farmed per year, providing 80 per cent of Europe’s supply. At La Maison de Huitre (The Oyster House) we learn about the farming process before sampling them at a specialist restaurant. It takes determination and a deep breath for me to try this acclaimed delicacy. But, with fellow diners watching me, I couldn’t lose face!

I love France and I loved this cruise. Thank you CroisiEurope.

Find out more

Visit CroisiEurope for further information and details on how to book their many European cruise and barge-sailing itineraries.

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Marion Ainge

Freelance travel writer & member of the International Travel Writers’ Alliance

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