If you are wine aficionado you have perhaps been thinking about spending some time in the Bordeaux area. Imagine visiting the Médoc, Graves and Sauternes regions. Dream about wine tastings in the cellars of prestigious Châteaux. What about a week?
I think I have the right formula for you.
A river cruise!
Indeed, during Easter I had the opportunity to join the first AmaWaterways river cruise starting from the city of Bordeaux. And trust me, discovering this area over the waters of the Gironde Estuary has no peer. Let me explain why.
The ship –AmaDolce– is like a mobile boutique hotel. During the seven-day cruise Captain Louis safely and comfortably sailed the floating hotel with 71 rooms from Bordeaux to Cadillac, Pauillac, Blaye, Bourg and Libourne.
How easy: never did I have to pack and unpack. My room, or better, cabin, was serviced twice a day by lovely Georgina. I don’t know if she had access to a corridor CCTV, but each time I came back from breakfast my cabin was clean again.
The hotel & cruise staff really impressed me. On day two it felt as if everybody knew who I was. Never did I have to tell the two ladies at the reception which my stateroom number or name was. Cruise director Eliane treated me as if I was a good friend (and that’s the way I like it).
The view from my cabin #207
The onboard food was superb, not only because of the Chef’s creativity and the quality of ingredients. There was so much variety that it felt almost as eating in another restaurant day after day. The ship even has two restaurants: one main dining room, and one smaller “Chef’s Table” restaurant where each guest can dine once a week.
Although I try to slow down on carbs I was impressed by the choice of freshly baked bread. Other moments where the Chef really got my attention was when we got a seafood buffet for lunch. Arcachon and its oysters were never far away, and the moules marinière in white wine –freshly prepared à la minute–were mouthwatering. And did I mention low carb? How to resist the cheese platter?
Food and (succulent) wines are included in the price.
Moules marinière in white wine
AmaWaterways always offers a selection of excursion possibilities (also included in the price). In each port guides and coach drivers were waiting to bring us to the wineries, villages, markets and what have you.
The quality of the excursions was high. All guides were top notch, and fluent in English. I particularly liked the fact that AmaWaterways have put a considerable effort to bring exclusive experiences, where other companies don’t go. One example was the Bazas market, where the locals stared at us as if no other tourist ever visited the place. On another market, in Créon, guests were given the opportunity to taste cured meats, bread and cheeses. The Bordeaux area is so much more than wine only.
I also liked the quality of the busses (some were new), and the fact that there was always ample space.
Visiting the market in Bazas
Tasting of “Jambon Matanza”
A morning walk in the Château Mouton Rotschild domain
A visit to La Terrasse Rouge in Saint-Emilion
Another plus was the flexibility. After all you are on holiday, and you might want to change your mind. It was very easy to decide last minute to cancel or alter a visit.
A surprise evening in Bourg…
…including some dancing (after a couple of glasses of wine)
My absolute favourite excursions were the bicycle tours. The ship has a fleet of bikes, which can be used for free, on your own, or on guided tours. I grabbed every opportunity to bike, no matter what the weather was.
The most memorable bike excursions were from Libourne to the village of Saint-Emilion, driving through the vineyards, and the rather athletic ride along the shores of the Gironde from Blaye to Bourg, where we were beaten by our ship, which arrived first.
Christiane, our guide, and AmaDolce behind
And of course, this trip was about wine, wine and even more wine. After seven days my knowledge about the Bordeaux wine region has increased considerably. Not only did we learn about the different areas by going there, also by tasting some of the best “Crus”. We were shown the different types of soil, and the geographic effects on the grapes, such as the proximity of the sea, or the location on the left or right bank of the Gironde.
I also discovered that the “Château” does not always mean castle. Many producers use the name for marketing reasons, even if their base is just a farm.
Visit of the Château de Rayne Vigneau (Sauternes), followed by a tasting
Château Gruaud Larose (Saint Julien)
Château Gruaud Larose gave us the chance to taste four wines
Château Soutard, Saint-Emilion
Tasting in Château Soutard, followed by a bus ride back to the ship. Drinking and biking was not allowed.
Conclusion: the waters of the rivers Dordogne and Garonne, and of the Gironde Estuary are the perfect “road” to access the vineyards of the Bordeaux region. Visiting this area by ship can’t be more logic.
As a bonus the cruise starts and ends in Bordeaux, a fabulous city to discover. This history-rich city has acquired its wealth by virtue of its seaport. The ship berths on the Quay ds Chartrons, within walking (or biking) distance of the heart of Bordeaux.
For more information please visit the Amawaterways website, or contact your travel agent.
Photos and text: Mike