With much anticipation, we took the TGV from Paris to Bordeaux to embark on our first multi-day European river cruise. The city’s tram provided easy transport and we boarded the Viking Forseti early afternoon. The sleek vessel’s contemporary interiors and abundant floor to ceiling windows provided a bright, airy look. With a maximum capacity of 190 passengers, it was a totally different experience from the ocean liners that we were accustomed to.
We arrived in time for a quick buffet lunch. More so than other cruise lines, I noticed that much of the offerings were absolutely bite-sized to minimize wastage. It’s a nice ship with decent food, service, and a relaxed atmosphere. My pet peeve is the lack of exercise facilities on all Viking River Cruise ships. I understand these are small vessels, and many of its passengers are north of retirement age, but there must be active seniors who appreciate a work out!
There was an unexpected city orientation walk after lunch, so we brought our room-assigned headsets on the quick tour. We learnt about Mayor Alain Juppé’s enterprising scheme to revitalize the town’s grimy 18th & 19th century architecture and run down waterfront during the 1990’s. The city has been a major wine trading center since the 1700’s and wine traders are still headquartered up and down the Garonne River. In fact the Bordeaux biennial Vinexpo remains the premier trade show for the industry today.
Although the distances are exceedingly short between ports on this cruise, there is one wildcard when travelling in these very tidal waterways: the itinerary is entirely subject to change. When and how you get to the next port is a daily surprise and prior cruises had seen passengers bused into ports multiple times due to extreme tides!
Nicknamed La Belle Endormie (Sleeping Beauty), Bordeaux is finally waking up and showing its charms. By providing financial incentives to restore the blackened limestone structures to their former glory, the city now boasts having the largest number of preserved historical buildings outside of Paris.
I came across this unusual book case that’s lined with old newspapers. It can be a neighborhood library or maybe it’s a book donation box?!
I heard about the cavernous Marché des Capucins, aka ‘belly of Bordeaux’ and stumbled upon it in my wanderings. The venerable institution is the largest market in the city, overflowing with colorful flowers, veggies, baked goods, meat, seafood and food stalls.
Pintxos are skewered bites of meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, or any combination there of, and are commonly served with bread. The bar snacks are popular in northern Spain and its Basque region, but I’ve found these tasty morsels in France and Italy (especially Venice)!
Chez Jean-Mi does brisk business with its fresh seafood platters. It’s a no frills eatery with customers stuffed cheek to jowl, but a set menu of 6 oysters with a glass of wine for 7€ is also an unbeatable price!
Leaving Bordeaux, our ship went up the Gironde River to Pauillac, a sub-region of the Médoc AOC. Grand chateaux, including 3 of the 5 Premiers Crus, and numerous wineries dotted its countryside.
No we didn’t stop for wine tasting at Château Mouton Rothschild – we just got to see the estate as we whizzed by!
Château Prieuré-Lichine in the Margaux appellation hosted one of our wine tastings. We checked out their extensive gift shop afterwards.
The ship’s chef and kitchen staff prepared dinner for all the passengers at Château Kirwan and paired its menu with the winery’s vintages. It was certainly a fun and memorable evening!
The following day found us strolling the ruins of Blaye’s former fortifications. Built above the Gironde, between 1686 and 1689, it prevented Bordeaux’s enemies from sailing on the estuary.
The Citadel is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. There’s a quaint little village inside the walls with art & crafts workshops, boutiques, restaurants and other tourist facilities.
The cat initially eyed the tourists warily but, being French, eventually remembered its priorities and focused on lunch instead…