Our ship was docked at Quai des Chartrons in the heart of Bordeaux, on a curve of the tidal river Garonne. Our itinerary took us via the Gironde estuary to Blaye and Bourg, along the Dordogne river to Libourne, and then back up stream to Pauillac and Cadillac.
Excursions included visits to local châteaux and vineyards, country hikes and guided bike rides with plenty of wines to taste. The Bordeaux region produces an astonishing 44 million cases of wine every year!
From Libourne we enjoyed a panoramic drive through stunning scenery to the picturesque town of St Emilion, with quaint shops, cobbled streets and a monolithic church with an underground burial chamber. Then we went to Château de Ferrand, purchased in 1978 by Baron Bich of Bic razor fame, and tasted the Grand Cru Classe wines. This vineyard is 75 acres and 30 pickers take about three weeks to do the picking. Many vineyards are now owned by insurance companies or have received investment from actors such as Gerard Depardieu, as winemaking is such an expensive business. A handmade oak barrel can cost as much as €1,000!
The region has a huge variation in soil type and climate, so the wine produced all depends on these factors, or the terroir as it is known. Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant grape, usually blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc or Malbec before bottling for a more consistent taste. I was surprised to learn that the rules over what can be written on the label are more strict than quality control for the wine itself.
The next day in Blaye we took a guided bike ride round the Citadel then pedalled up and down gentle hills through the vineyards, where we were surprised to see a ribbon of pink coming towards us. It turned out to be hundreds of locals on a breast cancer charity walk, all they all waved and shouted 'Bonjour!' as we stopped to let them pass.
We found the Sauternes region, 25 miles south east of Bordeaux, to be very different, and picking was still in progress when we arrived. The Garonne and its tributary the Ciron produce a mist in the autumn which covers the vines and causes 'noble rot' to develop, then the afternoon sun dries out the juice in the grapes until they turn brown and resemble raisins. This makes the wine concentrated and very sweet, certainly not my favourite.
On the way back to the ship we visted Roquetaillard Castle, with its fabulous interior decoration and restored paintings, occupied by the same family for over 700 years. Our guide was a very knowledgeable English lady who looked as if she had been gardening before we arrived. When we got back on our bus her secret was revealed - she was the grandmother of the current family living there.
On our final day docked in Bordeaux we enjoyed a guided bike ride through the back streets, along the elegant waterfront and finishing at the Wine Museum for an informative self-guided walk through 20 themed areas which immerse your senses, with a tasting session on the 8th floor included in the ticket price. The glass balcony has a 360-degree view of the town.
Captain Laurent, our cruise director Dragan and the friendly crew made the trip extremely enjoyable, and this is a fantastic region to explore for wine connoisseurs.