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BORDEAUX


T


he comfortable wooden handrail of the Bordeaux river promenade looks as though it belongs to an oceangoing ship. Facing the Atlantic tide as it forces salty water into the Gironde


river mouth and forges upstream to the Dordogne and Garonne, this is the perfect place to begin our journey into one of the most famous wine regions in the world.


Embarking the new riverboat Princesse D’Aquitaine, it is immediately obvious that we are an international group, with fellow passengers from France, Germany, Spain and even a small contingent from Bulgaria. We are all eagerly anticipating the first visit that has been announced for the next afternoon to one of the famous chateaux where Bordeaux wines are pressed, and we are treated to an early taster of some of the famous wine at dinner. Afterwards, an evening guided tour through the city is on offer – we stroll down the wide promenade with cyclists and skaters, passing families having a late picnic in the grass alongside. Opposite Bordeaux castle, an area as long and wide as a football field is fitted with small water jets, cooling the feet on hot summer days and giving a perfect reflection of the classicist waterfront for photographers. This “Miroir d’eau” was one of the features designed to give a new identity to the industrial city of Bordeaux, along with the marvellous promenade. The next day our first stop is Pauillac, the undisputed capital of Médoc wine. As Princesse D’Aquitaine docks, the old light-brown stone walls reflect the warm sunlight. On shore, we take a bus into the countryside, passing a small village and spotting a castle behind the next corner. The landscape is a wonderful mirage of vine, backed by the splendid river view and dotted with these evocative castles. Many here make their living with the pressing and sale of Bordeaux – and tourists are welcome to visit the region’s wine cellars, packed with their wooden barrels. At the chateaux we visit, everyone gets a chance to taste the dark and heavy red wine and glasses are filled right from the barrel: Bordeaux at its best, or “dans les meilleures conditions”. Back on the boat, we pass cliffs of white rock on the starboard side that are higher than the sun deck. The Princesse has now passed the meeting point of the Garonne and Dordogne and is heading towards the Gironde mouth. At Meschers, the river is as wide as a large lake, and the coast reminds experienced cruisers of Dover.


In the afternoon, the ship docks at Blaye, a small town with an even smaller harbour full of fishing


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Many here make their living with the pressing and sale of Bordeaux


Facing page Wine cellar Above Bordeaux local market


boats and sailing yachts. We focus on the rambling fortress that offers a splendid view over the river. Disembarking and continuing our quest for the perfect Bordeaux, we spy some small supermarkets offering a bottle for £1, while the better ones are only £5. We then have a hard time deciding whether to join some fellow passengers who go out to sample a good glass of wine, or stay in the boat’s show lounge for the Princesse’s crew show. Deciding to stay on board, we watch the boys and girls from the restaurant, the cabin service and even from the engine room doing their very best to line-dance, sing and even perform a little magic show. We all enjoy this light-hearted evening, and guests and crew grow together to become a cruise family! But even those passengers who were out and


didn’t see the show don’t feel as if they have missed out. French “savoir-vivre” doesn’t need a schedule or a timetable. Other than the fixed arrival and departure at Bordeaux airport, this trip is a week of freedom and all about living the good life. “Chacun à son gout” means that everybody creates his own way of life – maybe this is the reason there’s no printed programme on board. When I next look out at the view, the ship enters the narrow Dordogne and passes small castles and grand country houses, all of them surrounded by vineyards. We then move downstream in front of the Libourne riverside. The afternoon excursion brings


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ALL PHOTOS: OLIVER SCHMIDT


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