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Bordeaux: A river cruise through one of the world's great wine regions

Time:2018-10-10 07:17wine - Red wine life health Click:

Destination relative River Food & Wine

Miroir d'Eau at Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux.

Miroir d'Eau at Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux. 

Ah, the great rivers of Bordeaux. The Dordogne, the Garonne, and the funnel-shaped estuary of the mighty Gironde. But then there are the rivers of another sort – the Merlot, the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet Franc, the Sauvignon Blanc, the Semillon and the Muscadelle.

If you like rivers – and you like wine – it seems only logical to blend the two on a river cruise in one of the world's great wine regions, waking up every morning to a town with a name you have only ever seen on a bottle.

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There is an easy flow to a river cruise that's very different to being on the high seas; but that doesn't mean it isn't exciting, busy or, indeed, strenuous. You can tramp through vineyards on 12-kilometre hikes, cycle 30 kilometres of country roads on small but sophisticated e-bikes, and tour any number of enchanting chateaux and citadels, knowing you can collapse back on board each night for dinner, accompanied – but of course – by the wines of the region.

La Cite du Vin Wine museum, Bordeaux.

La Cite du Vin Wine museum, Bordeaux. 

Or you can just sit on the rooftop deck with a glass of merlot as the setting sun lights up the water, and celebrate the fine art of doing nothing at all.


The launching pad for the cruise is the city of Bordeaux, a city built on rivers of wine. Romans started planting vines here in the first century AD, and the city evolved as one of the world's great trading hubs, thanks to the waterways leading to the Atlantic and beyond.

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Just 500 kilometres southwest of Paris (and a little over two hours by fast train), Bordeaux has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, with a multimillion-euro urban redevelopment driven by the city's mayor, former French prime minister Alain Juppe.

In the past 20 years, the once dark, grime-covered 18th-century buildings have been cleaned, major traffic-jammed streets pedestrianised, a sleek, silent tram network installed, and the river banks cleared to create a four-kilometre riverside park. It's a romantic city in which to wander and get lost.

And then there's the world's largest reflecting pool, the riverside Miroir d'Eau, designed to reflect the majestic symmetry of the Place de la Bourse opposite. The Miroir's constantly bubbling fountains and mists of vapour derive from water, however, and not from cabernet sauvignon. Seems like a missed opportunity, Monsieur Juppe.


The bold, golden glass curves of Bordeaux's La Cite du Vin are designed to evoke that almost sacred moment when wine is swirled in a glass to release its aromas.


The massive, €80 million, interactive museum tells the story from the beginning – Georgia, Armenia, Egypt, and more recently (!), ancient Rome – proving that the history of wine-making runs parallel with that of civilisation itself. "The world of wine is bigger than Bordeaux, bigger than France", says museum director Philippe Massol.

A stop at the aroma bar is a must, where you can sniff your way through typical wine aromas such as leather and licorice. "Everything here is to help you experience the culture of wine," says Massol. The tour finishes, quite rightly, with a glass of wine in the rooftop bar.


Our floating wine bar – sorry, cruise ship – is the sleek Scenic Diamond, completely refurbished in 2017 to allow generous public spaces for just 155 passengers. It's long (135 metres) and low, enabling it to glide under the historic stone bridges that arch across the Garonne, built by Napoleon to transport his troops.

Downtown in the city of Bordeaux, France.

Downtown in the city of Bordeaux, France. 

Apart from the large, comfortable bar where daily briefing sessions are held by the redoubtable cruise director Tania Mirao, there are two dining rooms (with free seating), a salt therapy room, gym, spa and rooftop vitality pool. Cabins are cleverly designed with plenty of storage, excellent beds clad with Egyptian cotton, computer, balcony and fully stocked minibar. In fact, there's (all-inclusive) booze everywhere you turn, from Moet champagne at breakfast to espresso martinis at midnight. We're going to have to pace ourselves.


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