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Our Director Shane has just returned from a 7 day River Cruise through France. Read all about it here…
Uniworld Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateau – Easily one of the best trips I have ever done!
Day 1 – Bordeaux
After travelling on the incredible Thai Airways, we landed into Paris. Often Charles de Gaulle airport gets a bad rap because it is large and made up of terminals which are joined by an interconnecting terminal rail service. My tip is be prepared and know where you need to get to. Once you have your head around where you need to be, it is a simple process. The biggest suggestion I can make is allow adequate time to clear security as in France they are very diligent!
On arrival into Bordeaux we were greeted by our Uniworld guide and transferred to Uniworld River Royale. The ship was docked along the river foreshore right in-front of what now is a great public precinct full of activity (especially on a weekend) and you are located in prime position to grab a drink and take everything in. The great thing about Bordeaux is that the foreshore flows directly to the old city so it is time to explore! I must say that check in process was seamless and everyone is issued a swipe on & off boarding card and allocated suites. Suites are not available until around 2.30pm however lunch is served and you are welcome to enjoy the ship and relax if you didn’t want to venture out.
The first night started off with a welcome and introduction from the Captain and the ship hotel manager before dinner. What I liked was it was short and informative however ensured that all passengers knew who the crew were and where to go if you had further information or questions to be answered. Uniworld have an understanding that people have travelled a long way and focus on making sure everyone has a chance to settle in. They deliberately place the welcome dinner on the second evening so that everyone is fresh and can take full advantage and enjoy the Captains welcome cocktails. To preface this cruise, I have to say the River Royal is one of Uniworlds original ships and last had a full renovation back in 2011. Uniworld is a global leader in River cruise super liners and exquisite quality. The River Royale is a ship that suits the Bordeaux region. It is boutique in nature and the cabin size is reflective of those in 2011, not the new super ships in Uniworlds fleet. The River Royale excels because her qualities are in the delivery and the quality of the ship. I was cruising with passengers that had been on 5 to 8 Uniworld itineraries including the super ships and all agreed the River Royale experience is one to savour! I love my food and I can only say dinner was exquisite. Absolutely stunning!
Day 2 – Bordeaux to Cadillac
It was a 6.15am departure and I was up and ready for sail-away. It is a great experience passing under the Bordeaux ‘old bridge’ which was commissioned by Napoleon (he never did see it finished) and towards Cadillac on the Garonne River. Almost 30 min short of Cadillac the ship came to a halt and the current changed direction as the tide came rushing through creating a reverse current and a surfable wave! I had never seen anything like this however the crew told us that keep our eyes peeled as you do see the odd surfer go past! After approximately 5 min normality was restored and the current returned to the natural direction.
Departing the ship for our feature inclusion, we boarded 3 luxury coaches. A key feature of the coach is the ‘business class’ room seating and the see-through dome panel on the ceiling which allows you to view the tops of the chapels and building above the coach line while you are driving. The included excursion passed many of the great Chateau’s of the Sauternes region before arriving at a selected tasting. Now I must warn you that the secret of the sweet wine in this region is due to the ‘noble rot’ or fungus on the grapes. So don’t be alarmed, the grapes are meant to look mouldy! The major highlight though is yet to come. We visit the Chateau Royale De Cazeneuve, the Castle of Queen Margot and Henry IV, King of France. Invited by the owner, the Count Sabran-Ponteves whose family has produced 5 Queens, 2 Kings, 2 Saints and a Pope. This spectacular Castle is a moated building in the country side (dry moat) and an incredible inclusion where we had an easy paced tour of all the rooms including the private rooms of the King and Queen before settling into the main dining room to lunch with paired sweet wine tasting. Be prepared as sweet wines are exactly that very sweet! But that’s what we are here for, new and incredible experiences. Chateau Royale De Cazeneuve really was a spectacular highlight of the day. At around 4pm, we boarded the ship and those that wanted could attend a presentation on the week’s itinerary schedule and activities. We also had a special presentation on World River Day and this global phenomenon to improve the world’s water quality. Tonight was the Captains welcome drinks and dinner. A spectacular 6 course dinner followed by a band and entertainment…. The cruise has officially kicked off on the dance floor!
Day 3- Bordeaux to Medoc & Pauillac
Today we cruised from Bordeaux to Medoc via the Gironde Estuary mooring at midday. Uniworld arrives right in-front of the Cussac Fort Medoc a UNESCO world heritage site. Here we learn of the importance of the fort and its roll in taxing the shipping lines and as a defence channel of the Sun King Louis 14.
The tour of the fort does not take long and we are soon on the road to the Cab-sav wine district of Pauillac. On the drive in we travel the prestigious ‘Chateau road’ see many beautiful Chateau’s and learn of the classification system placed on wineries back in 1855 by Napoleon III. Since that time only 2 wineries have been reclassified into the 1st classification. The area is striking as pretty much every winery has an exquisite Chateau to marvel at.
On arrival at the village of Pauillac the group enjoys a pre-selected activity. Winery tour by coach (broken into a faster pace and slower walking group) and the Go-Active push bike tour of the winery’s which of course I was quick to partake. The bike ride is a 15km undulating tour of the many vineyards. The scenery is beautiful and a real highlight. It also is good to try remove some of the incredible food that you have been eating on board. We stopped at Leoville Poyferre a 2nd classification winery for tastings, the first a 20 Euro bottle variety and the second an 80 Euro wine…. I will let you guess which may have been the best! Although I wouldn’t knock the other back a bottle of the other either!
As we cruised the backroads the scenery and Chateaus we pass become even grander (if that is possible) and as we are in the middle of harvest season the fields are abuzz.
We arrived back at the ship around 6pm in time to shower and change for pre-dinner drinks and ‘port talk’. Finally it was on to another incredible Uniworld dinner
Day 4 Blaye
Last night we overnighted in Blaye before cruising to the town of Bourg while enjoying breakfast. On arrival we travel by coach back to the town of Blaye. This gave us a chance to experience the destination by both river & road. The highlight was the walking tour of the Citadel of Blaye also known as the fortress of Blaye. This incredible walled city is amazing to see and 6 families still inhabit the old fort. There is housing for many more and there is a presage for living in the walled fort however most locals find the renovation & maintenance too expensive in this modern times. The fort was a vital part of the defence of the estuary and housed not only the castle but over 200 houses and soldiers quarters in it ‘hay’ day. Even today 6 residents still live/ work in the walled fortress.
Time in Blaye is short and if it is market day (as it usually is) then take the chance to walk back to the main street and soak up the local atmosphere and try a few of the local produce. Once back on-board the coach we travel the beautiful river drive of the Route de la Corniche fleurie. A road that is really used only by the locals that live there. The region was known as the captain’s area in the 1800’s as it was only accessible by boat. The strip also was strategically important during the second World War when the Germans occupied Bordeaux and was difficult to access.
Finally it is time to head back for an afternoon docked at the town of Bourg where it is an easy walk off the ship into town (or join a guided walk mid-afternoon). A beautiful town full of medieval gates and walls. My hint of the day….. as you are only 2 hours from Spain and the siesta ritually is well observed for the locals, don’t expect a lot of activity between noon and 2pm.
This afternoon there is an optional Uniworld collection offered for those that are interested to visit Chez Remy Martian Cognac. I didn’t partake on this occasion however the feedback was exceptional and those that travelled said the value they paid for was well worth it. Next time it is definitely on my list!
Day 5 – Libourne (Saint- Emilion)
Today we are docked in Libourne and board our 30min coach transfer to the beautiful village of Saint Emilion. We embarked on a guided city walking tour featuring the Monolithic church on the hill top town. The walking tour is easy paced however includes several steep cobble stone paths (so wear stable shoes) and a visit to the underground chambers and catacombs.
After spending two hours learning all the history of the town we say goodbye to those that take the Uniworld Collection optional cooking school group. For the rest of us we walk 250m to one of the local wineries that make this town so famous. There is a saying in the town it is about church and miracles OR wine! Here we sample the wine of the area… Merlot!
After the wine tasting and a guided tour of the production facilities including the underground caverns where we find the barrelled wine. The group then has a choice to travel back to the Rover Royal for lunch (with the option of a return later in the afternoon) or wander the towns many cafés and restaurants. To me it is a no brainer to join the locals and enjoy wine, baguettes and a coffee chaser in the busy square before wandering the cobble streets. There are transfers throughout the afternoon back to the ship so we are free to stay as long as we need to enjoy. So far this could be my favourite day of the tour!
Tonight we have booked to dine on the upper deck restaurant, the Blue Fox. The experience was incredible as we dines on the upper deck with 360deg views of Libourne in the background – exceptional!
Day 6 – Libourne to Bordeaux
This morning we stroll cross the banks of the river and into the town square of Libourne. Again all guests were able choose their pace of sightseeing and travel in smaller groups ensuring everyone the opportunity maximise their time in town. Today was a real highlight as it is village market day and we all head into town square. What really appealed the hands on experience you experience. Each group leader is local and has their favourite market stalls. So expect to sample the best of the local produce and indulge!
I had selected the Go Active group so we were soon walking back to the river side to collect our bikes for a tour through the countryside
This afternoon we are back on board for our cruise to Bordeaux. We retrace our steps along the river before enjoying dinner and arriving in Bordeaux around 8.30 -9pm
Tonight we hop on an open top bus and enjoy a Bordeaux under the stars. What an amazing way to see the city! It allows us to also go to locations that during the day would be impossible to see by foot! Have your camera ready the city is alive, vibrant and a perfect relaxing way to take it all in!
Day 7 – Bordeaux
Today is Bordeaux day! There are a selection of pace sightseeing options again. But whichever group you choose you will cross paths in town. I again selected the Go Active bike tour and I am not sure if it was the slight drizzle to start or the rest of the regular group had fatigued after a week on the bike (lol) but the small group of 7 of us were off and out to explore. What a great way to maximise your time and opportunity to see the sights. 3.5 hrs and we covered everything from the evening tour and more! What is great about Bordeaux is that it is perfectly designed to walk or ride through the streets. The locals seem to embrace the tourist flocking through the streets in the morning… but be aware that come midday the city becomes a walking town as the locals flock to the shops. Join the hoards in the longest pedestrian shopping mall in Europe or if you are like me walk 150m down the mall, find a small local restaurant and people watch!
The afternoon is free so most of us stayed in the centre of town for the afternoon before returning for the farewell dinner on the ship and the last night party.
In review, this itinerary and experience on Uniworld is one I definitely won’t forget. With the option to choose your own pace every passenger on this itinerary was left feeling that the program was tailored for them individually. I also think that when people tell you they are on their 3rd, 5th and 8th Uniworld experience ….. You know it’s an exceptional way to travel!
If you are comparing all the River cruise products I am more than happy to assist you match the perfect cruise company to your needs. Having travelled on many of them I can honestly say Uniworld sits right at the pinnacle with the best on offer!