Having traveled to 149 countries in my 82 years, I consider myself a perfectionist. I am always looking for faults and/or problems during my travels. The room and/or bathroom was not clean; the front desk staff was not helpful; the drivers (taxi, car service, tour buses) were non-caring; the food was overpriced and of poor quality, etc. I rate a trip on a 0-5 scale. It is tough to get a zero or a five. Viking River Cruises invited me on a seven-night Bordeaux River Cruise. They gave me a single cabin on the Viking Forseti, plus round trip transportation on Air France. The Forseti is 443 feet long with 95 cabins.
Sunday morning we had a three-hour city tour by bus and foot. Included was an inside visit to the Museum of Aquitaine that highlights the history of Bordeaux. We spent some time at the Places des Quinconces, one of the largest squares in Europe. The city of Bordeaux has a population of about 250,000 and is visited by over six million people a year. The required safety drill followed lunch. When I asked where the lifeboats were Captain Chazot laughed. Most of our trip the water wasn’t deep enough for the boat to sink. My third floor would still be above water and the crew would have us jump in and walk to shore. We left Bordeaux at Noon for Cadillac, cruising the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers and arriving at 3:30PM. Later in the afternoon we went for a Sauternes tasting. Dinner was followed by a wine lecture in the lounge, showing the different Bordeaux varieties.
Monday morning we had a Cadillac city walk. It’s a charming city that is directly across the Garonne River from Sauternes and is known for producing sweet dessert wines under the Cadillac AOC designation. At 10:30 we left for Libourne. The free time before lunch was my opportunity to interview both the chef and food & beverage director. Chef Cesar Mata was born in Portugal and attended the Lisbon Hotel School. He has worked at the Ritz Hotel Lisbon and 5 years at Caesar Park Hotel in London followed by 11 years at Marriott. He has been the chef for the Portuguese national soccer team for eight years (part-time). This is his second year with Viking. He likes the fact that he gets time off for family visits. Food & Beverage Director Imre Csongradi has a wife and young daughter in Budapest. He attended Hungarian Economic University. He has worked on the Celebrity Saltise and at the 4 Seasons in Budapest, plus one year in Dubai. 3 ½ years ago he joined Viking and again he liked the time off to spend with his family. He worked on the North Seine, Rhone & now the Bordeaux cruise.
We overnighted in Libourne, arriving at 7:15 PM. The next day was my first optional tour, a full day (9 AM-5: 30 PM) of lunch and a tasting of the wines of Pomerol and St. Emilion. Our lunch was at Chateaux Siaurac with the proprietor Paul Goldschmidt. There was a 1½ hour walking tour of Libourne, including the farmers market. A walking tour of St. Emilion followed. I visited the church and then broke off from the group for a trolley ride through the vineyards ($10). The city of St. Emilion (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) had a lot of hilly streets with cobblestones throughout. After my trolley ride I took a short walk through the local wine shops near our bus location. Somehow a couple got lost and missed the bus back to the ship. We left for Bourg at 6 PM, arriving at 8 PM, where they caught up and joined us.
Day five we had a Blaye City Walk at 9 AM including a visit to the Citadelle de Blaye a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was part of my second optional tour to Cognac. We went to Caymus, which is privately owned. Hennessy (dominant), Courvoisier, Remy Martin and Martell produce 85% of the world’s Cognac. After learning the distillation process we blended our own Cognac from the four mail regions. Mine was 20% Fin Bois, 15% Borderies, 30% Petit Champagne and 35% Grand Champagne.
Day six we left Bourg at Noon (I walked a few blocks into town but there was really nothing to see or do). We cruised the Gironde River and arrived in Pauillac at 1:30 PM. After lunch (2:30-6 PM) the passengers split into four groups, each to visit different Margaux chateaux. Mine was Giscours. There was a photo opportunity at Chateaux Margaux and we all met at 5:30 PM at Chateaux Kirwan for dinner. The chef and dining room staff brought everything needed to Kirwan (the only thing missing was air conditioning; it was warm inside the dining room).
On our last full day there was a change of plans. We left Pauillac very early (5 AM) because of a change in tides. We arrived in Bassens (an industrial park) at 9 AM. I cancelled my private tour of Lafite Rothschild since we were now an hour away (should have been 10 minutes if not for the tidal changes) and a taxi would have cost me $75 each way. We arrived back in Bordeaux at Noon. I learned that the city was also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After lunch I walked the half-hour along the Chartron to my appointment at the City of Wine. This futuristic structure is one year old and has already been visited by over half-million people (80% French with the rest mainly from the US & Great Britain). On the main floor there is a bookshop, wine bar and casual restaurant. The wine boutique has over 14,000 bottles from 80 countries. On the second floor there are exhibition spaces including a circular room with 360-degree projections plus an explanation of the entire wine process. Everything there is interactive. The 8th floor (everything in between is office space) has a wine bar with a glass of wine included in the price of admission that is $22.50 US. There are fabulous views of the Garonne River and the Port of Bordeaux. I rode the tram two stops back to the ship.
Our farewell toast by the executive staff was followed by our final dinner. Saturday morning it was bags outside the door and we were off to the Bordeaux airport and then home to NYC. Trip Overall- Five Star PLUS. Great food and lots of wine (I never eat three full meals at home). I will get on the scale in a day or so but am afraid to look. Every employee was friendly, helpful and courteous. I was told they choose less experienced workers who have a winning personality and then train them. Mainly eastern European- Bulgaria, Croatia- Serbia etc.
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