Red, red wine you make me feel so fine….this really should have be my theme song for my most recent and first ever experience on a river cruise. This cruise specifically chosen since it is one of AmaWaterways wine cruises through the Bordeaux region of France.
If you’ve ever been out with me to dinner or for drinks you may know, I love wine. I not only love wine for the taste, but I appreciate the education and stories behind what makes wines from around the world so unique and different.
Similar to my love of travel, I always want to learn about history, different cultures and how the people are unique and different.
This river cruise couldn’t have combined travel and wine more perfectly. I decided to recap my trip journal style, picking out some of the pictures that represent the best of the AmaDolce boat and of Bordeaux region, captured by my husband, Jeremy, who not only shares these passions with me, but also a love of photography.
I have a feeling we may be combining travel and photography in another way really soon 😉
Take a glance at my journal, let me know what you think of the trip and of course, the pictures! I promise you will learn something new about wine, Bordeaux and about river cruising!
Embarkation Day: Thursday, September 14th
Today was embarkation day and what I’ve experienced in the past with ocean cruises is long lines and feeling like cattle being herded. The experience for a river cruise couldn’t feel more different. Since we flew into Bordeaux the night before and our cruise didn’t technically allow check in until 3pm, I had confirmed prior to the trip that we could bring our luggage in the morning, drop it off and have the day to ourselves to explore before sailing began.
Once we arrived at the port entrance, the AmaWaterways crew was swift to grab our luggage, not even allowing us to roll our bags to the front door. From that moment forward they didn’t allow us to lift a finger and made us feel like family.
After our bags were taken, we left the boat for the day and set off on foot, but first to find me a new hair straightener – I accidently blew the fuse to the device at the hotel that morning (oops!).
At first I thought this wouldn’t be a difficult task – find a drug store/pharmacy and pick up a new one. Well pharmacies in Bordeaux are just that, a pharmacy with vitamins and medicines, not what we would find at a Walgreens or CVS. As we continued to walk around, I noticed so many hair salons, or coiffures, that I decided to try asking where I could buy one.
A few failed attempts to find anyone that spoke English after using my very limited French and I was thinking there was going to be no luck to find a replacement. I decided to try one more salon and after struggling to communicate with these kind women working there, a gentleman heard me trying to explain hair straightener as I held my iPhone up with the translation to French, they simply thought I wanted to get my hair straightened. Thankfully, he spoke English and French and said he worked with all of the local salons in the area and to follow him.
Now, I am extremely skeptical while traveling, always remaining over-conscious of my surroundings and whom I speak to, but we decided to follow this gentleman who started to take us one by one to other salons, speaking on our behalf with the owners.
As we walked throughout this small town, he asked us questions to get to know us, made restaurant recommendations, simply the kindest man who went completely out of his way to help us, with no personal gain whatsoever, until he found us a shop with something to buy.
It is interesting how French people get a bad rap for being rude.
I think just as we don’t want to be generalized for what some Americans do, this same rule applies here.
This first positive impression wasn’t the last throughout the entire Bordeaux region. It didn’t matter where we went, we may not always have been met with a smile (smiling at everyone just isn’t part of every culture like it is in the US!) but as soon as we attempted to speak French, we found even those that didn’t speak a word of English attempted to help us each step of the way.
I snapped a photo of our new found friend (we never got his name unfortunately) but we continued on own city exploration visiting a lot of the sites including the Jardin Publique de Bordeaux, Tour Pey-Berland, St Andre Cathedral, Quinconces Monumental Square with the Monument of the Grondins. The architecture and quaintness of the city just left me in awe.
Bordeaux is the capital of the Aquitaine in Southwestern France and is one of the world’s undisputed wine capitals – again one of the major reasons why we chose this itinerary.
With so many cafes in the area, I did some research prior to the trip and found one that sounded perfect. (We actually liked it so much, we not only spent time there our first day, but also once we returned to Bordeaux after the cruise)
Bar a Vin not only had a great patio area for watching Bordeaux move in front of our eyes, but their selection of wines was perfect and at very affordable prices. Some of the glasses we paid 6 euro for (approx. $8US) we would have easily paid $25 a glass back home. After taking in the city from the patio for a few hours, we headed back to our home for the next 7 days, the AmaDolce, got to our cabin, unpacked and ready for a toast from our captain and cruise manager.
At first, we were a little curious to how the cruise would go, being that our only experience cruising was on mega ocean lines in the Caribbean, and this trip there would be only 115 other passengers traveling with us.
Little did we know when the bartender asked where we were from and we answered Charlotte, NC that two other couples sitting nearby heard, were also from the Charlotte area, and that we’d spent the remainder of the trip hanging out with them, only enhancing an already fantastic trip.
Day 1: Friday, September 15th
The AmaDolce headed up the Garonne river toward Cadillac this morning where we got to travel back in time to visit the historic castle of Roquetaillade and enjoy the famous Sauternes wine region. A wine that I had not ever tried, but walked away loving (especially with a really stinky Blue Cheese!)
We gathered with our new friends and hopped on the coach to our first excursion and were amazed at the well-preserved masterpiece of medieval military architecture.
The name Roquetaillade means “carved out of rock” and the castle was initially built in the 10th century by Charlemagne as his army advanced toward the Pyrenees.
The castle was then rebuilt in the 14th century by the noble family who still lives there today after 700 years.
Little did we know, as we didn’t find out until we had left, that our tour guide was actually a family member that lived in the castle!
From there our coach took us to the Sauternes wine region, which is located about 25 miles southwest of the city of Bordeaux. We toured Cheateau Guiraud and had a delicious tasting of their Grand Cru Classe wines.
If you’re not familiar with what Grand Cru Classe means, it is an official 1855 classification that only select wineries on the left bank of the Gironde Estuary are certified and the ranking and classification system was established to denote a winery’s reputation and quality, but those wineries can never lose the designation. This system is important to distinguish versus the Right Bank classification system which is a little different.
Within the 1855 Left Bank Grand Cru Classe list, wines are ranked and placed in one of five divisions: First to Fifth growth, the best of the best wines assigned the highest rank of “Premier Cru”, or first growth.
Ok, so back to tasting these highly sought-after sweet wines produced there!
Now I typically don’t like sweet wines, unless it is a dessert wine, but I learned that blue cheese and slightly sweet desserts are the perfect compliment. What I learned that was so unique about them is in how the wine becomes sweet. Due to the different temperatures coming from the two rivers, it promotes a fungus to develop on the grapes, known as “noble rot”, where the grapes become partially raisined and the rot feeds on itself to create these distinctly flavored wines.
Who would have known rot and fungus could be a good thing?
Day 2: Saturday, September 16th
This morning’s sailing took us from Cadillac to the town of Paulliac, which is in the world-famous region of Medoc. We had an early morning vineyard walk where we learned about AOC, which is the “appellation d’origine controlee”. A regulated designation based on the concept of terroir, granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters and other agricultural products. This designation is all until control of the government bureau “institut national de l’origine et de la qualite.” Over 300 French wines are entitled to the designation AOC.
We then had an afternoon excursion to one of the top-classified wine estates in Saint-Jean (one AOC to the south of Pauillac), Chateau Leoville Poyferre, where we learned about how all French wines are required to be blends and are limited in production – from this region, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec (although all wines do not have to include all 5)
Day 3: Sunday, September 17th
As we sailed, we got to take in the riverside scenery as we made our way from Pauillac to Blaye. I didn’t know much about this area prior to the trip and our morning citadel tour was by far one of my favorite tours of the trip.
We visited the Fortress Citadel – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – built by famous military engineer Vauban. People lived in this military fortress during the middle ages and what was most impressive is from the outside you couldn’t tell it was a little city of its own once inside!
Our afternoon excursion took us on a walking tour through the village of Bourg to see the Porte de Mer, Hotel de la Jurade and the Chateau de la Citadelle.
From there we visited a horse carriage museum and ended with the day with a tasting from wines from the appellation of Cotes de Bourg.
Day 4: Monday, September 18th
Libourne! I was so thankful to have a lot of time in this wine making capital. Two of Bordeaux’s most elite wine regions are very close by – Saint Emilion and Pomerol.
Saint-Emilion is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its history dates back almost 2,000 years when the Romans planted vineyards in the region. We had a fantastic tour of this old historic village that is full of architecture, monuments and historic vineyards. We got to visit the underground monolithic church and walk up and down the steep and narrow cobblestone streets known as “Tertes”, four of which are throughout Saint-Emilion. The cobblestones were brought by English wine traders who loaded them in their ships as weight before replacing them with barrels of wine.
From there we traveled to the Grand Cru Classe winery, Cheateau de Ferrand, and had an exquisite tasting! We may have had to buy a few bottles to bring back home to cellar and enjoy years from now to remember this fantastic wine region.
Early I mentioned the 1855 Classification for Left Bank Bordeaux, but over on the Right Bank their classification system is much more of merit based classification and newer. Started in the 1960’s, the Right Bank system is mostly a merit based system, where wineries are judged every 10 years.
The judges of the wine, taste every wine from the previous 10 years and then give the appropriate ranking, but there are only 3 classes as opposed to 5 on the Left Bank (Premier Grand Cru Classe A, Premier Grand Cru Classe B, and Grand Cru Classe) – something to keep in mind in the Right Bank system is that there are only 4 Premier Grand Cru Classe A wines and that the next review of classification is in 2022, for all wines.
Day 5: Tuesday, September 19th
Although all of the tours and excursions were included in the cruise, informational, well-planned and provided so much insight into these lovely towns, we finally wanted a day to explore on our and since we had another day in Libourne, we spent the morning there and then grabbed a cab with our other 4 friends and did our own exploration in Saint Emilion.
We first walked to and spent the morning at the Libourne Market, one of the biggest around that still stands on the central square surrounded by shops and artisans. Visiting a local chocolate and macaron shop surely meant…
I was going to have to try some of the specialties!
From there we took our cab back to Saint-Emilion and enjoyed walking the streets and just taking in the beauty of this town. Although Jeremy and I had already purchased a bit of wine of the day before, I still enjoyed browsing all of the wine shops that lined the streets and came across the wine shop La Petite Boutique. I walked in and was warmly greeted and asked if I needed any help.
Even after explaining that I was only browsing and admiring the wine, the owner, Adrian, was kind of enough to let me try some wines.
As the whole group meandered to the shop, he continued to pour more tastings for all of us, something that the other shops were a little more stingy about. He was so patient with our never-ending questions and spent a lot of time educating us about the region and Cru Classe.
He even broke out his Coravin, which if you aren’t familiar with this awesome wine tasting tool, you must read more HERE, and let each of us taste a wine that was made by the most highly rated wine maker in the world, a wine that cost 185 euro off the shelf.
The taste was indescribable! It had such balance, but something else behind it that made it such a treat.
We were so impressed with the selection of wines that he offered to us, that we split a case of some of the various wines to ship back to the US.
Shipping is highly regulated and something you can’t do very easily on your own from a post office, so we were thankful to have walked into the shop and now have an amazing contact for when we’d like to order French wines that may not be able to be found in the US.
We were reluctant to leave, but had to make it back to the ship to head down the river back toward Bordeaux.
Now I haven’t talked much about the river system that we were on for the cruise. Just downstream from Bordeaux the Garonne River meets the Dordogne River to forms the Gironde estuary, which after 62 miles empties into the Atlantic Ocean, making the river a total length of about 374 miles.
But it is the unique climate created in this region that helps shape both Left and Right bank wines. The Left being gravellier, lending itself to those wines having a higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot varietals. The Right Bank soils tend to be more clay and limestone provides a better environment for Merlot and Cabernet Franc varietals.
So, if you’re just getting into French wines and want to know which type of wine you’d like here is a rough summary:
Left Bank = bold, upfront, tannic wines because of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot dominance
Right Bank = softer, rounder, fruitier wines because of the predominance of Merlot
Lastly, we got to experience such an amazing natural event while heading back downstream towards Bordeaux. The Dordogne is one of the few rivers in the world that have a tidal bore, basically a smallish tidal wave created when the tide comes rushing in from the ocean and collides with the river’s current. Surfers and jet skiers ride this upstream and this tidal bore only happens from June – September, it was somewhat downplayed, but truly remarkable at the size and scope.
Definitely not “boring!”
We had to wait out these waves before being able to move on, so we all hung out on the deck, watched the informal show of jet skiers, before the sailing continued on downstream.
Day 6: Wednesday, September 20th
I was so excited to be back in Bordeaux as I truly enjoyed my time there pre-cruise.
Another full day of exploration meant we were able to check out Pont de Pierre Bridge, Mirror d-eau (the water mirror) and La Bourse square, as well as heading back through St Andre Cathedral and the Quinconces Monumental Square.
We also visited the La Cite du Vin Wine Museum, which was highly informational and interactive, but both Jeremy and I agreed would have made more sense to tour it at the beginning of the trip rather than after already traveling through wine country.
I still would highly recommend a stop there to learn more about wines of the world!
Day 7: Thursday, September 21st
Deembarkation day is always bittersweet.
Recounting the memories of the trip and saying goodbye to newly made friends.
First time on a river cruise and we definitely don’t think it will be will our last.
So why did I choose to cruise with AmaWaterways and would I do it again?
See the list below for my thoughts:
- Peaceful and scenic with supreme comfort. Soft flowing rivers take out the fear of motion sickness
- Unpack once and discover the local sites on shore and return to the comforts of the boat until the next destination
- Dock right in the heart of cities, close to town center where you can instantly blend in with the locals
- Stop at some of Europe’s oldest cities that aren’t accessible by sea or that can take hours to reach by motor coach
- You typically won’t be cruising with than 150 passengers, which means no long lines or feeling rushed around on the boat
- From the moment, you step on board to when arrangements are made to the airport or your next destination, you are treated like first class.
Now you know why red, red wine makes me feel so fine! And why I’m now such an advocate of river cruising and AmaWaterways.
Whether you’ve ever experienced an ocean cruise, a river cruise or haven’t really given it much thought, I would highly recommend giving river cruising a try – as you can see, traveling through countries by boat can be an experience in itself.
So I left out one major detail – the food! Did you know that the Confrerie de la des Rotisseurs is the world’s oldest international gastronomic society? AmaWaterways is a proud inductee of this invitation only culinary society, which is clearly well deserved by the look of these amazing dishes. Travel and food are done so well with this river cruise line!
Check out my food gallery below of all the food from the AmaDolce and it’s amazing crew.