Bordeaux — a name synonymous with fine wines — is a port city on the Garonne River in southwest France. Vineyards first planted here by Romans more than 2000 years ago “seeded” and shaped the city’s economic and cultural identity over centuries. Bordeaux’s location near the Gironde estuary (the largest estuary in Europe) proved ideal for the growth of the wine trade, offering easy access to the Atlantic Ocean.
Due to its unique mix of history, geography and terroir, the surrounding region (also named Bordeaux) now houses more than 8,000 wine-producing chateaux that export some of the best French wines enjoyed throughout the world. These include Sauternes, title of “European Best Destination 2015” in a competition among 20 major cities. In 2017, Bordeaux placed first on Lonely Planet’s list of top cities to visit.
The rundown waterfront area was redeveloped to make it more appealing and pedestrian friendly. Facades of weathered limestone buildings that had blackened with age were cleaned to restore the original patina of their stone. New hotels and restaurants began opening. The now-lively city boasts more than 350 listed buildings of historical significance, ranking second to Paris. A high-speed TGV train service links Bordeaux to Paris.
When we chose our Bordeaux river cruise itinerary, we of course looked forward to being able to tour the city and taste the famous wines of the region in their own terroir. As expected, the wines were poured generously at both lunch and dinner on the ship. They were also featured at various port stops where we heard lectures, attended tastings, and spoke to vintners and wine merchants about the wines of Bordeaux.
However, three extraordinary optional shore excursions not only introduced us to the wines of Bordeaux but also allowed us to “branch out” and explore other epicurean foods and spirits identified with the region, notably Perigord truffles, oysters and cognac.