Bordeaux, It’s the Wine

Silversea sails into one of France’s loveliest towns

By: Maryann Hammers

As I arrived in Bordeaux, I realized I was lucky indeed to be here. My ship, Silversea’s Silver Cloud, was the only one tied up along the River Garonne. Only 30 or so ships call at Bordeaux annually, because bigger liners can’t navigate the shallow waters during low tide. In fact, when I walked across Pierre Bridge one afternoon, I could actually see the river’s muddy floor.

I was fortunate to be in Bordeaux for other reasons as well. Its waterfront is one of Europe’s loveliest, with 18th-century neoclassical buildings, charming squares and towering monuments forming a dramatic backdrop. I was glad I had plenty of room in my suitcase because shopping opportunities abound on Rue Ste. Catherine, a long pedestrian street lined with stores and cafes. And the posh “Golden Triangle” (formed by the streets Cours de l’Intendance, Cours Georges Clemenceau and Allees de Tourny) is often compared to the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

But of course, when you think of Bordeaux, red wine not a great pair of shoes comes to mind. The surrounding countryside, with its miles of vineyards and charming chateaus, offers oenophiles plenty of sampling opportunities. So I opted for an excursion to St. Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and prime grape-growing area, 22 miles northeast of Bordeaux.

St. Emilion, a medieval village named for an eighth-century hermit who was apparently a pretty good guy, has cobbled streets (very steep and not suitable for wheelchairs or folks who have trouble walking), outdoor cafes, wine shops (natch), and gorgeous vineyard views (worth the trip for the vistas alone). The highlight is the 11th-century monolithic cathedral, carved out of a single

gigantic limestone rock, with a towering spire added a few hundred years later. We stepped inside its cool, dark recesses to see the remnants of ancient carvings and tour the intricate maze of catacombs and tombs.

After touring the village, we hopped back on the bus for a scenic drive to Chateau de Pressac, a lovely medieval castle that during the Renaissance boasted 27 towers some of which remain. It was here that the peace treaty ending the Hundred Years’ War between England and France was signed in 1453. Owner-winemaker Jean-Francois Quenin and his yellow Labrador retriever warmly welcomed us (I think it’s a law that every wine chateau has a friendly dog on-site). Quenin led us to his cool, fragrant wine cellar, where we learned his theories on winemaking using concrete tanks and new French oak barrels for aging.

Quenin popped the cork on several bottles and laid out an impressive spread of baguettes and local cheeses. The wine was so amazing (and Quenin so charming) that I was sorely tempted to buy a few bottles at $20. But realizing my luggage was already borderline-overweight, even without adding any thing new, I decided against it and still regret it.

CONTACT

Most cruise lines that call in Bordeaux offer St. Emilion tours as a shore excursion. Full-day tours, including lunch and chateau visits, are also available through the Bordeaux Tourist Office.
www.bordeaux-tourisme.com

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