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
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.
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