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As I stared up into the stone-carved face of famed literary character Cyrano de Bergerac, I began to wonder if he was an oenophile. By possessing such an ample sniffer, I would bet the subtle oaky notes of a merlot or the aromatic bouquet of a sauvignon would be a symphony for his amplified olfactory receptors.
These were the idle thoughts of a traveler on her fourth day of a wine-themed Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux river cruise onboard Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s River Royale.
A visit to the two statues of Cyrano de Bergerac in the picturesque village of Bergerac was just one highlight of Uniworld’s eight-day cruise through France’s wine country, and one of the many ways the river cruise line ensured our land excursions provided a number of interesting ways to explore the region.
Sailing the River RoyaleAfter embarking from the city of Bordeaux on the recently remodeled River Royale, we spent the eight-day cruise navigating three different rivers: the Garonne, the Dordogne and the Gironde.
The well-appointed 130-passenger ship offers a boutique hotel atmosphere on the water, with 65 oceanview staterooms, 26 balcony cabins and one suite. My stately guestroom sported elegantly upholstered walls, sumptuous sheets, a luxurious pillow menu and a French balcony. In the ship’s common areas, I noticed guests passing the time by mingling in the elegant Salon Gascogne’s Aquitaine Bar or dining on decadent fare in the ship’s main restaurant.
For a real treat, cruisers can enjoy small hosted events and specialty-dining venues, or reserve a seat for an intimate chef’s table experience in the Claret Room. On the top deck, passengers will also find Blue Fox Cafe, which offers a set menu and is enclosed in a glass gazebo that provides diners with beautiful panoramic views. To highlight the cruise’s wine theme, the ship hosts onboard wine tastings. Other onboard amenities include a coffee bar, a spa, a Jacuzzi and a fitness center.
A Pleasing PalateAlthough I was happy to pass the week onboard the impressive ship, there was no shortage of activities waiting on land.
During the cruise, the city of Bordeaux functioned as a home base for the three rivers, giving guests several chances to explore. Guests can choose to journey on foot during the “Do as the Locals Do” tour, which takes them to nearby shops to taste pastries and chocolates that are unique to the area. Or, for a birds-eye view, they can hop onboard a private double-decker bus, where the architecture and bridges of the city come to life under a million little lights at nightfall.
Other highlights of the itinerary include a stop in Pauillac, which is home to three of Bordeaux’s five first-growth wines: Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Latour and Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Once here, travelers can visit a local chateau by coach or take a guided bike ride through the Medoc vineyard, stopping for a winery tour and tasting.
The charming village of Saint-Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also a must-see, and we explored unique underground dwellings, a monolithic church and catacombs. Wine was first introduced to Saint-Emilion in the second century, when Romans began growing grapes in the area. Surrounded by vineyards, guest can wander the narrow cobblestone streets and visit the quaint village shops. The town owes its name to a monk who fled religious persecution in the eighth century and later performed a miracle curing a woman’s blindness. Guests can visit that sacred spot and even sit in another miraculous chair that, legend says, aids in reproduction for woman. The followers of this lone monk were the ones who started the commercial wine production that now thrives in this area.
Venturing inland from there, we found ourselves motoring through the countryside to the city of Bergerac, home of the aforementioned Cyrano de Bergerac statues.
Tour guides introduced us to the town’s open-air markets, famous for the region’s decadent foie gras. Other highlights included learning the history behind the region’s flat-bottom boats.
To fully explore many of the cruise’s destinations, Uniworld provides a handful of other amenities to make guests’ experience pleasant. Travelers can reserve a bicycle to see a port city on their own, and each stateroom comes equipped with personal Vox audio devices to take along on tours. This little gadget made outings far more enjoyable, as it allowed everyone to hear the guide without having to huddle in tight groups.
After a week spent in wine country, I returned with a new appreciation for the region and the complex characteristics of the vintages grown there. It didn’t matter whether I loved the flowery bouquet of a sweet dessert wine or the peppery nose of a rich zinfandel — a cruise onboard Uniworld’s River Royale smelled like a winner to me.
Floating Photo Workshops With UniworldTo bring the tripod or not to bring the tripod — that is the question. This question plagues me each time I pack for a writing assignment, along with whether I should bring along my external flash or a plethora of other photography-related paraphernalia. All this equipment can make traveling a literal pain in my backside by adding bulk and weight to my luggage.
So when my longtime friend and colleague, notable travel photographer Mark Edward Harris, invited me to attend a Floating Photo Workshop onboard Uniworld’s River Royale river cruise ship, I jumped at the chance.
Hosting an event like this onboard a ship has its advantages.
“I think a river cruise is the perfect venue for a photo workshop because you have opportunities to shoot on land every day, and you are not spending time packing and unpacking equipment,” Harris said.
I couldn’t agree more. Guests will spend a minimal amount of time schlepping heavy gear around the destination due to the close proximity of the ship. This adds a welcome relief to the anxiety I sometime experience as I haul expensive equipment through multiple train and bus terminals.
Harris starts his workshop by hosting lectures for all the cruise guests on travel photography. He pulls examples of different photographic techniques from his own impressive portfolio. Afterward, he meets with the workshop attendees daily to assign fun photo assignments, and will go out on excursions to shoot side-by-side with them. Later, he’ll review and give a helpful critique of students’ work.
Another genius factor of hosting these workshops on a river cruise is the amount of time students have to shoot in picturesque destinations, as they will have a new place to shoot every day. This also gives them precious time they can use to put ideas into action, rather than deal with the usual hassle that can accompany travel.
It has been many years since I attended a photography class. Having relied far too long on the auto feature on my camera, I was a bit hazy on things such as exposure times, film speeds and F-stops. So I was relieved to find that Harris provided students with helpful cheat sheets and ample one-on-one time where I could shoot alongside him in the field. This gave me more confidence in my skills and also allowed me the rare chance to see a master at work.
Classes are geared toward a wide range of proficiency levels with two different cruises itineraries — Burgundy & Provence, Aug. 28, and Bordeaux, Sept. 4 — announced for 2016. Both workshops will take place onboard Uniworld’s River Royale.
Mark Edward Harris has visited and photographed 90 countries and published multiple books of photography on North and South Korea and Iran. In 2013, Harris was the recipient of “Photography Book of the Year” from the International Photography Awards.