The best way to visit Bordeaux is by water. Cruising the Gironde Estuary and Garonne and Dordogne rivers affords views not only of famed wineries and vineyards, but also castles and charming villages. In Bordeaux AmaWaterways sails the AmaDolce, which was my home and mode of transportation to discover what is arguably France’s best wine region.
The beautiful AmaDolce accommodates 144 guests, but on our one-week sailing we were closer to 100 passengers. We didn’t cover a lot of distance on this round-trip Bordeaux itinerary, but we covered enough to reach some of France’s best wine regions, including Medoc, which is quintessential Bordeaux. This itinerary is quite different from other European river cruises, as there are no locks. In fact, the captain had to follow a tide chart to successfully navigate us on the Gironde Estuary.
As with all AmaWaterways (and river cruises in general), fabulous tours were included. Highlights of this “Taste of Bordeaux” cruise included a tour by the owner of an 18th Century chateau and vineyard outside of Libourne; a bike ride through medieval Blaye with an impromptu wine tasting at the end set up by the guide; and a wine festival in Bourg where the AmaDolce passengers were the only attendees at a wine tasting featuring local wines and entertainers. The Saint-Émilion excursion and visiting its 12th century underground church was incredible, and on the way to Saint-Émilion we visited the most picturesque château for another wine-tasting. The whole countryside of Bordeaux was breathtaking.
Throughout the week we sampled excellent wines ranging from 7 euros a bottle to 50 euros or more. We had knowledgeable guides along the way teaching us about the difference between right and left bank wines; the different classifications of Grand Cru wines; and what a Cru Bourgeois wine is. Wine makers told us about their different wine making processes (steel vats vs. concrete vats; machine-picked vs. hand-picked); how long to keep a wine; irrigation laws; organic wines; and the list goes on. We visited big wineries with hundreds of hectares, to “mom and pop” family-run wineries. One wise guide told us the most important part of wine tasting: the “best” wine is always the one you like the most. Voilà!
The beauty of wine tasting on a Bordeaux river cruise is you don’t have to worry about driving small French country roads while tasting and enjoying local wines. Ama made all of our wine tasting arrangements, and our groups were always small. For the most part, our different tours were split between at least two wineries so we never had more than 50 people to share the winery with. Our smallest group wine tasting was 10 people. On Ama’s ships there are no corkage fees, so we were encouraged to purchase wine and enjoy it onboard. There was really no need to open our own bottles though. The wines served onboard (included) were from the Bordeaux region and were quite good.
To counter the indulgent side of a wine tasting cruise, some of us took advantage of Ama’s omnipresent “wellness” offerings. On the first day we got a weekly overview of the wellness activities so the week could be planned, keeping activity level in mind. Although I am a reluctant exerciser on vacation, on this cruise I made a point of doing more active activities. I participated in a morning yoga-like class on deck and went on bike riding and hiking excursions. Ama’s wellness program has proven so popular, they are adding this feature to all ships and itineraries by 2019. The bikes are already a big draw, and wellness offerings appeal to more active cruisers and multi-generational families. How active did our cruise get? One day we could have gone to the core class and morning stretch classes; then gone on a bike tour of Blaye; biked from Blaye to Bourg; followed by back-to-back walking tours – essentially exercising in some form or another from 7:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. with short breakfast and lunch breaks. That’s a little too active for my wine-tasting taste.
During this Bordeaux itinerary we sampled wine throughout the region, enjoyed walking, hiking, biking, eating, sailing – seeing castles, vineyards, and storybook villages. After a week on the AmaDolce we were all in love with Bordeaux. It was a magical week of the best of France. The AmaDolce was the perfect vehicle to take us to the best parts of France and welcome us back every night with their impeccable hospitality and comfort. It was a week of perfection.