Category: France

Bordeaux Riverboat Cruise

Bordeaux Riverboat Cruise

This is last post for the 2017 Riverboat Cruise. This article summarizes our seven day adventure spanning across the beautiful and historic French appellation of Bordeaux. We traveled by ship, hikes, bikes, and buses to get you this coverage! I also gave more detail here about the ship we were on and our accommodations. For those of you who follow jcmarxblog.com, you already got the daily articles, which are also in this summary, but you didn’t see the info about the boat, which is at the top of the article that follows.

For each day detailed below, some of them may be in the form of a link if that particular day had its own separate article. In those cases, just click the links and they will open on a separate page. Those can also be accessed from the buttons on the main page. Just click on Destinations then select France and you will see the areas under there.

Why a Riverboat Cruise

We just love riverboat cruises. They typically have around 100 passengers. The boats have a main lounge, and two restaurants. This is vastly different than a regular commercial cruise, where you might have 1,000, even up to 5,000 people or more. On a riverboat cruise, there are no lines for drinks or dinner, and the staff eventually learns your name. Riverboats have planned stops up and down their route along the river. Rivers were the life blood of any country back in the day. They provided a means to transport large quantities of goods long distances. As such, each city or town along a river usually has a story to tell. In Europe, those stores often go as far back as 60 or 100 BC. Riverboat cruises have planned daily stops at these historic gems. Activities include walking tours with local tour guides, bicycle tours along the countryside, or dinners and wine tastings inside local castles. And the nice thing is, after a day of adventuring, you get back on the boat and continue drifting down the river.

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Our cruise was along the two rivers that feed the wine vineyards of a region called Bordeaux, which is also the name of a famous city there. We spent several days after the cruise in the city of Bordeaux. The area of Bordeaux has been producing wines for over 2,000 years, and it occupies around 300,000 acres with 6,500 vineyards.

What is a Riverboat

We arrived in Bordeaux and boarded our riverboat around lunchtime on November 16, 2017. And as you can see in the picture below, riverboats are….oh wait a second, sorry wrong picture!

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Ahh, here we go! Riverboats are long and short. They have to be short in order to get under some of the more low hanging bridges. They also have to be narrow enough to go through the river locks.

But the first picture, with the sunken ship, is also interesting. This is one left over from WWII that never got removed. The Germans did this all across the river, in addition to leaving sea mines as they left the area. And it was effective, it took two years to make the waterway safe again. Soooo much history here!

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Not all of them are exactly the same, but they tend to have the lounge in the front of the boat. This affords the premium view while enjoying a beverage in the lounge, and they usually have an outdoor sitting area on the front so you can feel the wind in your face as you cruise!

The main restaurant is usually just underneath the lounge and most all of the tables have a view with a window. Nothing like eating breakfast while seeing the beautiful countryside scroll by your window.

 

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They also have another restaurant in the rear of the ship. This one typically specializes in the local cuisine and is a little more fancy. And of course, on the top is the sun deck. It has a hot tub, small putting green, and a walking trail around the outer rim. Plus lots of places to lounge both in the direct sun, and underneath a cover if you prefer.

 

 

While there are a few VIP staterooms, the majority of the rooms are all the same size. Each has a queen sized bed, or double twins, a bathroom with shower, and a small desk to work on. We also have a sliding glass door that functions as a giant window that we can either look out of, or open. This room had an extra benefit I had never seen, which was an Apple monitor used as a TV, but also with keyboard and mouse to surf the internet if you wanted. Yes, of course, they are all connected to the internet. You have wifi access everywhere on the boat. Another feature here I had never seen was that you could bring up the bow cam on your in-room monitor – how cool!

Day One – Arrival and Bordeaux Lite

 

After our arrival, we had a light lunch, then left the boat to just do a preliminary recon of the town of Bordeaux. We hit the jackpot on weather for this time of year. While back home, in Stockholm, there was a light dusting of snow already, here it is bright and sunny with highs in the low 60s.

As I mentioned earlier, we spent two days here after the cruise, so we will be discussing the city of Bordeaux in a separate article.

Day Two – Cadillac, Chateau de Rayne, and Roqueataillade Castle

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We did a early morning walking tour of the town of Cadillac. It is a very quaint, very medieval town. They have done a great job preserving as much of the architecture as possible. There is also a cool castle in the middle of of the town. I did do a full write-up of the town and the castle, so be sure to click here to go see that.

Chateau de Rayne

 

After the morning hike, we came back to the boat and had brunch, then piled in the bus for a short ride out to Chateau de Rayne. Great 17th century vineyard located in the Sauternes appellation of Bordeaux. This is considered “Grand Cru”, which means it is the pricier stuff that will probably never make it to our table back home, but we thoroughly enjoyed the tour and the tasting. They specialize in white wines, utilizing mostly Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. This ends up as a smooth, white wine that is not as bright as a majority Sauvignon Blanc wine would be.

Roqueataillade Castle

 

Spectacular classic war castle from the 12th century. It has remained in the same family since 1306, and they still live there today. It has a dry moat, and a two layered defense. It went through a major upgrade in 1860 to modernize it and it make more inhabitable during peacetime. This was a ten year construction effort and is known the world over among castle connoisseurs. There is also a perfectly preserved chapel on the grounds.

And the car, I have no idea what it is, but it looks really old. Inspecting it up close, it appears to be still in use!

Day Three – Pauillac Township and Chateau de Gruaud Larose

 

Started the day with a five mile walk. This included a tour of the very historic and cozy town of Pauillac, then out into the vineyards. These vineyards were literally out in the countryside of southern France. There was nothing pretentious or showy about them, they were just there. This is where they have always been for nearly 2000 years. But it is this lack of showmanship that makes them so appealing.

 

You feel this history as you walk through the area. These are vineyards that have been handed down from one generation to another, and whose roots and even dirt have countless centuries of producing the same quality and type of wine throughout history.

Chateau de Rayne

 

This vineyard is a shining example of continuous improvement. While these vineyards are extraordinary historic, they continue to reinvent themselves with the latest technology and customer facing presentations. This is outrageously expensive, but trust me, the profits are well worth the efforts. A vineyard like this produces some of the best quality wines at prices the average person can only dream about, and they will produce over 300,000 bottles per year (at premium prices).

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Check out this tower. It was built a couple of years ago. It allows the customers to go up six stories high and observe the beautiful grounds surrounding the chateau.

 

When we got to the top, they press a button and the walls fold out, affording us a spectacular view of their vineyard. This is above and beyond and sets the pace for their local competition.

Day Four – Blaye to Bourg

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The Citadel of Blaye

Easily one of the most historically interesting places we visited the entire trip! A UNESCO historic site, it was designed by the famous military architect, Vauban, and built to his specifications under the guidance of King Louis XIV in 1685. The idea was to seal off the Gironde river, thus indirectly protecting the city of Bordeaux from (primarily English) invasion. This was accomplished as the stronghold was so fortified, and so intimidating in the completeness of its design that it was never approached by the enemy during that time.

 

As you can see it is a sprawling endeavor, occupying over 95 acres. And the defensive goals were not only for the river, but also to protect invasion by land. Inside its walls was a complete, self sustaining village capable of housing up to 900 soldiers.

 

The site has been strategically important as far back as the Romans. To expedite construction time, Vauban´s design incorporated, rather then demolished, the presence of an existing 12th century castle.

There were even secret tunnels built into the design that would allow troops to reach fallback positions very quickly. Part of our tour included exploration of some of these tunnels.

Believe me, I could go on and on about this place and even break the internet by posting a flood of pictures. If you are ever in this region of the world, be sure to get a guided tour of this incredible military masterpiece.

Bicycle ride from Blaye to Bourg

 

 

This was a pretty intense ride. While only 18km (11mi), it was through some of the more hilly areas of the coast. And it also required a commitment; once we left on the bikes, the boat also departed! So there was no turning back. It was interesting because as we reached the top of one of the biggest hills, we were just able to see the boat cruising along the river below us. I hate that I wasn’t able to get a pic of that, but we didn’t really make any stops for the duration of the trip.

 

 

We got back to the boat just in time for lunch, and boy were we hungry after a ride like that! Jana was, apparently more hungry than me; you won’t find any frog legs on my plate! And the look on her face, well, she just doesn’t look that enthused about them. She does claim, however, that they were delicious; we’ll just have to take your word for that one!

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After that, we went in town for a wine festival. It was in a facility overlooking the river. If you look through my glass, you can make out our boat down there docked on the river.

 

And fortunately, I will not be running for any political office, so I don’t have to worry about this picture coming back to haunt me! But seriously, it was a great time. They had the cutest little French band you ever saw. There was wine, music, and dancing!

Back down the hill for another great dinner on the boat, and another magical day comes to an end. Hard to believe that was all just one day!

Day Five – Bike Ride to Saint Emilion

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Day Five – Saint Emilin. This is a beautiful medieval town about thirty minutes outside of Bordeaux proper. It was the fifth day of our cruise, and we rode our bicycles out here from the boat, which was docked in Libourne. It took us about two hours, stopping for photos and historic landmarks, etc. I documented this adventure in its own article, so click here to get the full story.

Day Six – Fronsac

Up and out early today. After a quick breakfast, we took the bus and headed out into the Fronsac appellation. This is an area northwest of Libourne and is known more for red wines. Being a right bank appellation, it uses a majority of the lighter and fruitier merlot category.

Chateau Boutinet

This is a privately owned vineyard, meaning it is not in compliance with the strict French regulations known as AOC, rather, they are experimenting and sort of going their own way. That means you will never see this wine in your local store, nor will it ever be exported. This is how wineries begin. This one is run by a husband and wife team. The wife, Nathalie, walked us around the gorgeous property.

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Note that there is a medieval castle on the property. Unfortunately, it is in pretty bad shape. Not from wars, but from time. They are slowly working to restore it, but it is a time consuming and expensive endeavor. Their goal is convert the castle into a Bed & Breakfast.

 

The fog this day was a dense shroud, inhibiting our sight, but at the same time, was also kind of romantic. After a fascinating and educational tour of the grounds, we were honored with a tasting of wine, which was of course from their own sweat and blood. It was quite good, we even bought a bottle to take back to the boat!

Chateau Rivière

 

This is the only pool I saw the entire time we were in France. This was an amazing castle surrounded by vineyards and beautiful gardens. The views are spectacular. Too bad we didn’t bring our bathing suits…. maybe next time.

 

And talk about history? Oh yeah. There are 25km of underground caves that were originally created through mining shale. There is a secret entrance that the French resistance used right under the noses of the Germans who had occupied the castle during the war. The small carvings you see in the stone there were done by the rebels as a means of secret communications.

 

There was even an underground spring running through the caves. See the rut carved into the floor – pure, clear spring water flowing through there. There were sitting areas and meetings rooms scattered throughout the underground labyrinth, all carved From the shale.

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Yup, that says gallon, yup as in US gallon! You would be very hard pressed to find any other French wine bottled in a gallon jug. The guy that owned the place back in the 70s wanted to be able to impress his American friends when they came to visit, so he always kept some around.

I was just fascinated with this place. We didn’t stay long enough to see the entire sprawling estate so will come back here if we are ever in this area of the world again.

This, combined with the private tour given by the owners of the other vineyard we did today just made for a great day.

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Day seven – Cognac. It’s amazing how many people associate the Cognac with the brandy, without even realizing it is actually a city in France, and a wine appellation as well. I’m not saying I was one of them, just pointing that out… Anyway, Cognac is covered in its own separate article, so please click here to review that on a separate page.

Sadly, that was the last day!! It was an amazing adventure that I would give a five star rating to anyone who either has an interest in seeing southern France, or who is interested in learning about French wines. Or both! Thanks for reading along and for all your continued support!

Cognac, France

Cognac, France

Sadly, this was the last day of the cruise. 😦 It has been the most amazing and certainly in the top five of all of our travels! But it’s not over yet – Cognac was a unique and fascinating city! This was a full day excursion. Our boat was docked back at its starting point in Bordeaux. It took around an hour an a half to get to Cognac by bus from Bordeaux, but as you can imagine, it was a scenic ride. There may have been a small nap or two along way…

Cognac, the Brandy

You think wine is complicated? Hmph. It takes seven liters of wine to make one liter of cognac. Cognac is in the brandy family. The word brandy comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, which translates to burnt wine. Cognac is made by heating up the wine, then capturing the vapors and converting them back into liquid. As part of this process, the liquid is separated into three different types. One of those parts is collected over several iterations, then it is run through the process in place of the wine. It gets stored in special containers, eventually making it into oak barrels. Then later, based on the master brewers sampling, it may or may not be transferred to different barrels, and/or moved to different locations, or it may be blended with another batch. It is mind boggling how complex the whole process is.

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Once completed, it can be stored indefinitely without impacting the flavor or quality. We saw some racks, shown above, that had been stored since 1815! Might be a tad expensive, I’m thinking.

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Speaking of expensive, here’s a bottle of Baron Otard premium. Note the price. People pay untold fortunes just to get an empty crystal deancter that it was stored in. Think about how rare they would be; when you pay almost 4,000€ for a bottle of cognac, how long do you think it would last? Exactly, that’s why finding empty ones is a challenge!

Chateau de Cognac

We arrived at the castle of Chateau de Cognac at 11am. The original castle was built way back in the year 950 in response to Viking raids in the area. Funny to hear this sort of history after living in the land of the Vikings for a year and a half!

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Fast forward another five hundred or so years to 1494, Francis I was born in this very castle. In fact, see the window on the bottom right? He was born in that room. But his father wasn’t king, so Francis wasn’t born a prince or a king, he had to work his way to it. He became the king of France in 1515, and reigned until his death in 1547.

King Francis I was a battle king, and rode many times into the bloody battles with his men. One of his more famous conquests was the taking of Milan. He was even captured once by the enemy.

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King Francis I was close friends with Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo came to settle in France in his later years. In addition to being a painter, he also had a great passion for architecture. The room shown above was designed and constructed by Leonardo. Isn’t it amazing that things like this are just sitting out there? And, in this case, in such great condition and open to the public.

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And although it’s hard to tell from this picture, it was inside a chapel that is inside the castle. This is the exact spot where Richard the Lionheart married off his son, Philipp.

The castle took on several different owners over the centuries, including King Charles X. At one point, in 1795, it fell into the hands of the government and was targeted for destruction. Two local wine growers recognized the historic value of the property and purchased it. The two gentleman were monsieurs Otard and Dupuy. And ever since then, its deep, dark cellars have been used to store and age some of the worlds finest cognac.

Today, it is still used to age Baron Otard cognac. Rows upon rows of old and new barrels. And the storefront is located here, as well. There is an elegant sales floor where they have their product displayed.

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After touring the castle, we walked across town towards the Hennessy showroom. We toured their cellars as well and had a great tasting, shown above. Classy, huh? If you are even a remote fan of cognac, then you have had Hennessy before. They are world renowned. They only keep 1% of their product for sale in France, the rest is exported all over the world.

We did get spend some time strolling through the small, cozy town that is Cognac. As you can imagine, it is a town rich in European history and culture. It has a very small town feel to it. They have tried as much as possible to preserve as many of the old buildings as they could.

And, sadly, this concludes our cruise. I hope you have enjoyed the trip, although probably not as much as we did! But I thank you for following along with us and for your continued support – thank you!

 

Saint Emilion Bike Tour

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Definitely one of our more laid back days. And we deserved it! Slept in a little, and had a late breakfast. It was nice to slow down a little bit. I know, poor me, wha, wha, wha. Anyhow, we were docked at Libourne, France, which is where we departed from on our bicycles at around 1pm.

What’s nice about bike tours is that you can penetrate deep into the mainland, but you get a view of an area that other tourists just don’t get to see from a car or a bus. We really hit the back roads on this one, and even got to eat some grapes right off the vine. I had always thought wine producing grapes didn’t taste very well, but these were actually juicy and delicious. Think about what just happened for a second. A bright, sunny day, riding a bicycle on the bumpy back roads of France, stopping to eat some freshly picked grapes right off the vine! Wow.

Along the way, we would stop so that our guide could give us information about significant landmarks or historical sites. Plus I think she maybe wanted to give us a rest. 🙂 This particular site is of the ancient trenches built by the Romans, probably around 50 B.C. This is the technology they used for controlling the vines and irrigation to produce grapes they used for making wine. And here it is, just sitting out here in the middle of this vineyard, essentially the middle of nowhere. You would never see things like this without a local professional guide.

We worked our way up some fairly hilly terrain (phew, glad I don’t smoke anymore) to the magnificent medieval town of St. Emilion.  This is the same name of the famous wine appellation that you will see on some french wine. Don’t worry, I’ll be giving a wine lesson later.

Saint Emilion was an 8th century monk who left Brittany to seek refuge in the caves of Ascum bas. He wasn’t actually a saint then, haha. His goal was to become a hermit, but he managed to develop something of a following over the years. He and his fellow monks worked the lands to produce wine, utilizing the caves beneath the city as cellars. He became very well known in the area, with his fame extending beyond his lifespan. In the 9th century, the town of Ascum bas was changed to Saint-Emilion.

This is one of those towns you definitely want to spend some time wandering around and enjoying the local shops. Some of the local wineries are represented right here in town, so you can even go to a tasting or two if you wanted. Beware, it is a tad hilly in some places, and others are near 45 degrees angled! We really enjoyed this town. There is a lot to do and see, so we would very much like to come back here again.

From there we were bussed back to our beloved ship, the Amadolce and once again enjoyed a lovely dinner and a relaxing evening aboard the boat. On some evenings, we had a lecture from an onboard wine expert, which was very educational and informative. This was, of course, accompanied by a tasting.

Cadillac, France

So you learn that France has a town named Cadillac. Should you have already known this? Do you know the relationship between the French city and the famous car company in Detroit? I sure didn’t. I will tell you, there is actually a relationship, but I’m not going to tell you what it is – ok maybe I will tell you at the end of this article.


Just an absolutely lovely medieval town right off the Garonne river near Bordeaux. Like many towns in this area, it has a good and bad history with the river. Prior to having modern river locks and dams, the towns along the Garonne would occasionally be inundated with the angry backwash and literally flood. At certain times in history, flood levels in the city were as high as 12 meters – that’s nearly 40 feet! But this is the same river that helps water some of the oldest vineyards in the world, and was the lifeline for supplies and commerce for the people living here. Today’s locks and dams keep the river at bay, for the most part, although some minor flooding does still happen on occasion.


As much as possible, the town has preserved the structures from the days of yore, some dating back to the 12th century. Much of the town is built around the 17th century castle. It was a party castle, meaning the famous duke that built it used it to entertain other aristocrats and politicians. It boasted 60 bedrooms, over 20 fireplaces, and had walls covered in gold and silk tapestries. Old Duke Epernon fell from the kings favor and died in disgrace. His son took over the castle and continued construction and decoration efforts. It eventually came to be plundered during the French revolution. The state took it over in 1818 and converted it into a women’s prison! This remained until around 1952, when it was converted into a tourist attraction. Just love the european history!

And that’s it. Oh wait, yes, the name Cadillac. The name of the French town was adopted by Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, the founder of Detroit and Governor of Louisiana, on his arrival to what is now the United States. The Cadillac division of General Motors, and Cadillac, Michigan are named after him. Pretty interesting!