Chateaux and Vineyards of South West France - Review
As a fan of French culture and wines, in particular the reds of the Bordeaux area, this CroisiEurope river cruise exploring the chateaux and vineyards of the Aquitaine region of south-west France proved an excellent holiday choice.
Beginning with an overnight stay in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bordeaux, where the superb tram system in the city lends to a simple way of getting round to seeing the sights, I spend time visiting the gothic cathedral of Saint Michel, enjoying lunch at one of the French brassieres in the historic old town and walking along the bank of the river Garonne admiring the architecture of the 18th-century Place de la Bourse with the fountain of Three Graces and the modern water mirror 'Miroir d'Eau' which attracts people of all ages for a paddle!
The second day sees the beginning of the 6-night river cruise which visits the towns of Cadillac, Libourne (for Saint Emilion), Blaye and Pauillac. The optional excursion package I booked meant I was able to make the most of the places at which we stopped. Coaches took me though the beautiful French countryside and small towns passing vineyard after vineyard to local chateaux were I learnt how the regions wines were made and had the pleasure of sampling the produce. This also included a stop at the famous wine growing area of Saint Emilion, with its picturesque town and unique monolithic church and underground catacombs – only available on a tour and certainly worth a visit.
Other optional excursions included visits to the magnificent medieval Chateau Roquetaillade, with its exquisite history and beautiful décor and furnishings created by the French architect Viollet-le-Duc, a coach trip along the Corniche Road with its picturesque gardens and fisherman's huts, a visit to the famous Medoc wine region which included a tour along the chateau route featuring some of south-west France's greatest chateaus including Lafite-Rothschild and a tour of the 17th-century, UNESCO World Heritage listed Citadel at Blaye.
The river cruise ship, Princesse d'Aquitaine is one of CroisiEurope's 2-deck ships and my cabin, which is on the upper deck, is spacious, clean and very simple with plenty of storage space, flat screen television and a bathroom which, as with most river cruise ships, is small but perfectly formed. The large window offers excellent views of the river.
Dining on board is very much a French affair! The buffet breakfast offers a selection of meats, cheeses, breads, croissants, fruits and cereals as well as cooked options of eggs, bacon and sausage. Lunches on board are a set 4-course menu and dinner is served in one sitting and is a set 3-course menu, both with wine, beer and soft drinks included. I am impressed to find that the included wine is by the bottle and we are provided with a wine menu offering several choices of reds, whites and roses. Table sizes range from 4 to 8 and I am seated with other English-speaking passengers. The food is very good, but it is important to note that lunch and dinner are set menus so passengers with dietary requirements must inform their booking agent.
All in all an excellent holiday on a small and comfortable river cruise ship, with plenty of culture, good food and wine.