In Wine Heaven in Bordeaux with Viking River Cruises
Saturday, November 22, 2014
After a long day of travel from North America, I am finally onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti for what surely has to be one of the most culturally-enriching itineraries in France: Viking’s weeklong Chateaux, Rivers & Wine river cruise that makes its debut season this year.
This is no ordinary river cruise, though. Not only is it operated entirely on an estuary subjected to tidal fluctuations from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, this voyage also has the distinction of sailing roundtrip from Bordeaux, France. Most river cruises sail point-to-point; roundtrip voyages are exceedingly rare, and Viking Forseti’s Program Director, Mieke Bakker, noted tonight that ours is one of the few voyages to be “controlled by the Moon.” Tides dictate port calls and scheduling, resulting in an overall program that can vary to some degree from week to week. However, rather than sticking with an itinerary that is no longer feasible due to the tides, Viking’s always has two or three backup plans on-hand, and most departures go off without a hitch.
Getting here is relatively easy from North America. Most connections will route you through either Amsterdam on KLM, or Paris on Air France. If you can get to one of those two hubs, you can get to Bordeaux.
In my case, my journey to Bordeaux began in Vancouver, where I flew on Delta to Amsterdam via Minneapolis, and then on to Bordeaux on KLM. If there’s a downside to transiting through Amsterdam’s fabulous Schiphol Airport, it’s that the city of Amsterdam itself is tantalizingly close. Let’s face it – Europe just has too many cool cities.
Upon landing, I was met – along with about half of KLM flight 1315, it turns out – by Viking’s shoreside representatives at the airport, where we were then whisked by Viking-branded Mercedes coaches to the Viking Forseti in the heart of Bordeaux.
Bordeaux is a very special city. When the suburbs are all put together to create metropolitan Bordeaux, the city becomes the sixth-largest municipality in France. Thanks to its location in the southwestern quadrant of the country (Bilbao, Spain is only three hours away by car), Bordeaux is nice and temperate, even in November. When my KLM flight touched down around lunchtime at Bordeaux-Merignac Airport, the mercury was hovering at a positively balmy 19°C (67°F).
You might be surprised, however, to learn that Bordeaux hasn’t always been the gorgeous tourist mecca that it is today. As recently as the mid-1990’s, the mostly-industrial city was in shambles after years of neglect. Its historic buildings were covered in soot and grime, and dull, unsightly factories cluttered the landscape. Public trams didn’t exist. The riverfront promenade that now borders the Garonne River didn’t exist. As a tourist destination, the Bordeaux of old was merde.
Enter Bordeaux’s mayor, Alain