This is the fourth in our series about AmaWaterway’s Taste of Bordeaux river cruise. We focus on the towns of Blaye and Bourg and everything between. Here’s the initial entry.
Fortifications in Blaye
We sail in the morning from Pauillac to Blaye. This is a citadel town, now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site because of the fortification. We toured the citadel and learned the genius of the designer Vauban. We explored the first, second and third fortifications as well as tunnels leading between each. From the river, the fort looks relatively innocuous – just a single wall. But once inside you see the design of triangular shapes and “half moon” defensive positions that made the fort impenetrable. The complex is very large, housing over 2000 troops during wartime. It was well worth the time to visit and the tour really helped point things out we would have otherwise missed. To learn more click here.
After lunch, Dave went on a bike tour while Sue stayed on board as the ship sailed from Blaye to Bourg. During the sailing, she attended the second wine lecture, this time on Zinfandel. Shawna the wine host was excellent but her dad Kent Rosenblum, “The King of Zin” provided plenty of color. Here’s the link to Rosenbluth Cellars. And here’s Rock Wall Winery, where Shawna Rosenbluth is winemaker.
My bicycle and My Merlot
As the ship sailed, the bike tour followed the route on land. Biking through the French countryside, through the grapevines was easy and fun. There was one 15% grade but the slow speed of the group made the incline easy. Along the way we stopped at some Roman ruins, picked fresh apples from apple trees growing along the way, picked fresh wild blackberries, visited an 11th century church. We also got a lesson in grape varieties as our guide compared the Merlot leaf from the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (one has very large leaves, the other smaller leaves with heart shaped cut outs.)
Dave arrived just in time to catch the Bourg city tour with Sue. Bourg is an ancient town with tons of history (since Roman times). It sits high above the river offering both strategic and scenic views of the Estuary. Historically it sits at the confluence Dordogne and Garonne river marking the start of the Gironde estuary. The downtown sites near estuary level while the up town sits on a rocky spur 70 ft above. We visited a wash house used in the 19th century (laundry and gossip) as well as a carriage museum uptown. But more interesting were the giant oil bunker built into the limestone cliffs. There were taken made by the Germans during WW2 to refuel their ships based in Bordeaux. When they retreated they asked a soldier to blow up the bunker so that the Allies wouldn’t recover the oil. Instead, he figured out how to only blow out the top of the bunkers thus saving the rest of the town. The town itself is very pleasant to walk through, including the small market square.
More Merlot, but no bike
We finished the tour in a very modern facility for what was billed as a Wine festival. This turned out to be a chance for the local chamber of commerce to pour some local wines (tastings were unlimited). They also provided a musical group that played popular French music over the years – complete with period dress. The music quickly became background for lots of conversations and wine comparisons among the passengers.
We walked “downtown” to the ship to get ready for dinner. Tonight’s dinner is the Chaine Des Rotisseurs Dinner – a special meal which meets the criteria of that organization. It was exceptional to be sure.
Today we experienced French military history, California Zinfandel, a bike ride, a medieval village, Gironde wine and a gourmet meal. Not too bad! The citadel was really nice surprise – this will actually be one of our favorite excursions and the bike ride was a great diversion. There is no question that wine is what the Bordeaux region is all about – it’s everywhere. But there’s more here than just wine.