Day 1: Bordeaux (embark)
Arrive at Bordeaux–Mérignac International Airport. If your cruise package includes a group arrival transfer or if you have purchased a private arrival transfer, you will be greeted by a Uniworld representative and transferred to the ship.
Day 2: Cruising the Garonne River and Gironde Estuary, Pauillac
Featured Excursion: Médoc panoramic tour
Set sail on the Garonne for the pretty town of Pauillac, gateway to the Médoc wine route. Not far out of Bordeaux, the Garonne merges with the Dordogne, forming the Gironde estuary. At almost 50 miles (80 km), the Gironde is the largest estuary in Europe. Aside from being an important artery for the entire Bordeaux region, the Gironde is a rich source of shellfish, sturgeon (the source of “Aquitaine caviar”) and eel—all of which you’ll find on local menus.
You’ll arrive in Pauillac in the afternoon. Explore the town on your own, perhaps take a complimentary bicycle to nearby Saint-Estèphe, or join us for a tour of the Médoc.
The Médoc wine route takes you through the heart of the Haut-Médoc AOC (appellation d'origine controlee), which includes six of France’s most prestigious appellations: Margaux, Moulis, Listrac, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, and Saint-Julien. One after the other, beautiful châteaux rise up from the verdant hillsides, creating one of the most scenic vineyards landscapes in the world.
For much of its history, the Haut-Médoc (much of the region, in fact) was salt marshes used for grazing cattle and sheep. It wasn’t until the 17th century that Dutch merchants began a drainage project with the hope of developing an area that would support a wine production significant enough to challenge Portugal’s dominance of the British market. The sandy terroir, sunshine, and cool Atlantic breezes provided the perfect climate, and by the 19th century the Haut-Médoc was one of France’s most prosperous wine regions.
As you travel through this idyllic landscape, you’ll see such world-renowned wineries as Margaux, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, and Cos d'Estournel. A highlight of the tour will be visiting a château, where you’ll meet the winemaker and enjoy vineyard and cellar tours, as well as a tasting.
Tonight, your captain will host a special welcome dinner in your honor. (BB, L, Captain's Welcome Gala)
Day 3: Cruising the Gironde Estuary, Blaye, Libourne
Featured excursion: Scenic drive along the Route de la Corniche fleurie, or hike through the Blaye fortress
You’ll depart Pauillac in the morning and sail a short distance across the estuary to Blaye, where the ship will dock for the morning. The scenic journey through the estuary offers a unique look at the delta. Not only will you see vineyard-covered hillsides, but high limestone cliffs and grassy marshlands dotted with fishing huts built on stilts.
Running along the cliffs of the Gironde, between the towns of Blaye and Bourg, is a little road known as the Route de la Corniche fleurie. The road winds through the tiny, picturesque hamlets of Pain de Sucre, Marmisson and Roque de Thau, where you’ll find charming stone houses built by 19th-century ship captains. Many of the captains travelled to far-off locations and returned with exotic plants, which they planted in their gardens and along the road. You’ll see a variety of tropical and Mediterranean plants, including palms, bananas, laurels and wallflowers. And, if you look up to the cliffs above the road, you’ll spy prehistoric cave dwellings. Aquitaine offers a profusion of prehistoric sites (it boasts more than any other region in France). It seems people have been enjoying the pleasures of the area for some 400,000 years.
For those who looking for something more physically active, consider Uniworld’s “Go Active” option where you can hike the walls and ruins of the Blaye citadel, which was built by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, a military engineer of King Louis XIV, in the 1680s. The site has been under the watchful eye of UNESCO since 2008.
This evening, you’ll dock in the English bastide town of Libourne. (BB, L, D)
Day 4: Libourne (Bergerac and Périgord)
Featured Excursion: Bergerac and the Périgord
Throughout the year, but particularly from June to November, the Gironde estuary is home to a spectacular natural phenomenon, le mascaret (tidal bore). As the Atlantic tide flows inland, it is higher than rivers it seeks. The Garonne mascaret breaks quickly over the shallow mud banks, but the Dordogne mascaret surges forth as a well-formed wave that can continue upriver for some 20 miles (32 km). Though it sounds concerning at first, it’s not at all. In fact, it’s something to see—even something to celebrate. Your captain will steer the ship directly into the wave to lessen the rocking, and you’ll be invited up to the sun deck for a glass of champagne. Don’t be surprised if you see crowds gathering on the banks to watch surfers riding the wave!
What better way to spend a day in this part of Aquitaine than by taking full advantage of what it knows best: how to eat. The Périgord is a magical area that melds Medieval architecture, sunflower fields, and the dense oak forests that cloak the famed Périgord truffle. (It’s known as the “black diamond” for the high prices it fetches.) Bergerac, in the southernmost part of the Périgord, boasts twelve AOCs—it’s an oenophile’s paradise—and such local delicacies as foie gras and duck confit. Sample your way through an open-air farmers’ market, which is as much a treat for the eye as for the taste buds. Hear the fateful love story of Cyrano de Bergerac and his Roxane. Board a traditional flat-bottomed boat, known as a gabarre, and glide along this beautiful stretch of the Dordogne. ( river condition permitting )
As if the day hasn’t yielded enough delectable treats, tonight you’re invited to an epicurean dinner. The “gastronomic meal of the French” is so indelibly linked to the country’s identity that it was added to UNESCO’s list of “intangible cultural heritage” in 2010. (BB, L, D)
Day 5: Libourne (Saint- Emilion), cruising the Dordogne River, Bordeaux
Featured Excursion: Saint-Émilion walking tour with wine tasting
Saint-Émilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers an exceptional landscape of historic architecture and even more historic vineyards—first planted by the Romans, and virtually untouched since, they were the first vineyards to be protected by UNESCO.
The town, built atop the limestone hills, offers a charming array of interesting shops along its cobblestone streets. But what makes this town particularly special is what exists below the town. In the 8th century, a Breton monk named Émilion fled to southern France to escape persecution by the Benedictine order, and he made a home out of a small cave with an underground spring. Dedicating his life to God, Émilion, a hermit, performed numerous miracles and developed a following of monks. Upon his death in 767 and with so many good works done, the area became known as Saint-Émilion.
In the 12th century, near the site of Émilion’s cave, work began on a subterranean cathedral. Workers carved into the limestone, creating a massive monolithic church with three naves, a high altar, and catacombs. Its 175-foot (53 m) bell tower heralds its location. It took just forty years to complete and is a marvel of engineering.
After touring much of Saint-Émilion’s history, it’s time to taste its world-class wines. The microclimate and exceptional amount of sunshine this region receives, combined with the richness of the soils (clay, limestone and sand) virtually ensure an excellent result. You’ll see vineyards in every direction, but what you won’t see is another secret to the area’s celebrated production: 125 miles (200 km) of underground caves and tunnels. They maintain a temperature of about 56° F (13° C) year-round, making them an ideal place for aging wines.
This evening, you’ll set sail westward on the Dordogne, returning to Bordeaux. (BB, L, D)
Day 6: Bordeaux, Cadillac
Featured Excursion: Cadillac and the vineyards of Sauternes, exclusive nighttime tour of Bordeaux, the City of Light
After docking in Bordeaux mid-morning, join a tour to the nearby town of Cadillac (you’ll have plenty of time to explore Bordeaux tomorrow) to indulge in an exploration of Sauternes, the sweet wine which is named for the region.
Sauternes is made from grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, a fungus that causes a raisin-like decay. The result is a concentrated and distinctly flavored wine, characterized by a balance of sweetness with acidity, and with particular notes of apricots, honey and peaches.
You’ll travel to one of Cadillac’s finest estates to meet the winemaker and share a country lunch paired with Sauternes, before traveling to Château d'Yquem for a chance to view the beautiful grounds. Of all the makers of Sauternes, this is perhaps the most exclusive. In 2011, famed sommelier Christian Vanneque paid a staggering $123,000 (97,000€) for a single bottle of a 200-year-old vintage.
Tonight your captain will host a farewell dinner.
Bordeaux under the stars—what could be more magical? Take an evening tour through the heart of this brilliantly illuminated city and you’ll understand why Queen Elizabeth deemed it “the essence of elegance” on a state visit in 1992. Bordeaux’s development is the result of continuous expansion since Roman times, and its planning and architectural heritage (particularly from the 18th century) make it an outstanding example of urban coherence.
After Paris, Bordeaux has more protected buildings than any other French city. From the narrow alleyways of the Saint-Pierre district to the broad avenues of the Place des Quinconces, you’ll get a sense of the city’s development, and see many key monuments: the Grand Théâtre, which opened in 1780; La Place de la Bourse, an open square dedicated to Louis XV; La Grosse Cloche, the city’s bell tower; Bordeaux Cathedral, where Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future Louis VII in 1137, and the Great Synagogue of Bordeaux, built in the 1880s. (BB, L, Captain's Farewell Dinner)
Day 7: Bordeaux
Featured Excursion: Exclusive “Experience Bordeaux as the Bordelais Do”
Though Aquitaine is profoundly French, its history and spirit owe a great deal to the Romans, who colonized the region in 56 BC, and to Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose second marriage to England’s Henry II initiated a period of tremendous British influence.
Bordeaux prospered under the English, who bolstered its wine production by shipping countless bottles of claret, as it was known, across the channel. (The area still retains a certain British accent, and is one of the few regions in France where le golf has gained a following.) The city has long been known as La Belle Au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty)—she’s definitely beautiful, but does seem to be waking. Over the last decade, her charming boulevards have been made pedestrian zones, a modern transportation system was installed and her exquisite neoclassical architecture has been restored. There’s also been an influx of university students, giving the city a youthful, revitalized spirit.
See Bordeaux à pied on this fascinating walking tour, which will include stops to at some of the city’s most mouth-watering merchants. Not only will you see the sights of Bordeaux (like the Grand Théâtre, a 15th-century bell tower, and Bordeaux Cathedral) but you’ll taste its many delicacies too, including foie gras, freshwater and seafood specialties, wine and canelés, the pastry whose curious 18th-century origins are still shrouded in mystery.
This afternoon, you’ll have free time to enjoy the city on your own. Revisit some of the places you saw on your tour or explore new areas. It’s a great time to do a little shopping, either for yourself or for loved ones at home.
It is said that ten bottles of Bordeaux are opened around the world every second. Each should offer a toast to this glorious region and its bewitching capital city! (BB, L, D)
Day 8: Bordeaux (disembark), transfer to the airport
You’ve sampled culinary delights, touched history and experienced the best of life along the three rivers of Aquitaine. Now the journey comes to a close and it’s time to disembark the ship. If your cruise package includes a group departure transfer or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to Bordeaux–Mérignac International Airport for your flight home. Your Uniworld adventure may be over, but we know you’ll enjoy the memories you’ve made for years to come. (CB,BB)
Aquitaine, situated in the southwest corner of France, is dramatically edged by the Pyrenees to the south, which form the border with Spain, and by the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Once home to the Romans and the Basque—and once known as Gascony—this is the land of troubadours and chivalry. It is as famous for the marriage of its duchess Eleanor to England’s Henry II (a tale popularized in James Goldman’s 1966 play, A Lion in Winter
) as it is for The Three Musketeers
, whose author, Alexandre Dumas, was inspired by the adventures of a local count, Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, better known as d’Artagnan.
The region boasts three rivers—the Garonne, the Dordogne, and the Gironde—each of which you’ll experience in delightful ways on a journey that is bookended by time in Bordeaux, a UNESCO World Heritage city and one of the most beautiful river ports in Europe.
From prestigious châteaux to the towns of Pauillac, gateway to the magical Médoc wine route, and Saint-Émilion, the oldest wine area of the Bordeaux region, the Aquitaine experience is a sensory one. Taste the bounty of noble wine estates and sample gourmet delicacies at artisans’ markets. See and touch history at such iconic places as the citadel of Blaye, one of famed French architect Vauban’s most imposing fortresses and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Not only does this region offer an excitingly rich blend of history, culinary traditions, and world-famous wines, but it also features the wild beauty of the Atlantic coast, especially as it flows into the Gironde estuary. Best of all, many of its towns and attractions remain relatively undiscovered by tourists. People have lived here since the Paleolithic era, yet you’ll feel like the first to discover it.
With a host of opportunities to savor Aquitaine’s distinct heritage, you’ll be truly captivated by this long-ago kingdom. Come and enjoy the douceur de vivre
—the sweetness of life—for which this marvelous region is known.
7-night cruise in a riverview stateroom on the breathtaking River Royale
All transfers on arrival and departure days
All meals onboard, prepared using the finest and freshest ingredients
7 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 7 dinners
Captain’s Welcome Gala and Farewell Dinners
Complimentary beverages such as fine wine, beer, and soft drinks onboard; bottled water replenished daily in your stateroom; and 24-hour specialty coffee and tea station
8 excursions fully hosted by English-speaking local expert
Exclusive "Go Active" Program
Services of an experienced Uniworld Cruise Manager
State-of-the-ar portable audio headset system on all shore excursions
Use of bicycles and Nordic walking sticks
Captivating onboard local entertainment
Free Internet and Wi-Fi