A vintage booze cruise: Board this ‘floating chateau’ in Bordeaux and sample the joys of France’s famous vineyards (and the drinks are all-in!)
- Lesley Bellew boards Uniworld’s SS Bon Voyage to cruise down the rivers Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde
- She samples local wines on board – white from Blaye and a red 1st Grand Cru Classe from Saint-Emilion
- Her tour group of 90 manages to get through 800 bottles of wine on the trip
Our cruise director comes over the tannoy at the end of our SS Bon Voyage’s Bordeaux sailing and declares: ‘It’s a record. You’ve knocked back 800 bottles of wine.’
I’m among the 90 passengers on this posh, week-long cruise and we’ve also clocked up gastronomical bragging rights — guest chef on our floating chateau is James Martin.
Embarkation starts well. While cases are taken to our cabins, everyone piles into the glitzy lounge. It’s 11am and the orders are specific: ‘Champagne, please.’ Drinks are all-in across Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ fleet.
Lesley Bellew boards Uniworld’s SS Bon Voyage in Bordeaux for a tour along the rivers Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde
‘While cases are taken to our cabins, everyone piles into the glitzy lounge (above),’ Lesley says of the beginning of her tour. ‘It’s 11am and the orders are specific: “Champagne, please”‘
As Lesley’s boat leaves Bordeaux, pictured, celebrity chef James Martin does a cookery demonstration for passengers
As we leave Bordeaux to sail along the rivers Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde, James treats us to a demo. He also shares a useful cheat; how to make a fruit and cream gateau with a cheap supermarket flan case as the base.
James tells stories of childhood summers in Saint-Emilion. While his father travelled the region tasting wines, he worked in a hotel kitchen.
‘At the age of eight, I came back from France knowing I wanted to be a cook,’ he says. ‘It’s here I learnt to use the best ingredients.’ And that’s what we’re served on James’s menu; Thai-spiced crab risotto, ceviche of monkfish, pan-roasted sea bass and a white chocolate and single malt whisky bread and butter pudding.
After every outing the crew greet guests back ‘home’ on the ‘beautifully appointed’ SS Bon Voyage. Above is one of the ship’s suites
Suites on the SS Bon Voyage have a butler, Lesley reveals. Above is one of the suite bathrooms
Cabins are ‘sumptuous’ with handmade Savoir beds, fine linen and a marble-clad shower room
Pictured is the sun deck on the ship. Drinks are all-in across Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ fleet, Lesley notes
It’s accompanied by local wine chosen by our sommelier; white from Blaye and a red 1st Grand Cru Classe produced in Saint-Emilion. SS Bon Voyage sails 30 miles to Blaye, mooring beneath a Unesco-listed fortress and opposite La Petite Cave wine bar.
Next, we turn our attention to cognac at the House of Remy Martin, where the old cellars are full of cobwebs so spiders protect the casks from insects.
After every outing the crew greet guests back ‘home’ on the beautifully appointed SS Bon Voyage.
Cabins are no less sumptuous with handmade Savoir beds, fine linen and a marble-clad shower room, while suites have a butler.
Lesley samples a white wine from Blaye during her tour, before the SS Bon Voyage sails to the French commune (pictured)
On a day trip in Saint-Emilion, pictured, Lesley stops by Le Veritable Macaron De St Emilion, a bakery that uses a centuries-old almond macaron recipe
Wine expert Susy Atkins accompanies guests on a tour of 17th-century Chateau d’Abzac, in a region she says is, ‘arguably still the world’s premier wine region’.
We venture into Saint-Emilion, to Le Veritable Macaron De St Emilion, a bakery that uses a centuries-old almond macaron recipe.
We sample them straight from the paper they were baked on — and like James Martin vow to return to this fairy tale village and our floating chateau.