Rupert Parker cruises down the Dordogne River and up the Gironde, stopping off to cycle around the Bordeaux wine regions. There’s the added bonus of popping into Chateaux and sampling famous wines like Margaux, Pomerol, Sauternes, Médoc and Saint-Émilion.
The transfer from Bordeaux airport is less than an hour and I join the boat at Liborne on the Dordogne River. It’s a 78m river cruiser, aptly named Bordeaux and takes up to 96 guests in 49 cabins, all with en-suite facilities. I’m introduced to my bike, fitted out with helmet, lock and pannier and I’m ready to roll. The clever idea is that you cycle by day and sleep on board at night whilst the ship reaches its next destination.
The first day’s cycling is an easy 10km to the medieval town of Saint-Émilion, through rows of vines stretching all the way to the horizon. Indeed grapes will be my constant companion throughout the week and the joy of cycling is that it’s easy to drop into a chateau and request a tasting. It’s too early for that so I take a tour of some of the 200 km of catacombs and visit the most impressive underground church in Europe. Emilian was an 8th century monk from Brittany who sought refuge in one of caves here and he became so famous they named the village after him.
In the evening we sail downriver to Bourg, a fortified village on a rocky outcrop at the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne. On board I get to do my own wine tasting as they have a selection of Bordeaux wines available by the glass or the bottle. They feature a different wine every night, at a slightly reduced price, although I would suggest that their “happy hour” should take place before the meal, rather than after. Nevertheless the food’s pretty food, hearty enough to sustain even the most avid cyclist.
The rain’s held off so far but next morning the storm clouds are looming as I meander through the vineyards of Cote du Bourg, then Cote du Blaye to the town of the same name (read more about Blaye). It now begins to pour, but the immense fortifications of the citadel provide ample shelter. This military complex was designed by Vauban, the famous French military engineer, and was constructed between 1685 and 1689. It was designed to repel attackers coming from the Atlantic and has a tremendous view of the Gironde estuary, the largest in Europe.
Cycling in Bordeaux
The following day, it’s a simple ride across the estuary and we anchor near Lamarque, in the heart of the Medoc wine region. The soil is a good mix of gravel, sand and clay perfect for red grape varieties and produces high quality full bodied reds. On my way to Pauillac my ride takes me past many famous wineries but I’m saving my tasting for the famous Chateau Margaux in the opposite direction. Instead I content myself with a coffee and croissant on the delightful promenade facing the river and watch the sailors disembark in the marina. Another 20kms later, I’m in the town of Margaux and make my way to the Chateau. It’s an attractive 18th century Neo-Classical villa in extensive gardens but I’m disappointed to find that visits are by appointment only.
That night we dock in the heart of Bordeaux, sailing past the city’s newest tourist attraction the Cite du Vin. It rises upwards like a giant inflatable toy, its circular tower all gold striped, resting on a shiny metallic base. The inspiration for the shape of the building is said to be a humble carafe, coupled with the swirl of wine in a tasting glass and it’s half museum, half theme park. Interactivity is the key and a special iphone-like device guides you through every aspect of the history and actuality of wine making across the world. Best of all, on the top floor, you can choose a glass of wine, whilst enjoying a stunning view of the city.
Now I’ve ticked off almost all of Bordeaux’s famous wine regions and there’s just one remaining. I cross the Garonne and visit the bustling Friday market in Langon before climbing upwards to the village of Sauternes, famous for its dessert wines. I’m looking for the celebrated Château d’Yquem and, even though it’s marked on my map, it’s difficult to find. Perhaps they don’t encourage visitors, after all, thieves broke into the cellars in 2013 and stole 380 half-bottles of wine worth €125,000. Finally, as I stumble across the gates to the chateau, and cycle down the long drive, there’s thunder all around me and the heavens open. I take shelter in one of the outhouses, hoping I won’t be arrested by a security guard, and reflect that I almost got soaked in Château d’Yquem.
Rupert Parker is a writer, photographer, cameraman & TV Producer. His special interests are food & travel & he writes about everything from wilderness adventure to gourmet spa tours. Read about his latest adventures on his website Planet Appetite. For this trip he travelled with : www.freedomtreks.co.uk