Tuesday, October 2, 2012


  By Janet Steinberg, Travel Editor

“God only made water”, stated Victor Hugo, “man made wine.”  And what better place to taste that wine than in the world’s major wine industry capital?

Because our cruise ship, Silversea’s Silver Whisper, docked overnight in Bordeaux (the sixth-largest urban area in France) we had time enough to explore both the city and some of the surrounding wine region.


Our first day’s Silversea shore excursion (Panoramic Bordeaux & Wine Tasting) indulged our senses with the beauty and flavors of this port city on the Garonne  River in southwestern France. Bordeaux has diligently preserved its elegant 18th century architecture.

A panoramic sightseeing drive took us through the Old Town of Bordeaux  (Place de la Bourse), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We saw the Palais Rohan (now the City Hall or Hôtel de Ville), Place Gambetta and Place Tourny, that offers a view of the late 18th-century Grand Theatre. From here, we passed by the 14th-century Cailhau Gate, the former belfry of the Town Hall from the Middle Ages, and the impressive Grosse Cloche Bell of Bordeaux. 


The current Grosse Cloche Bell was cast in June 1775. Until the Liberation of France, at the end of the WW II, the bell announced all of the town’s important events, including fires and the beginning of the grape harvest.  Due to its weight and the risk of cracks that could cause vibration of the bell, it has not rung since the commemoration of the Allied victory on 8 May 1945.

The tour culminated with a visit and wine tasting at Chateau Smith Haut Lafite.

Sniff…swirl…sip.  Gaze at it.  Inhale it.  Taste it.  Once you have gotten even a mere taste of France’s Route du Vignoble, you will never again just drink a glass of wine.  Like the best of Francophiles, you will know it is something to be savored.  If you care to learn more about French wines, stop in at La Maison du Vin De Bordeaux, the headquarters of the Bordeaux Wine Council.  There you can get free maps, advice, and a crash course in wine tasting

On our second day in Bordeaux, among its many diverse choices, Silver Whisper offered a shore excursion to the UNESCO Village of St. Emilion.  The celebrated vineyards of St. Emilion are among the most famous and attractive destinations in the Bordeaux region. The vineyards reach all the way up to St. Emilion's 13th-century town walls.

The St. Emilion excursion toured the village, its underground monuments, and its other landmarks including the Collegiale Church and its magnificent, 12th-century cloister, the 12th-century ramparts, the marketplace and Eglise Monolithe, a 12th century church carved from one of the cliffs above the city.  It is the largest underground church in Europe. Adjacent to the church, the catacombs include a charnel house and numerous sepulchers dating from the 11th and 12th centuries.

You might also want to visit Bordeaux’s synagogue, built in 1882 in the Spanish Portuguese style. One of the largest places of worship in France, it can accommodate up to 1,500 people.

Be sure to make time for a pleasant stroll along the Garonne River from the Esplanade des Quinconces to the to the pedestrian area that radiates from the Place de la Comedie.


On the Esplanade des Quinconces is the Monument aux Girondins.  It consists of fountains and a large column surmounted by a statue representing liberty.  There are two statues of Montaigne and Montesquieu on either side of the place.

Two rostral columns, erected in 1829, stand at the end of the Esplanade, overlooking the Garonne River  and glorifying Bordeaux’s port activity.  These are surmounted by statues of Neptune (symbolizing navigation) and Mercury (symbolizing trade).
On the Place de la Comedie, directly across from the Grand Theatre, the elegant, faithfully restored Grand Hotel de Bordeaux reigns supreme.   Take a break from touring with a drink in the Grand Hotel’s Orangerie, the hotel’s winter garden.  For 7 Euros you can enjoy an Alain Milliat Jus de Fruits and a complimentary plate of gougere fromage (flaky cheese roll), gressini (melt-in-your-mouth poppy/sesame sticks), tomato relish and pesto.

If you have more time in Bordeaux than a shore excursion allows, you must further explore this region where sunshine ripens the grapes to luscious colors.  Let yourself be treated to la couleur du bon gout.  (The color of good taste.)  Let yourself be totally immersed in le vins de Bordeaux.  (The wines of Bordeaux.)
A tour through the Bordeaux wine-producing region that lies along the banks of the Gironde, the Garonne, and the Dordogne Rivers, is a tour through vineyards gently bathed by iodine-perfumed breezes from the Atlantic Ocean.

The 250,000 acres of vines, which occupy this most favorable location in southwestern France, account for one-third of the total wine production in France.  A variety of soils, subsoils, microclimates, grape varieties and traditions generate a diversity of nuance and bouquets and offer a range of wines unique in the world.  (Red wines; dry white wines; sweet white wines; and white dessert wines.

Bordeaux represents an age-old cultural influence of rare permanency and richness.  With its extraordinary heritage of classical, neoclassical, and contemporary, architecture, it is little wonder that it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. 

Bordeaux, the capital of Aquitaine, is a place where vineyards are art and buildings are history. 

HISTORIC OPERA HOUSE (Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, inaugurated  April 17, 1780)

JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 38 national Travel Writer Awards and an International Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Mariemont, Ohio.

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