Cruising the Bordeaux River with Rusty Grape Vineyards

The 17th-century Citadelle de Blaye was a highlight tour on Rusty Grape Vineyards’ first annual group cruise. Viki Eierdam


As I sat in the sunshine on the bow of the ship finishing my most satisfying lunch, I gazed peacefully out to the remarkable view before me. The banks of the Garonne River were dessert for my eyes and my only decision at the moment was whether to procure a second glass of crisp Left Bank wine—a sauvignon blanc/semillion blend—before heading up to the sundeck or allow the scenery to intoxicate me on its own.

Fortunately, I was saved from expending too much brain power as one of the ever-present crew members came right over with a chilled bottle and a smile. So went my eight days in April aboard the Viking Forseti with 30 or so other guests who’d chosen to accompany Rusty Grape Vineyards on their first annual group cruise. With a maximum occupancy of 195 passengers, the ship was intimate enough to get to know everyone on board but roomy enough to ensure personal space.

Although Viking River Cruises has a reputation for appealing to an older travel audience, my 19 year-old niece summed up her week in three words; “It was magical.” Viki Eierdam
Although Viking River Cruises has a reputation for appealing to an older travel audience, my 19 year-old niece summed up her week in three words; “It was magical.” Viki Eierdam

Having been on several mega cruise ships, the Viking Forseti was a refreshing change of pace, most noticeably in the areas of genuine crew member connections and the ease with which everyone disembarked the ship at ports of call. At every stop, we literally just walked off. Anyone who’s ever endured long lines and chaotic tendering knows why that’s worth mentioning.

The week began like a person approaching uncertain water; slow and intentional. For jet lag recovery, it was the first sign that Viking truly understands the plight of the travel weary. We enjoyed guided tours of the largest urban UNESCO World Heritage Site (Bordeaux) and time in this vibrant city on our own. The Museum of Aquitaine, The Museum of Wine, strolling through the Public Garden, browsing antiques on Rue Notre Dame and a surprisingly affordable wine tasting at the posh and government-subsidized Maison du Vin were just a few of the highlights we savored in Bordeaux.

Known as the most wine-focused cruise itinerary for Viking, there were several opportunities to enjoy vino from its source including Sauternes tasting at Château d’Arche. Viki Eierdam
Known as the most wine-focused cruise itinerary for Viking, there were several opportunities to enjoy vino from its source including Sauternes tasting at Château d’Arche. Viki Eierdam

Known as the most wine-focused cruise itinerary for Viking, there were several opportunities to enjoy vino from its source and learn why that area is ideally suited for premier status. Notably, an on-board Bordeaux primer with a local expert, Sauternes tasting at Château d’Arche, sparkling wines among crumpling cloisters in Saint-Émilion, Left Bank treasures at Château Giscours located in the Margaux appellation, an off-site dinner complete with local wine pairings at Château Kirwan and optional tours including cognac blending at Maison Camus. Viking also focuses on introducing passengers to the regional wines with a different red and white option at dinnertime every evening.

Sparkle tasting at the bubbles bar of Cloître de Cordeliers Historical Monument in Saint-Émilion is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Viki Eierdam
Sparkle tasting at the bubbles bar of Cloître de Cordeliers Historical Monument in Saint-Émilion is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Viki Eierdam

Casting off from Bordeaux bound for Cadillac on the second night put the week into high gear. There’s nothing quite like dining around an elegantly-set table onboard a Longship as it quietly cuts through one of the greatest waterways in France. Each stop—from Cadillac to Bourg to Libourne to Blaye to Pauillac—brought new adventures and well-versed city guides who shared nuggets about the area and were able to elaborate for a more in-depth cultural experience. We found ourselves tagging along for an overview and venturing out to explore the nooks and crannies more independently on most outings but that’s up to individual traveler discretion.

The Viking Forseti is mobile enough to disembark the ship at fascinating ports of call with no long lines and chaotic tendering. Viki Eierdam
The Viking Forseti is mobile enough to disembark the ship at fascinating ports of call with no long lines and chaotic tendering. Viki Eierdam

Gathering time in the Lounge was highlighted by a different form of entertainment each night (and, no, I’m not talking about watching Jeremy and Heather table dance although dancing was involved…and I think there might be video out there), including local performers brought on board and some hands-on education of regional foods, cheeses and wines.

I saw the Bordeaux region through my eyes. I saw it through the eyes of my traveling companion—my 19 year-old niece. I watched her, decades younger, marvel at architecture and engage in the travel stories of other passengers in such a way that I could see her brain forming a bucket list longer than the one she came on board with. I noticed, throughout the week, a young lady transcribing the memoirs of family members she was traveling with and saw those stories spawn conversation.

Off-site dinner at Château Kirwan with photo bomb courtesy of Viking Forseti’s program director, Lorin Dragan. Viki Eierdam
Off-site dinner at Château Kirwan with photo bomb courtesy of Viking Forseti’s program director, Lorin Dragan. Viki Eierdam

Viking has a reputation for appealing to an older travel audience and, while it’s true there are no multi-story elevators, flashy casinos, game rooms or kiddie pools, there is time, unparalleled views, amazing cuisine and ports of call that charm and fascinate. My niece summed up the week in three words; “It was magical.”

Looking ahead: Rusty Grape Vineyards is already booking for 2017. This time, they’re cruising the storied Danube River through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. Airfare through May 2016 is $200 per person, making it affordable to add another week to explore Prague or a nearby country. For more information, contact Lori Nelson of Cruise Planners at lori.nelson@cruiseplanners.com.