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October 16, 2018

Cruising in High Spirits

A cruise on board the luxurious River Royale took photojournalist Chong Jun Liang through the French region of Bordeaux, which produces over 700 million bottles of wine annually. Daily land excursions took him to vineyards, châteaux and towns big and small

Chong Jun Liang

Sunset cruise

Vibrant colours painted the evening sky as we were about to leave the town of Bourg, along the Gironde River.

We were so engrossed with capturing the moment that our ship’s captain had to sound the horn to get us back on board.

During our eight-day cruise on board the luxurious River Royale, a ship operated by river cruise company Uniworld, we travelled down the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.

Every morning, we had the option to disembark to explore the surrounding areas. The ship docked at Bourg to pick up passengers who had gone to the town of Cognac to visit a cognac house. 

Historic monuments

Built in the 13th century, the Trinity Chapel is dedicated to Saint Émilion, the eighth-century Breton monk who lived like a hermit.

The chapel survived the French Revolution, a period when many religious monuments were destroyed, and is still used today for religious services.

Frescoes on this wall in the chapel were discovered after soot was cleaned off in the late 1990s.

A wine barrel maker had used the chapel as his workshop and burned wood as part of the barrel-making process. Soot covered the walls but ended up protecting the frescoes from the weather elements. 

Magnificent fortress

Enjoy a commanding view of the city of Blaye from the top of the Citadelle de Blaye, located in the north of Gironde.

Famed military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban had built the citadel in the 17th century during the reign of Louis XIV.

The unique feature that sets this structure apart from others is the “dry” moat, which is filled with vegetation instead of water. Still, the mighty fortress was deemed so secure that no enemy had ever tried to attack it.

The Citadelle de Blaye is one of the 12 fortifications designed by Vauban along the borders of France that were collectively awarded the status of Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008.

Today, Blaye is a charming commune with about 5,000 people. Apart from the Citadelle, it is also known for its red wine. 

Wine with a view

No trip to Saint-Émilion is complete without a visit to its famous vineyards.

We had had a few wine-tasting sessions during the cruise, but none in such an evocative setting.

Château Villemaurine, whose history dates back to the seventh century, produces three types of red wine.

We tasted two of them in a room with a balcony overlooking the vineyards.

I felt goosebumps admiring the beautiful fields where the grapes for the wine I was sipping were produced. Santé! 

Beauty in serenity

I was surprised to come across a Catholic church in the middle of the forest, about a 20-minute bicycle ride from the small town centre of Libourne.

The autumn leaves illuminated by the morning sun gave an added serenity to the Chapelle de Condat, which was first built in the 11th century and restored to its former glory in 2016.

A stained-glass window of the Chapelle de Condat depicts a biblical story. 

Market scenes

Located in the heart of Libourne — a town of 25,000 people — the farmers’ market is where the locals come for the freshest vegetables, fruits and cheeses.

Our guide bought various fruits and cheeses for us to try. My favourites were the grapes and oranges — they were soft and succulent, with sweet juices flowing with every bite.

The covered market sells a large variety of seafood and meat. The head chef of our cruise deemed the seafood here good enough to meet his exacting standards and restocked the ship’s supplies.

After a long day of excursions, I could always look forward to a sumptuous dinner on the ship. The mouthwatering meals ranged from the classic French poultry dishes such as coq au vin and duck confit, to delectable seafood.

 I especially enjoyed the fresh oysters bought from the Farmers’ Market — the mild saltiness came with a hint of sweetness. The cherry on top was to pair it with white wine and there was plenty of that on board.

The writer’s trip was sponsored by Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection.

GETTING THERE

I flew on Turkish Airlines from Singapore to Paris, then took the TGV highspeed train to Bordeaux. 

Traveller’s tips 

To move around Bordeaux, take the official taxis. They are safer and the fares go by the meter. 

The best time to visit Bordeaux is between June and August. Harvesting takes place in autumn and some vineyards may be closed to visitors then.

Uniworld’s River

Royale journeys through the Bordeaux region in south-west France, along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Guests on the luxurious cruise can enjoy royal treatment from the friendly service staff. Best of all, there is free-flow wine to go with the food. They can also disembark each day to explore cities along the route. Visit www.uniworld.com/asia for more information.

 

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