AmaWaterways Bordeaux Overview
First up, this is an intense itinerary. You can busy yourself from morning to midnight, if you choose to do so (more on that in a moment). On each day of the seven-night, eight-day cruise along the Dordogne and Garonne rivers — and through the Gironde Estuary — you’ll be offered complimentary morning and afternoon tours along with wine tastings, bike rides, vineyard walks, market visits, special events and fabulous dinners. If you’re so inclined, you’ll even find yourself dancing as the clock ticks toward midnight. We certainly did so — on more than one evening.
My advice: Don’t try to do it all. Make this cruise your own by giving yourself some downtime to process all that you’ll be experiencing and learning during your time in Bordeaux. You’ll need some free time to fully absorb the beauty of this region.
Why is this cruise so active? AmaWaterways wants to give its guests choices, and the company certainly succeeds in doing so on its Bordeaux river cruises. I counted 20 shore activities over six days (the cruise spans eight, days but the first and last days are for embarkation and disembarkation).
Of course, when you’re traveling, it’s hard to say no to complimentary tours, and we found ourselves opting to do most.
On some mornings and afternoons, two tours were offered, making it impossible for one person to do both, so we split up. When AmaDolce docked in Libourne, for example, I joined a group of eager cyclists to pedal to Saint-Émilion, a route that took us only about 12 kilometers (close to 8 miles) but through gorgeous countryside. The guided bicycle excursion did not include an extended tour of Saint-Émilion, however. We pedaled to the UNESCO World Heritage village, dismounted, locked our bikes and had free time on our own to explore on our own.
Traveling with me, Monica would have cycled, but that meant missing the included tour of Saint-Émilion and in particular, the Monolithic Church, carved into a limestone cave in the 12 century. As it turns out, the church preceded a Breton monk named Emilion who fled to southern France in the 8th century to escape persecution by the Benedictine order. Emilion adopted an eremitic existence, living in a cave. As I had toured the church before on a previous visit, it was good to have the guided bike tour so that I too could experience something new.
Bordeaux, Beautiful & Bountiful
We traveled in late March on Amadolce’s inaugural Bordeaux cruise. Spring was struggling to make its appearance, giving us a couple of sunny and warm days, mixed with other days that were overcast and grey. On our full day in Bordeaux (the day before disembarkation), the sky dumped buckets of rain. That didn’t stop the cyclists on our cruise from touring Bordeaux by bike or the organized city tours in the morning.
During our time on AmaDolce, we discovered that the Bordeaux region is as beautiful as it is bountiful. Vineyards knit their way across flowery landscapes. Stately châteaux dot the countryside. At the colorful markets, friendly vendors offered us tastes of French breads, fruits and cheeses.
If you are someone who believes the French to be rude, you owe it to yourself to visit the France we saw on AmaDolce. The French people we met were warm and welcoming.
Each day, Bordeaux managed to surprise even the most experienced travelers among us. At a morning market in Créon, we saw something you’d only see in “deep France,” said my French colleague Christophe Tissinier.
Tissinier runs ground operations for a handful of the ocean and river cruise lines visiting Bordeaux. His job is to make sure the shore tours run flawlessly and that they serve up something interesting for guests.
I stood with him as we were watching locals choose caged chickens to take home. The vendor reached into a cage, grabbed the selected bird by the scruff of its neck and stuffed it, with much squawking, into a box. It was not entirely humane, but I was told that the chicken would have a good life once at home with the owner, who purchased the chicken for its eggs.
As we walked the market, Tissinier said: “Many of these traditions will be gone in a decade or more I suspect.” I was glad we were seeing them before they were gone.
Earlier in the week, at Château de Roquetaillade, our guide turned out to be the owner, though out of modesty perhaps, she never revealed that the ancient château had been in her family for more than 700 years.
Indeed, the most memorable part of our cruise was the people of this region. AmaWaterways even worked with some of the towns and villages on the itinerary to encourage engagement between locals and guests. In Bourg, for example, the company spent nearly a year working with local tourism officials so that guests were greeted by vintners and tourism authorities during a lavish early-evening ceremony in the town’s “House of Wine.” It’s a relationship that will continue, exclusive to AmaWaterways, as the season progresses.
Two Tours Not To Miss
Which two tours would I recommend not missing? Definitely, do not miss Saint-Émilion, whether you choose to do the Saint-Émilion excursion by motorcoach and on foot or the bicycle tour. Both include wine tastings at a Saint-Émilion vineyard.
The other tour I would recommend: Château de Roquetaillade from Cadillac. The castle alone was worth seeing but the guide made the tour one that topped the list for us. I wrote about the tour in my first post: Beautiful Bordeaux, A First For AmaDolce.
Staterooms On AmaDolce
There are eight different categories of accommodation aboard AmaDolce:
At 140 square feet are the Single Accommodation. These two staterooms are located side-by-side on Cello Deck, and feature a French balcony – making them ideal for solo travelers who don’t want to compromise. These feature a wardrobe, bathroom with shower, and a desk with internet access and a flat-panel television.
Categories D and E measure 170 square feet, and are located on Piano Deck. They feature fixed windows and offer a sitting area, desk with internet access and flat-panel television, and a bathroom with a multi-function shower.
Categories A,B and C are also 170 square feet, but are located on Cello and Violin decks. They feature all the amenities of the Category D and E staterooms, but with the addition of floor-to-ceiling windows which open to a French balcony. Category A staterooms offer a slightly more desirable location, being one deck higher than Category B and are located amidships. Ours was a category A stateroom (311). I photographed stateroom 305, also a category A stateroom.
AmaDolce has one Category A+ stateroom located all the way forward on Violin Deck. It offers all the amenities and features of a standard Category A stateroom, but is appreciably larger at 225 square feet.
Topping off the accommodation choices are three Junior Suites. Located on Violin Deck, these suites are a comfortable 255 square feet and feature a full bathroom with shower and tub, a flat-panel television, mini bar, spacious wardrobe, and a full size window in addition to a complete French balcony.
Stateroom televisions feature internet access (available at no charge throughout the ship on WiFi-enabled devices) as well as first-run movies. Bottled water is also stocked as needed in staterooms. You’ll find bathrobes, shampoo, conditioner, bar soap and lotion in the marble bathrooms. There’s plenty of closet space with hangers, as well as a closet with shelves and a safe. Unless your suitcase is humongous, it can fit underneath the bed.
Beds are comfortable with duvets as well as nightstands and reading lamps on each side. A sliding-glass door exposes the French balcony.
Dining On AmaDolce
AmaDolce’s wait staff made dining a delight. They were both professional and personable, always ready with a joke or a smile.
Breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. and runs until 9 a.m. on most days. Not up that early? Late Risers Pastries are available in the lounge until 10 a.m. (and from 6:30 a.m. for those who are up early). Complimentary coffee, tea and hot chocolate are always available in the lounge.
Lunch kicks off at noon, and on some days 12:30 p.m. A light lunch is also served in the lounge.
In the main restaurant, lunch is served buffet-style with a good selection of salads, sandwiches and specials of the day (mussels and shellfish, for example, on one day of our cruise). Menu items also feature dishes that can be ordered from your waiter, and the menu also features “Always Available” dishes, such as Minute Steak and fries, or grilled chicken breast and veggies. Vegetarian options are always available, and AmaWaterways can cater to nearly any dietary lifestyle. Gluten-free products are readily available.
Dinner is similar to lunch but without the buffet selections. Dinners typically started at 7 p.m. in either the Main Restaurant or the Chef’s Table, a reservations-only restaurant at the back of the ship. AmaWaterways pours Bordeaux reds and whites on this itinerary.
We had two favorite meals on our cruise that we suggest you do not miss:
The Chef’s Table. Be sure to make reservations at the start of your cruise. There is no charge to dine here, and the experience (as well as the food and wine) rivals what you’d expect to find in fine restaurants. For an added bonus, try to dine in The Chef’s Table when AmaDolce is underway along the river.
The Chain de Rotisserie dinner. Offered one evening of your cruise in the Main Restaurant, this is the event where the chefs show off their best talents. AmaWaterways is the only river cruise line that was invited to join one of the world’s most prestigious culinary organizations – founded in 1950 in Paris.
Life On Board AmaDolce
During most of your days in Bordeaux, you’ll find yourself on tours. You’ll be on the ship for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as for evening activities. Evening entertainment ranges from musical performances to dancing to conversation and late-night snacks (I enjoyed the chicken wings after arriving late on the first night).
There’s a gym that was used regularly on our voyage, as well as a salon (I paid 17 euros for a haircut), massage table, shop — and the upper deck with its expansive space, deck chairs, walking track, putting green, Jacuzzi and a section up front to relax and enjoy away from it all.
When the ship is docked, bikes are always available for you to pedal away free of charge, so long as you bring them back, of course.
The big attraction is Bordeaux itself, however, with its delectable wines and gorgeous landscapes — and that wonderful French flair that can only be found when visiting this beautiful nation with its beautiful people on a beautiful ship called AmaDolce.
Prices for AmaWaterways’ cruise and land program in Bordeaux begin at US$4,399 per person, while the cruise-only program starts at US$2,899. Some departures offer “Limited Time Savings” of up to $1,500 per stateroom plus prepaid gratuities. See AmaWaterways’ website for a detailed itinerary and pricing.
Check out our slideshow in the player below. If you have problems viewing the slideshow, you can also check it out our AmaWaterways Bordeaux Flickr Album.
AmaDolce docked in Libourne. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Morning Stroll In Bazas
So typically French: coffee at a sidewalk table and an old man with his cane and beret. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Bordeaux, It's All About The Wine
All throughout our week, we'd learn about the Bordeaux wines as we visit the many vineyards strung across the region. © 2016 Monica Frisk
With her accordion, the French beauty entertained guests from AmaDolce in a ceremony that is exclusive for guests of AmaWaterways. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
When visiting Bordeaux in 1787, Thomas Jefferson made note of Château Margaux as one of the "four vineyards of first quality." © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Château Margaux produced one of four wines to achieve Premier cru (first growth) status in the Bordeaux Classification of 1855. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Refrigerator magnets representing Bordeaux wines. © 2016 Monica Frisk
The wine cellar at Château Gruaud-Larose held some fascinating vintage wines. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
One of the desserts during tea time, which took place each afternoon in the lounge. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Under The Bridge
All hands on deck as we sail toward Bordeaux. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
AmaDolce's Captain, Louis Devaux . © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Cycling To Saint-Émilion
On our way to Saint-Émilion. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
In Bourg, Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, co-owners of AmaWaterways, became honorary inductees to La Connétablie de Guyenne, an organization founded in 1152 to glorify Bordeaux wines. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
A new twist on the scallop. It was delicious. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
One of the highlights: French cheeses at each meal. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
To the far right, detox water, one of many healthy options on AmaDolce. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
She always had a smile. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Sun deck on AmaDolce. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
AmaDolce flying its flags. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Jacuzzi on the upper deck. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
AmaDolce features a small sitting area in front of the Captain's Wheelhouse. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
The vendor reached into the cage, grabbed a selected bird by the scruff of its neck and stuffed it, with much squawking, into a box. I was told the chicken would have a good life once at home with the new owner, who purchased the chicken for its eggs. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
At The Market
Monica Frisk (right) and Kristin Karst with a local olive vender at the market in Creon. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
One of the dining highlights of our trip: dinner at The Chef's Table, a complimentary reservations-only restaurant on AmaDolce. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Two tours were offered to Saint-Émilion: one by bus and one by bike. The bus tour includes the famous monolothic underground church. A photo snapped along the way to Saint-Émilion. © 2016 Monica Frisk
Cycling to Saint-Émilion. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
On the way to Saint-Émilion, we cycled through the Pomerol wine-producing region. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Cycling Through Wine Country
Four guided rides were offered during our one-week cruise on AmaDolce. © 2016 Mike Louagie
Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Dinner
AmaWaterways is the only river cruise line that was invited to join one of the world’s most prestigious culinary organizations - founded in 1950 in Paris. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
A Special Vintage
Presenting a private label of Côtes de Bourg wine for AmaWaterways. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Docked In Cadillac
AmaDolce docked in Cadillac, France, for excursions to Bazas and its morning market and later to Château de Roquetaillade, where we were taken on a tour by the owner. © 2016 Ralph Grlzzle
Friendly faces welcome us in Bourg. © 2016 Monica Frisk
In Bourg, sampling the excellent reds from Château Beaulieu. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
AmaWaterways spent nearly a year working with local tourism officials so that guests were greeted by vintners and tourism authorities during a lavish early-evening ceremony in the town’s “House of Wine." © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
The city of Bourg from AmaDolce. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
On our Bordeaux cruise, we cruised on the Gironde Estuary and the rivers Garonne and Dordoge. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Passing vineyards and churches while pedaling to Bourg. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Our guide, right, with my friend and colleague Mike Louagie, while riding from Blaye to Bourg. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
I joined a guided bike tour, using AmaDolce's complimentary bicycles, to pedal from Blaye to Bourg, only 17 kilometers, with a few hills to get the heart pumping. We met AmaDolce about halfway through our trip to Bourg. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Service With A Smile
Our wonderful waiter Yordan always had a smile. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Made with fresh seafood from the region, bouillabaisse. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
AmaDolce docked at the foot of the citadel in Blaye. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Complimentary Bordeaux wines (one red and one white) are poured during lunch and dinner. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
A Welcome Reception
Reception area on AmaDolce. © 2016 Monica Frisk
Measuring 170 square feet, this category A stateroom (305) features floor-to-ceiling windows that open to a French balcony. Located on Violin Deck. Our stateroom was 311, situated midship, with a queen-bed configuration. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Our Stateroom Bathroom
Our spacious marble-appointed bathroom featured a shower with multi-jet shower heads as well as bathrobes. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Category A, B and C staterooms feature French balconies, queen- or twin-bed configurations, marble bathroom with shower, plenty of closet space, a sitting area and desk, along with iMacs that feature compimentary internet access and first-run Hollywood movies. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Aging barrels at Château Gruaud-Larose. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Chateau Cos d'Estournel
Chateau Cos d'Estournel, one of the top producers in the Medoc region. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Château Guiraud Sauternes Tasting
Tipping a glass at Château Guiraud. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Sampling the sweet Sauternes at Château Guiraud. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Château de Roquetaillade
A memorable day at Château de Roquetaillade. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Château de Roquetaillade
We toured with the owner of Château de Roquetaillade. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Château de Roquetaillade
In 1306, Cardinal de la Mothe, who was a nephew of Pope Clement V, built le Château Neuf, which was square and featured six towers and a central keep. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Château de Roquetaillade
On the site of the well-preserved castle, Charlemagne constructed the first earth and timber fortifications as he advanced toward the Pyrenees. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Bazas, Back View
Bazas along its city wall. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
When asked if we could take a photography, she replied in French that it would be okay but that we could also buy some potatoes. © 2016 Monica Frisk
Monica At The Market
Monica Frisk, ready to explore the market in Bazas. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
AmaDolce Under Way
Cruising the Gironde Estuary toward Bourg. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Hamming It Up
Friendly vendors at the Bazas market were quick to chat or pose for a photo. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Bazas, Morning Market
Our first full day started under sunny skies with a 30-minute motorcoach transfer to Bazas, where a morning market was in full swing. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle
Evening In Bordeaux
Late evening from the deck of AmaDolce in Bordeaux. © 2016 Ralph Grizzle