Bordeaux. The name inspires visions of free-flowing wines and vintage chateaux, all nestled within the attractive rolling landscape of southern France. With cruises on board AmaWaterways’ AmaDolce, CroisiEurope’s Cyrano de Bergerac and Viking River Cruises‘ Viking Forseti under our belts, we thought we’d take a closer look at this magnificent region of France that is quickly becoming one of river cruising’s most immersive destinations.
Once overlooked by river cruise companies, the wine-producing region of Bordeaux, France, is beginning to attract river cruisers who are wine aficionados as well as history lovers, thanks to the region’s intoxicating mix of culinary delights and old-world charm.
The vast majority of river cruises through this region will operate roundtrip from the city of Bordeaux, and most (but not all) are a week in duration. Those looking for longer voyages usually have the option to purchase pre-and-post land excursions to Paris or the Loire Valley, and a handful of river cruise lines will even let you combine multiple river cruises together on back-to-back itineraries that are connected either by direct TGV high-speed train or by overland motorcoach travel.
While the distances between ports on these itineraries aren’t so great (you’ll likely remain docked overnight and do very little actual ‘cruising’ during the day), this proximity allows likes in the region like AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Scenic and Viking River Cruises to offer more in-depth overland experiences than many other European-based river voyages.
In a single week, guests typically visit multiple vineyards for lessons on past and present production methods and samples of the local wines, which can even include dessert wines like Sauternes. A few river cruise lines offer up visits to nearby Cognac, where fans of the famous brandy can participate in tastings and even blend their very own cognac at the Camus Cognac Visitor’s Center.
Do you have to be a drinker to get the most out of this trip? Not at all. At every turn, magnificent chateaus rise up and fall over the landscape, punctuated by vineyards that stretch for nearly as far as the eye can see. This is wine country, to be sure, but historic cities like Blaye and Cadillac make for fascinating destinations in their own right.
About the Waterways – Bordeaux River Cruises
Most of these voyages will begin in Bordeaux, which is located on the banks of the Garonne River. The Dordogne River is north of the Garonne. These two rivers meet northwest of Bordeaux and form what is known as the Gironde Estuary.
The Gironde Estuary is 50 miles long and is formed by the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. The estuary empties into the Bay of Biscay, which is part of the Atlantic Ocean. The cities of Blaye and Pauillac are located near the Gironde Estuary.
The Dordogne is located entirely in France. It flows for 300 miles in a westerly direction from Auvergne to its mouth – the Garonne River. A few cities on or near the Dordogne include Libourne, Saint-Émilion and Bergerac.
South of the Dordogne, the Garonne River flows for 374 miles from northern Spain into France. The mouth of the Garonne River is the Gironde Estuary.
Tidal fluctuations impose strict timetables on ships, and the region is subject to an unusual natural phenomenon, the Mascaret, a strong tidal “bore” that causes waves sometimes large enough for surfing.
A Typical Bordeaux River Cruise Itinerary
Most river cruises depart from Bordeaux and travel northward to the Gironde Estuary and the Dordogne River. Cruise ships travel only as far east as Libourne on the Dordogne, and visits to Saint-Émilion or Bergerac are by motorcoach from Libourne or by bicycle. The distance needed to travel between ports is minimal. Because of that, this isn’t a good itinerary for those who prize their long, lazy days of scenic cruising; most ports will take only a few hours to sail between. While this gives guests more time in port (including overnight stays in select ports of call), it does limit the amount of time your ship is actually sailing.
If your river cruise ship features onboard bicycles, you’ll find the entire region to be very cyclist-friendly. Cycling between towns (and wine tastings) is offered by some river cruise operators.
Some cruisetour itineraries begin or end in Paris. Travel between Paris and Bordeaux is by motorcoach or high-speed TGV train. Uniworld’s 15-day Portraits of Majestic France and 22-day Ultimate France packages both begin in Paris with a cruise along the Seine River. After the first river cruise, you’ll be transported to Bordeaux by high-speed TGV train to embark your voyage through Bordeaux.
Prominent destinations often visited on most Bordeaux river cruise itienraries:
Set Sail For Bordeaux
More and more river cruise lines have begun offering sailings through France’s Bordeaux region in recent years. We’ve listed some of the most popular options below. Sometimes, itineraries can change from year to year, so it’s always best to check with the cruise line of your choice for the most up-to-date sailing schedule. Don’t see your favorite river cruise line on here? Not to worry: more river cruise lines are beginning to offer sailings to Bordeaux with each new season.
AmaWaterways offers Bordeaux river cruises aboard the AmaDolce. The line’s Taste of Bordeaux itinerary is bookable as a weeklong cruise-only journey roundtrip from Bordeaux, or as a 13-day cruisetour that includes a two-night, pre-cruise stay in Paris, coupled with a two night, post-cruise trip to the magnificent Loire Valley. See our report from onboard AmaDolce here.
CroisiEurope has a variety of itineraries that offer journeys lasting between five and eight days days that typically travel north from Bordeaux. Most of these voyages are spent sailing down the Gironde Estuary and the Dordogne River, and are a great option for those looking to experience France with those who know it best (CroisiEurope is headquartered in Strasbourg.) See our report Bordeaux On A Budget: CroisiEurope’s Cyrano de Bergerac.
- Packages: 5 to 8 days
- Number of Itineraries in Bordeaux: 4
- Ships in Bordeaux: MS Cyrano de Bergerac, Princesse d’Aquitaine
Scenic offers only one option for river cruises in Bordeaux. The itinerary includes 6 days of travel by motorcoach from Paris to Bordeaux. The river cruise lasts 7 days.
- Packages: 12 days
- Number of Itineraries in Bordeaux: 1
- Ships in Bordeaux: Scenic Diamond
Uniworld offers three distinct Bordeaux river cruises: the eight-day Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux and the Portrait of Majestic France itinerary that operates from Paris to Rome. A much larger itinerary, the 22-day long Ultimate France journey, includes three separate weeklong river cruises along the Seine, Rhone and Saone rivers, with a weeklong river cruise through Bordeaux.
- Packages: 8 to 22 days
- Bordeaux Only: 8 days
- Bordeaux and Seine: 15 days
- Bordeaux, Seine, Rhône and Saône: 22 days
- Number of Itineraries in Bordeaux: 3
- Bordeaux Only: 1
- Bordeaux and Seine: 1
- Bordeaux, Seine, Rhône and Saône: 1
- Ships in Bordeaux: River Royale
Viking River Cruises offers river cruises throughout the Bordeaux region aboard Viking Longship Forseti. Both cruise-only and Cruisetour itineraries are available, with the latter offering a three night pre-or-post-cruise stay in Paris coupled with an overland rail journey to Bordeaux, or a three-night pre/post stay in the nearby Loire Valley.
- Packages: 8 to 22 days
- Number of Itineraries in Bordeaux: 1 total, with optional Paris or Loire Valley cruisetours.
- Ships in Bordeaux: Viking Forseti
What’s the Best Choice for a River Cruise in Bordeaux?
You’ll want to look at a few things: length of cruise (CroisiEurope offers the shortest duration; Uniworld and Viking offer the longest durations). You’ll also want to look at price. CroisiEurope is the price-leader, but there are trade-offs and qualifiers. See Bordeaux On A Budget: CroisiEurope’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Scenic and AmaWaterways straddle the middle ground. For further research, check out Comparing River Cruise Companies.
Read more articles about Bordeaux River Cruises.