Joie de Vivre – The Joy Of Life
“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters…but with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.”
– Charles Baudelaire
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
November 23, 2014
Our first full day aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti began on a decidedly relaxing note. Unlike many river cruises that kick into high gear straight away, Viking’s Chateaux, Rivers & Wine itinerary began with a leisurely departure from Bordeaux in the early morning hours, followed by a morning of scenic cruising up to Pauillac, France.
Whenever people ask me why I like river cruising so much, I always point out mornings like this. The first thing I saw when I drew open the curtains of my stateroom was the beautiful grapefruit-pink colour of the sky as the sun tried to peek between the clouds. When I opened the balcony door and took a step out, I could hear dogs barking in the distance and roosters calling out. What you don’t hear on a river cruise – at least, not on a Viking Longship – is the ship itself. Even now, nearly three years after the first Longships were introduced, I am still amazed at how quietly these operate. Rather than being drowned out by a series of exhaust blowers or engine vibrations, all you can here on a Viking Longship is the soft rippling of the water as it passes along the hull.
After showering and dressing, I made my way down to The Restaurant on Deck 1 for breakfast. Once again, nearly every river cruise line offers a tremendous spread of goodies for breakfast, but Viking’s homemade fruit yogurt and fresh-baked breads really do the trick for me. I hear the muesli is pretty darn good, too.
I was onboard Viking Forseti for two short nights back in March as part of Viking’s massive 2014 Christening celebrations that saw 18 ships welcomed into the fleet in a single week, and it’s really nice to see so many familiar faces among the crew. The 2014 river cruise season is quickly drawing to a close; like the year itself, river cruising typically halts in January for a three-month hiatus before resuming in March. The crew of the Viking Forseti surprises me; although the end is in sight, they seem as upbeat and fresh as if the season has only just begun.
In many ways, this has been the “proving season” for Viking’s Chateaux, Rivers & Wine itinerary. With no prior experience in the region, Viking has subtly tweaked each successive sailing a little based on feedback from their guests. What’s more, everyone I have spoken to onboard here seems to have travelled here for two reasons: one, they love Viking. My uneducated mathematical reference is that over three-quarters of the guests onboard are past Viking guests, based on those that raised their hands at last night’s briefing in the lounge. The other reason most guests are here is because they want to see more of France, or they love wine, or they’re simply tired of doing the Danube and Rhine.
This afternoon, we got our first taste – literally – of just how unique this itinerary really is. For all guests onboard the Viking Forseti, Viking offered up a one-of-a-kind shore excursion that would span over seven hours and would continue going once we’d re-boarded our ship in Pauillac.
Guests were divided up into four groups (A, B, C and D) for an afternoon visit to a local Chateau to sample their wines. Each group visits a different Chateau in order to keep things intimate and manageable. Then, all guests would reconvene at Chateau Kirwan for an included dinner served by Viking Forseti’s own talented restaurant staff.
This was no ordinary excursion; Viking always provides high-quality tours ashore, but our adventure this afternoon really went to a level I’ve never seen from the line before. Designed exclusively for Viking guests, the wine tasting and dinner at Chateau Kirwan reminded me of the kinds of exclusive touring events that tour and river cruise operator Tauck likes to package with their itineraries; the exception being that Tauck’s river cruises go for double the price of admission on Viking.
The entire event an absolute wine-lover’s paradise. Even if you’re not into wines or not big on them, I’d urge you to not miss out on this – it is stunning, and the wealth of knowledge you gain is amazingly vast. If you don’t want to swallow the wine, you can spit it out into a spit bucket (but let’s be honest: few actually did that!)
After leaving Pauillac, our coach took us to Chateau Giscours – one of the vineyards certified in 1855 as a Grand Cru Classe – Margaux. Here, we were led on a tour of the picturesque property before heading into the tasting room to sample three different wines: Chateau Giscours 2009; La Sirene de Giscours – Second vin – 2009; and the 2011 Chateau Duthil – Cru Bourgeois.
If you don’t know exactly what those mean, don’t worry: that’s the entire point of this excursion: to discover the region’s famous wines. And, perhaps, bring a bottle home to enjoy! Here’s some fair warning: my favorite wine was, of course, the most expensive. Once you’ve had the best, you don’t need the rest.
The excursion would have been amazing with just the wine tasting alone, but it was our evening dinner at the grand Chateau Kirwan that really created an experience to remember. A few times during dinner I had to remind myself that this was not something put on by Silversea or Hapag-Lloyd or Tauck; this was created by Viking for Viking’s guests. That they’re not charging a hundred Euros per head for this event is simply amazing.
Perhaps more importantly, the restaurant and hotel staff of the Viking Forseti were standing outside the amber-lit entrance to the grand Chateau to welcome guests in as they arrived on their respective coaches at dusk. You get a real sense that the crew love this every bit as much as the guests; to be together, even off the ship, is a truly special experience.
Our menu du jour – 23 Novembre 2014:
TOURIN A L’AIL BORDELAIS
Traditional Bordeaux sweet onion & garlic soup in Puff Pastry
Le Vin: Signature
SALADE DES VENDANGES
Seasonal greens with harvest grapes, cured duck breast, duck confit, sour cream dressing
Le Vin: Chateau Kirwan 2009
FILET MIGNON DE VEAU, SAUCE CHAMPIGNONS, GAMBAS A’LA PROVENCALE
Veal tenderloin with mushroom sauce, shrimp Provencale, steamed asparagus, baby carrots, potato gratin
Le Vin: Chateau Kirwan 2004
VIENNETTA DE CHOCOLAT AUX FIGS A’LA SAUCE DE CASSIS, VIGNE ROUGE CRÈME GLACEE
Chocolate vinetta with figs in black currant sauce, red vine ice cream
Assiette de Fromages
Join us back onboard for a selection of local cheeses and fine wines after dinner in the Aquavit Terrace.
Dinner was, to say the least, sublime. One of the top meals I’ve ever had. The wines were exceptional, too. As I’ve said before, my knowledge of wines and winemaking is cursory at best. But you don’t have to be a sommelier-in-training to enjoy and appreciate the fine wines that were served tonight. Free-flowing, I might add.
As fabulous as the wine and the food and the company was, the largest cheers were reserved for Hotel Manager Michael Stamm as he introduced, at Chateau Kirwan, the restaurant and galley staff of the Viking Forseti. Mere seconds passed before the entire room leapt to their feet with thunderous applause.
Back onboard Viking Forseti, huge spreads of fine cheeses were laid out in the Aquavit Lounge, served with – naturally – more wine. C’est super! And what do you do with all of this? You do as the French do. You enjoy life. As much as I love the big megaship ocean liners, this is why I am always harping on about things like rock climbing walls and bumper car arenas at sea: you just don’t need it. You need good food, great wines, and excellent company. Tonight, guests aboard the Viking Forseti had that and then some.
With this dinner, served up right out of the gate on their newest itinerary, Viking is once again raising the bar even higher when it comes to offering their guests something truly out of the ordinary. They could have charged for it, sure. They could have not even offered it. Instead, they overcame the logistical hurdles of hosting this dinner each and every Sunday for nine months and made it into something unexpected and extraordinary.
I don’t know how they do it – but even after having taken so many different voyages with them, Viking has managed to wow me. They haven’t just created a great cruise itinerary; they’ve created an experience in the truest sense of the word.
Personally, today will live on in my memory as something very special.
Our full journey:
Viking Forseti - Chateaux, Rivers and Wine In Bordeaux
|November 22, 2014||Bordeaux, France||Arrival; free time.|
|November 23||Gironde River / Pauillac, France||Scenic Cruising / Medoc and Margaux wine country visit; wine tasting & evening at leisure|
|November 24||Blaye, France||Tour of Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site; afternoon free time or optional excursion to Cognac|
|November 25||Libourne, France||Tour of Saint-Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site & Pomerol wine region; afternoon at leisure or optional excursion to Bergerac|
|November 26||Garonne River / Cadillac, France||Scenic Cruising / Excursion to Sauternes wine region & wine tasting|
|November 27||Cadillac, France / Bordeaux, France||Morning city tour / evening at leisure in Bordeaux|
|November 28||Bordeaux, France||Tour of city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site; afternoon at leisure|
|November 29, 2014||Bordeaux, France||Disembark Viking Forseti; flight to Budapest, Hungary for the start of our next Live Voyage Report!|