Truffle Hunting in Pernod
“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
– Paul Coelho
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
November 25, 2014
This morning, I was up and strolling the decks of Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti at 5:30 a.m. as we entered our third full day of explorations on Viking’s new Chateaux, Rivers & Wine itinerary. Somewhere in the distance was Libourne, France, which was completely obscured by thick, London-esque fog that surrounded Viking Forseti as she anchored mid-channel to avoid “bottoming out” on the mud at low tide.
What was impressive about this fog was that, illuminated by the ship’s spotlights, visibility over the rails of the Viking Forseti was reduced to less than a foot. Personally, I love the fog, and more importantly, I love walking through it. Fog has a lonely, beautiful quality to it and not enough people take the time to enjoy it, so I walked (very quietly) for 13 laps – or one mile – around Viking Forseti’s jogging track on the Sun Deck. Just me and the fog. Even at this early hour, the temperature was just shy of a balmy 16°C. The weather continues to impress.
The fog also had the added bonus of illuminating Libourne’s magnificent medieval bridge, which just happens to be futuristically lit in shades of blue. With the thick, pea-soup fog rolling in and out, the lit blue accent circles cast stunning volumetric shadows that shone like beams of light from a lighthouse across the aft decks of the Viking Forseti.
After my foggy morning stroll, I made my way to the Aquavit Lounge for Early Riser’s Breakfast, which took on new meaning as once again I traded a deserted Sun Deck for an equally-deserted lounge. After one of Viking’s homemade fruit-topped yogurts and an espresso, I was feeling more human again, and set out to photograph some of Viking Forseti’s interior spaces before most of my fellow guests awoke:
Before the sun was up and the fog had evaporated, I was walking along the pier in Libourne to board my coach for the optional all-day Truffle Farm Excursion. At a cost of €99 per person, this excursion travels deep inland, to the rolling hills of France’s Pernod region.
Getting to the truffle farm takes about three hours start-to-finish, including a 15-minute stop for coffee and bathrooms at a truck stop along the way. The last 45 minutes is a real test of endurance, as the coach has to negotiate The Land of the Endless Switchbacks and Roundabouts. I don’t know if you’ve caught the through-line of these reports here yet, but drinking is a recurring theme – one can exacerbate motion-sickness. Pop a couple of ginger tablets before setting out on this one.
Once there, you’ll find yourself strolling around Truffle Heaven. First, guests are shown exactly how the truffles are found in the first place. Not only can the dogs “sniff them out”, but our host discovered that the presence of a certain type of fly can also indicate that truffles are underfoot, particularly if one or more flies suddenly seem to take off from the ground. They’re tastier than gold, but just as expensive: truffle prices can easily run into the thousands of dollars.
Once we’d gone on the hunt for truffles for about an hour, we were invited back into the house for a spectacular feast. Consisting of five courses, every single dish was made with black truffles native to the Pernod region.
The food was, as you might have guessed, spectacular, but what truly made this a special experience was the intimate size of our group. There were just thirty or so people; enough to comfortably fill the cozy dining hall where we ate. To me, the entire event had a decidedly upscale experience to it, and it (along with our spectacular wine tasting and dinner near Pauillac a few nights ago) has really elevated Viking’s on-shore roster of experiences up into the stratosphere.
The reason I am so impressed with the excursions on this Chateaux, Rivers and Wine excursion is that, behind the scenes, the planning and logistics must have been a nightmare. Sure, some guests might blanche at taking a three-hour coach ride, but some river cruise lines might have just said, ‘no – not worth the effort.’ Instead, not only did we get a very unique local cultural experience today, but we also didn’t have to miss out on the fabulous UNESCO World Heritage Site of Saint-Emilion.
While we didn’t have long to run around town – just 45 minutes – we did, however, have time for a guided walking tour led by our fantastic guide, Sarah. It was enough to have an overview of the city’s winding cobblestone streets and obscene number of wine stores; literally every other store sells wine – and not just a little, either. We’re talking about vintages and varietals that you’ve never heard of, cannot spell, but that sure do look tasty. In fact, half of the fun of travelling to Saint-Emilion is just looking at all the different kinds of labels on the wine bottles.
All wined out, we returned to the Viking Forseti, which had by that point repositioned to the small town of Bourg, France where we embarked shortly before dinner. By the time dessert was done, we were back at our berth in Bordeaux, where we will remain throughout the day tomorrow.
If I can offer an interesting observation, it would be this: this is a very romantic, special voyage. I’m a huge fan of solo travel and cruising; I believe the world is limitless for those who want to travel by themselves, meet new friends, share new experiences and who love life and all it has to offer. But romance and France run hand-in-hand. It has a certain…je ne se qua to it. It’s inescapable. So – while you can enjoy this cruise solo, expect to see lots of celebrations onboard.
Now add more fine wine than you’ve ever imagined in your life to the mix. Pair it with some stunning food – and notice I listed the wine first, not the food. Despite the fact that I feel meals are designed around wine first and food second in France, the food both on-shore and onboard Viking Forseti has been nothing but succulent. More than one traveller onboard ship this week is no doubt using notches in their belt that had, until now, remained untouched.Our Viking Coach waits to take us back to the Viking Forseti, waiting for us in Bourg, France. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The French joie de vivre extends to areas beyond culinary delights. Everywhere you turn, people are kissing. Literally everywhere! The French have an obsession with touching that North Americans would do well to learn, I think. Onboard Viking Forseti¸ more than one couple are celebrating anniversaries. Some are also commemorating birthdays, including one gentleman who turned 100 last night and was suitably rewarded with a magnificent parade in The Restaurant and a celebratory cake to boot. I hope I am still cruising the rivers and oceans of the world when – and if – I hit that milestone.
Until then, well – let’s do what the French do and raise our glasses one more time.
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!|