How to Sell a Bordeaux Cruise

Bordeaux, France, has much 18th-century architecture and a 15th-century city gate.
Bordeaux, France, has much 18th-century architecture and a 15th-century city gate.

Not many ocean and river vessels call at the same cities, but Bordeaux in southwestern France is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that draws both. It’s a lovely city with 18th century buildings, a low-key feel, a strong viniculture, and an attractive, newly developed “green space” pedestrian waterfront area.

Oceangoing ships call at Bordeaux while repositioning between northern Europe and the Mediterranean. Sailing into the Gironde Estuary, they dock at several different terminals of the Atlantic Port of Bordeaux. Bassens is just six miles from downtown. Le Verdon is 64 miles away. Pauillac is the gateway to the Medoc wine region. In addition, some oceangoing ships also dock in downtown Bordeaux. River lines also dock in the city center to operate roundtrip voyages on the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.

RELATED: Our River Cruise Insider's Guide

Among ocean ships calling this year are Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara Journey, Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Boreal, Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity, Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2, Holland America Line’s Prinsendam, Oceania Cruises’ Nautica, Princess Cruises’ Emerald Princess, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Voyager, Silversea Cruises’ Silver Whisper, and many others.

On the river side, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has debuted new eight-day itineraries from Bordeaux on River Royale. For the first time this year, Viking Cruises has positioned one of its Viking Longships, Viking Forseti, in Bordeaux. CroisiEurope operates multiple ships from the city; a four-night cruise appeals to those who’ve spent several days in Paris and desire to see a different French region during their week-long vacation. Scenic Cruises offers a 12-day program in 2015 that includes one night in Paris and a cruise from Bordeaux. Several suppliers offer hotel barge experiences.

Clients who visited Bordeaux just a decade ago wouldn’t know it now. Back then, the downtown had dirty buildings and old warehouses blocking waterfront views. Today, the warehouses are gone—replaced with parks, gardens, a skateboard park, fountains, spritzing sprays, an electric tram, and open spaces for bicycling, sunning and strolling. One warehouse that remains is home to high-end boutiques. Buildings are clean and the waterfront is highly visible from downtown.

Many cruise lines offer walking and cycling tours on Bordeaux’s ‘quais’ along the river Garonne.

Many cruise lines offer walking and cycling tours on Bordeaux’s ‘quais’ along the river Garonne.

Today’s Bordeaux is also a global epicenter of wine production and surrounded by the vineyards of Medoc, St-Emilion, Pomerol, Graves and Sauternes. The Romans planted vineyards here in 56 B.C., and by 20 A.D., they’d planted the perfect vines to thrive in the region’s humid climate. For wine lovers, the Bordeaux Wine and Trade Museum provides a look at the region’s wine history, a visit to its cellars, and wine tasting.

Top attractions for cruise visitors to see? Certainly, these include the 18th Palais Rohan or city hall; Porte Cailhau, with panoramic views from 75 feet above the city; the 1773-era Grand Theater, home to the city’s opera; the municipal botanical gardens; the historic St. Andre Cathedral; and a bridge planned by Napoleon. On our recent Viking Cruises’ half-day complimentary motorcoach and walking tour in March, history buffs, in particular, were also fascinated by the World War II-era German submarine pens; the pens have proven indestructible over the decades and house a small museum.

Uniworld offers guests a complimentary “Do as the Locals Do” walking tour or, alternatively at the same time, a guided “Go Active” bicycle ride along the Garonne River. During the walking tour, cruisers explore luxury food halls, sample Bordeaux’s caneles and chocolates, view 18th-century architecture and visit an elegant wine bar.

Among the top museums in town are the Museum of Beaux-Arts with Dutch, Flemish and Italian art, and the Aquitaine Museum, which provides a good dose of regional history. Since Bordeaux is second only to Paris for its number of historic monuments, the city has created a new monument tracker app that’s downloadable from either the Google Play Store or iOS App Store.

Also new for 2014 is the Bordeaux Metropole CityPass, priced from $29 to $46, depending on the number of days desired. Pass holders receive a double-decker bus sightseeing tour, heritage tour map, guided walking tours, public transport access, admission to 20+ museums and monuments, and discounts on tours, wine day trips, wine tasting and shopping.

Many cruisers opt for shore excursions into the countryside for views of chateaux, vineyards and quaint towns, as well as wine tasting. Those able to navigate steep cobblestone streets often love the UNESCO World Heritage site of St. Emilion with its 13th century walls, moat and medieval church cloister, not to mention small shops and wine bars. On a July 20 cruise from Monte Carlo to London, Crystal Serenity offers a half-day St.-Emilion “Exploration” from Bordeaux at $129 per person.

Other day trip options include the Medoc wine area, home to vineyards of Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Mouton Rothschild. Oceania Cruises offers a half-day “Medoc Vineyards” shore excursion for $165. Guests who pre-purchase the line’s shore trip packages can save either $41 or even the full tour price, depending on the package purchased. During the tour, guests view city, vineyard and chateaux sites. They also visit the cellars within one chateau, learn about wine making and enjoy wine tastings.

From Le Verdun, Compagnie du Ponant offers an eight-hour “From Verdon to Bordeaux – The Medoc Vineyard” tour for $165 per person. Included are vineyard/chateaux views, a cellar visit and wine tasting, and Bordeaux touring.

To learn more about Bordeaux, the Bordeaux Tourism Office has a 40-page guidebook in French and English (although some sections are only in French) with maps at