In May we returned to one of our favorite French cities, Bordeaux, for a very special river cruise in the wine region.
The train from Paris Montparnasse station to St. Jean station in Bordeaux is just a two-hour ride. We were invited for a three-day mini cruise on the luxury barge The Tango.
We were picked up at the train station by the captain and owner of the boat, Daniel Sak, who is Franco-American. He spent his formative years in California and when he was 17 years old in 1999, he bought the Tango, a barge built in the 1930s in the city of Nancy in eastern France. It took two painstaking years to rebuild and convert the boat into a luxury barge. Up until 2016, The Tango specialized in wine cruises on the Canal du Midi in Southern France, but due to the renewed interest and revitalization of the Gironde River, Daniel decided to move the boat to Bordeaux in 2017 to expand his tour route.
A typical cruise route stops in the following ports: Bordeaux, Médoc, Blaye, Saint-Emilion, Bourg and Branne. Cruising on the picturesque Garonne and Dordogne rivers, the Tango takes its privileged guests on curated visits to prestigious wineries, fabled châteaux, medieval villages, UNESCO-listed citadels and open-air markets.
The cabin of the Tango has a spacious main room with a full bar, long dining table, tufted leather couches, skylights and an electric guitar setup, as Daniel sometimes entertains the guests after dinner. There are two suites and two other guest rooms, a total of four rooms, all with en-suite bathrooms, accommodating up to eight people. The premiere suite, the Captain’s Cabin, has an old-fashioned, four-claw bathtub, king-size bed, Art Deco mahogany cabinets, a dressing room, and a private entrance.
After settling into our rooms, we relaxed in the Jacuzzi on the upper deck, sipping Bordeaux wine, while marveling at the impressive skyline of the city dotted with 18th century limestone buildings. The chef made us an excellent lunch of Provencal and Mediterranean specialties, including yellow and red tomatoes with Burrata cheese and fresh herbs, tabouleh salad, and an herb-scented roasted chicken with carrots, mushrooms, baby potatoes, roasted garlic, and red peppers. Daniel and his hostess Daphna joined us for lunch and shared stories about the boat and their life experiences, and by the end of the meal they made us feel like family with their warmth and hospitality.
In the late afternoon we visited a guide, who took us on an excursion to a winery in Saint- Emilion, a 30-minute drive from the boat. Chateau Coutet a is five-generation family-owned and operated vineyard dating back to 1855, and it prides itself for only growing organic grapes from the start. Adrien Coutet, the young heir apparent of the family, gave us a fascinating tour of the vineyard, passionately sharing their philosophy, principles, and process of growing their grapes, aging the wine, and the final step of corking. We admired the beautiful landscape of the vineyards and grass meadows of the property, along with the 18th century main chateau and private chapel. At the end of the tour we did a tasting of the different vintages, all excellent. Not only could you buy cases and individual bottles, but Coutet offers a 100ml test tube of wine, which can be brought in carry on luggage.
After our tour of Coutet, we visited the charming town of Saint-Emilion. We climbed the steep, cobblestone passageways, and the brilliant late day sun casting dramatic shadows magnified the beauty of the ancient limestone and stone buildings, many covered with ivy. We discovered some great wine bars and restaurants before returning to the five-star Relais & Chateau Hostellerie de Plaisance.
The next day after a breakfast of fresh orange juice, a mushroom omelet, a platter of brie, Camembert and goat cheese, a baguette and an espresso, we leisurely sailed up the Gironde River for a few hours, taking in the limestone facades of Bordeaux, along with the contrasting modern glass tower of the Cite du Vin, the newly built wine museum, and the newest architectural feat constructed in 2013, the Jacques-Chaban-Delmas Bridge, the longest vertical-lift bridge in Europe.
In the afternoon we took another excursion to the factory of the famed aperitif, Lillet. We learned that brothers Paul and Raymond Lillet started their distillery in 1872 to especially produce aperitifs in the village Podensac, south of Bordeaux. In 1887, the brothers created Kina Lillet, a new aperitif, a mixture of 85 percent Sauternes wine and macerated liqueurs made of bitter and sweet orange. The drink became an instant classic around the world. To expand its market in France, they produced a series of iconic, illustrated posters and ads, which the museum proudly displayed.
It the late afternoon we returned to the boat and we were served Lillet cocktails and wine from the Coutet winery we had visited the day before. We enjoyed a candlelit, four-course meal that evening on the outside deck. At about 10:30PM, there was an unexpected treat, a 30-minute fireworks display, magically lighting up the Bordeaux skyline.
The Tango is available for private charter six-night cruises from Sunday to Saturday for four to eight people. Three meals a day are included, except for one lunch in a restaurant overlooking the river. Five-day cruises with half-board are also available.
Cruises run between the first of May and the end of October. From November to October, the Tango will be converted into a floating hotel, permanently docked in the heart of Bordeaux.
The staff of the Tango is happy to assist in arranging off-the beaten-path excursions in the area before and after the cruise.