Beautiful Bordeaux

In the Southwest of France, writer Katrina Lobley sails along the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde waterways embarking on a cycling and culinary adventure.

Our cruise director, surely, is exaggerating about the temperament of Scenic Diamond’s e-bikes.

“If you put the speed up too high, it’s like a wild stallion underneath you and you won’t know how to handle it,” Anita van Vliet warns during an early port talk in Bordeaux.

I hop aboard a bike to cruise along Bordeaux’s stunning riverfront promenade, lined with neo-classical limestone facades that shine golden in the afternoon sun, and experiment with its settings.

A skateboarder is cruising towards me as I’m on a medium-level boost and things don’t look good. We both veer one way then the other before colliding.

No one’s hurt but it’s a salutary lesson in taking baby steps on these two wheels. By outing’s end, I have the hang of it. Lucky, because I’ve already signed up for two cycling trips offered as part of Scenic’s 11 day Beautiful Bordeaux river cruise.

Miroir d'eau, largest reflecting pool Place de la Bourse Bordeaux Scenic tours France

From Pauillac, 50km downstream from Bordeaux in the Gironde estuary, we cycle out among rows of grapevines, heavy with fruit in the lead-up to harvest, to reach Château Lagrange.

The picturesque château, in the Saint-Julien appellation, features a lake with two white swans that glide up to greet us right on cue.

This château made it into the prestigious five-tier 1855 Classification of Bordeaux wines that still holds sway today – and tonight we’re headed to another estate on the Classification.

Passengers dress in their finest for the elegant dinner at Château Giscours in the Margaux appellation.

The menu features the likes of confit lamb with a vegetable and raisin roll, sea bass in a thyme and lemon emulsion with a turnip and eggplant roll and platters of cheese with dried fruit and raisin bread.

All this feasting requires another workout: this time it’s a 30km round-trip cycle from the 17th-century citadel of Blaye, established on the Gironde’s right bank to protect the Bordeaux region from invasion, along what’s known as the Captain’s Road to Bourg.

Fittingly, Scenic Diamond’s Captain Jeremy Dike, also a keen cyclist, accompanies us on the outing that includes passengers whose ages range from 38 to 78.

Now that I have the hang of this e-bike thing, there’s no stopping me. Back in Bordeaux, it helps me widen my outings.

The ship is docked within walking distance of La Cite du Vin, a striking wine museum that opened on the banks of the Garonne in 2016, but it’s a snip to dash up there on the bike (allow about three hours to explore the museum).

It’s handy, too, for lunch outings to local bistros such as Le Bistrot des Anges.

From the ship, there’s also a great cycling circuit that travels along the promenade, past the wonderful Miroir d’eau (Water Mirror) feature, over the picturesque Pont de Pierre bridge and along the right bank.

Stop at the Darwin enterprise to admire the hip makeover of abandoned military warehouses – and for perhaps another glass of wine – before returning to the ship via the Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas vertical-lift bridge that the ship shuttles under many times.