4-6 September 2015
Bordeaux and Sainte-Emilion, France: The Pearl of Aquitaine

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Victor Hugo said this:

“Take Versailles, add Antwerp, and you have Bordeaux”.

That’s a pretty good lineage.

Add to it Bordeaux wine, Bordelaise sauce, and a handsome mix of architecture and culture.

The city is built on a bend of the river Garonne.

A growing sector of industry in the area is high-tech.

The French Ministry of Defence has invested something like 2 billion Euros in the Laser Mégajoule project in Bordeaux. The project is intended for basic research on laser and plasma technologies.

High-tech companies include Dassault, EADS Sogerma, Snecma, Thales, SNPE, and others.

Dassault Falcon private jets are built there, as well as military aircraft, the Airbus A380 cockpit, the boosters of the Ariane 5 rocket, and the M51 SLBM missile.

But many visitors have come to worship at the font of Bordeaux wine.

I will leave the fine points of oenology to the wine experts and our sommeliers aboard ship.

I’ll just say that this region produces what some say are the best cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes and wine, as well as some other varieties.

Grapes were introduced to the region by the Romans, probably in the 1st century.

They liked what they got, and it has been a constant ever since.

Bordeaux now has about 116,160 hectares (287,000 acres) of vineyards.

There are about 10,000 wine-producing chateaux, and 13,000 grape growers and amongst them they produce about 960 million bottles per year.

This area has been occupied for tens of thousands of years, which pleases the tourist bureau greatly.

La Grotte de Pair-non-Pair, just north of Bordeaux above the Dordogne river before it joins the Gironde, was discovered in 1881 in a vineyard in the Côtes de Bourg.

The cave has some of the world’s oldest known cave drawings: horses, ibexes, deer, and mammoths.

Remains found in the cave may be Neanderthal—at least 30,000 years old and perhaps much older—and an 18,000-year-old Cro-Magnon.

The presence of remains across such a wide range of time?

I’m guessing the cave was actually a popular wine bar.

Here are some photos from our visit.  The first image shows German U-boat pens which still stand very close to downtown Bordeaux: they were constructed so robustly that they have withstood plans and wishes to remove them for 75 years.

We went next into the heart of Chateau country in Bordeaux,  visiting the town of Saint-Emilion and then the small family winemaker Chateau de Tailhas in Pomerol.

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Text and images copyright 2015 by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution image, please contact me.



3 September 2015
Belle-Île-en-Mer, France: La bien nommée

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

The name of this place should give it away, don’t you think?


Beautiful Island in the Sea.

And that it is.

In fact the local nickname for the island extends to La Bien Nommée, the Well-Named.

Belle-Ile, Brittany’s largest island, lies about 9 miles or 15 kilometers off the coast of Morbihan.

It is a place of beautiful beaches—about 60 of them, spectacular craggy coastline, and lovely pastoral interior.

At the island’s main town of Le Palais, the first thing you’ll notice is the star-shaped Citadelle Vauban, which was built by the famous French military engineer in the 18th century.

It was called by some, “The Battleship of the Atlantic.”

The fort now houses a luxury hotel-restaurant and a museum about the island’s history.

Many of Belle-Île’s residents are descended from the 78 Acadian families who returned from French Canada as part of Le Grand Dérangement, the expulsion of the Acadians, in 1765.

The dramatic landscape of the island has long drawn artists.

The most famous work was that of Claude Monet in the 1880s who was drawn to the wild north coast. According to local history he had to have an assistant hold down his canvas he worked to keep the wind from flinging it into the sea.

It is said that within an hour after first setting foot on Belle-Ile-en-Mer in August 1894, the French actress Sarah Bernhardt purchased an abandoned fort on the cliff top at La Pointe des Poulins.

She would spend parts of her last thirty years there. Bernhardt ended up creating a compound for friends and family, which she called her “menagerie.”

Bernhardt is buried in Paris. And here on Belle-Ile there is no sign of her other coffin, the one she often used as a place to sleep. She claimed it helped her understand her many tragic roles.

Here are some photos I took on our visit to the beautiful island in the sea, also including a peek at the museum chez Bernhardt.

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Text and images copyright 2015 by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution image, please contact me.


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