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Highlights of an excellent CroisiEurope famil in France

September 4, 2013 Corporate, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59CroisiEurope’s new river cruise ship Cyrano De Bergerac was the highlight of a recent familiarisation trip hosted by CroisiEurope’s Australian representative, Cruise Abroad.  

Cruise Abroad’s Reservations Supervisor Kane Cox accompanied the famil and his report on the trip includes useful tips and observations for those who appreciate river cruises, and for travel consultants with clients considering one of CroisiEurope’s numerous river cruise journeys.

On the famil were: Lisa Killen, Cruise Marketing Group;  Poh Poh Tan, Grand Travel WA; Karen Walkley, Flower Travel, VIC; Margot Knispel, CruiseCentre.com.au, QLD; Denise Prowd, The Travel Store, VIC; Christa Randall, Cove Travel, QLD; Michelle Cook, Noosa Cruise & Travel, QLD; Emma Whiting, Emma Whiting Travel VIC; and Karen Millar, Diploma Travel, QLD.

CroisiEurope, an operator of stylish, four-star ships, is Europe’s longest-established and most popular river-cruise company, having taken 205,000 passengers on European river cruises last year. That’s over 40 per cent of the total European river cruise market.

Some highlights of the famil and a few useful tips

The flight to France was on Vietnam Airlines, which Cox found very good. At Hanoi Airport, however, he recommends paying the US$16 fee to use the business lounge. The hot shower, WiFi, and glasses of Baileys make it well worthwhile.

On arrival in Paris on Day 2 of the itinerary, the Mercure Place d’Italie in the Latin Quarter turns out to be a “cute four-star hotel in a very quiet, but cultural area near De Gobelins. The hotel is a good standard, in a good location to sightsee Paris and centrally located to good restaurants and cafes.”

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The group enjoying a meet and greet in the Le Gobelins district on the first night

On Day 3 after breakfast, time for a wander along Des Gobelins Avenue, which Cox describes as “a marvellous wide street with nice cafés and restaurants either side, which leads into cobbled laneways with fresh colourful fruit markets and patisserie shops, very old-style Europe”.

Then, a TGV ride to Bordeaux. “I would highly recommend the TGV as a means to travel around Europe,” Cox notes. “The ride is quick, clean, and efficient. The stations are in the city centre, there is no airport check-in line or security or baggage collection, and we did not experience any delays. A comfortable three-and-a-half-hour ride later, we arrive at St Jean, Bordeaux. We take another taxi ride to Chartrons Quiai in Bordeaux where the ship Cyrano De Bergerac is moored, a convenient ten-minute stroll along the river boardwalk from the old town. Named after the famous French playwright, the ship is newly built and only launched earlier this year”.

Cox’s initial impressions of Cyrano De Bergerac:

“The ship is modern, with fresh blue furnishings throughout the bar, lounge and restaurant areas. Nice paintings decorate the ship throughout, mostly themed on the ship’s namesake Cyrano De Bergerac. The cabins are nice, quite spacious, with a safe, flat-screen TV and reasonable sized bathroom. My cabin is on the middle deck (2), located next to the lobby, and just down the corridor from the restaurant. There are three passenger decks on the ship; the middle and upper decks both have large sliding windows that allow lots of natural light. The lower deck cabins have two portholes, which also allow lots of natural light. Being a newer ship, there is WiFi on-board which is a bonus. For dinner, we are introduced to the exquisite French cuisine that we will enjoy for the next week.”

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The view of Bordeaux, and the Bastille Day fireworks from the Cyrano De Bergerac

On Day 4, a full French buffet breakfast is followed by a scenic morning sailing up the Garonne River to Cadillac for a guided walking tour of the town, a charming little village with a medieval church. “After lunch we tour by coach to the enchanting Chateau Roquetaillade, a historic medieval castle built originally in the 12th century. We walk around the outside moat of the castle and then tour inside this well-preserved castle, run by the current owner, a living descendant of the Lord that originally owned the castle. This tour is highly recommended.”

Overnight is in Bordeaux, “with a chance to explore, before and after dinner, the historic buildings of this UNESCO-listed city. Some choose to relax on the top deck and soak up the Chartrons area, which is where the original Bordeaux wine trade was born. Many of the very old original buildings still stand. They were once used as wine storage houses.”

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The famous Château Roquetaillade

On Day 5, a morning’s cruising is followed by a tour to the renowned red wine regions of the Medoc.

“It is a very scenic drive,” writes Cox, “including a visit to the Snow White themed Château Pichon-Longueville, the famous Chateau Rothschild and her gardens, and more wine tasting. We learn about the wine making process and techniques used in this area from a third-generation winemaker, a tour that is highly recommended.”

Returning to the ship, the view gives Cox an immediate insight into the enormous tidal differences that make this stretch of river a challenge to navigate. That’s where using a French river cruise company, well versed in navigating France’s rivers for generations, makes a difference.

“Coming back to the pier from our tour, I see first-hand the huge differences in the tides. It appears that we have come back to a completely different place after the tide has dropped. The top deck is sitting almost below the level of the dock, and all of the sailing boats in the marina look like little toy boats, as though someone has taken out the bath plug and drained all the water, such is the difference in the tide.”

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Château Pichon-Longueville and the vineyards of the Medoc area

On Day 6: a scenic cruise up and down the Gironde Estuary include a wine tasting and appreciation course in the ship’s bar lounge area, “another superb three-course lunch on-board complete with local Bordeaux wines” and an afternoon tour of the Corniche, and Bourg, a small medieval village nestled on a rocky outcrop. Cox writes: “The tour finished back in Blaye, at the castle fortress. This sits high above the town on the edge of the Gironde Estuary and offers amazing views of the river, surrounding vineyards and gardens. If you walk down towards the entrance of the fort, there are shops and cafés inside the fortified walls. Lisa and I decided to try the highly recommended Nutella crepes, and we were not disappointed”.

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Enjoying wine and cocktails in the sunset on the upper deck bar lounge area

On Day 7, a scenic drive through the countryside and vineyards through Libourne with a stop at St Emillion for a tour of the famous Monolithic Church. Cox writes of a strange sight, as well as a personal favourite. “There is also an underground section to the church that they refer to as the cave, it is quite eerie, I even managed to spot a real human skull and bones in an uncovered grave at the bottom of the cave.

“St Emillion was a personal favourite of mine. I am told the town itself has quite a village mentality, and they do not belong to the Bordeaux Wine Board, which represents all of the wine operators in the Bordeaux area.”

Back aboard Cyrano De Bergerac, gala dinner night gives a chance to meet the captain and fellow passengers for a pre-dinner glass of champagne in the bar lounge area before dinner. “Everyone dresses up a little for this occasion, including the staff.  The dining room is decorated to the theme, a special dinner menu is prepared, and even special wines are served at the table. For the entrée we have Duck Foie Gras, (Duck Pate) the main Quail served with King Boletus Mushrooms and Port Sauce, and Blue Cheese with Pear for the desert.”

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The beautiful town of St Emillion, showing church and surrounding vineyards

A tour of Cyrano De Bergerac is conducted on Day 8, when Cox and his fellow agents cruise back up the Garonne River to Bordeaux in the dry warm heat typical of a Bordeaux summer.

“Erica, the Cruise Manager gave us a walk around the ship. We were able to see different types of cabins on each deck of the ship, including a handicapped cabin. All of the cabins were nice, fairly spacious and well decorated.”

In the afternoon, a coach tour of Bordeaux: “You can really see why this old 18th century city is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, with its mesmerising architecture.” Exploring later independently, Cox notes the tram system is brilliant for navigating the city.

“That night we all decide to really soak up the atmosphere of the city and skip dinner on board to dine in the old town. We choose an Italian restaurant. The prosciutto, hams and mozzarella cheese are worth the money.”

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Cruising the Garonne River near Bordeaux on-board the Cyrano De Bergerac

Day 9 sees Cyrano De Bergerac moored in Bordeaux. Passengers who choose the full-day tour to the Arcachon Basin and Dune De Pilat (the largest sand dune in Europe) enthuse over the experience, with some considering it the highlight of their trip, Cox reports.

“They were introduced to local oyster farming, and a taste of the fresh salty air of the Atlantic Ocean. We enjoy our last meal on board with (surprise, surprise!) some great red and white wine.”

All good things come to an end and that’s the case on Day 10, when Cox and the small band of Australian travel agents – along with happy passengers – “farewell the ship after a wonderful week in the sunny southwest of France. We have enough time to check out the fresh food and wine market that is set up directly in front of where the ship is docked”.

Obviously, the cruise was a lot of fun as well as educational. Here’s Cox’s professional summation:

“I believe everyone had a great time and really enjoyed the product. I think CroisiEurope is a great product for the right type of client, I did not find the language [French] at all to be a barrier, due to the English, Swedish and Australian groups on-board. I would highly recommend this specific cruise to the over 50s market, or particularly anyone interested in historic, and medieval architecture, French culture and most importantly the world renowned wine regions in this area.”

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The magnificent St Andre Cathedral in Bordeaux, the tram line in the foreground

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