Autumn in the Bordeaux region offers three seasons in one day – a wintry morning when you may need a warm jacket, a sunny and warm afternoon when you’ll need layers you can strip off, and an autumnal evening with a shawl or cardy against the cooler draughts.
After a misty start we’re ready for an action packed second day on the Gironde. Having cruised across from Pauillac to moor in Blaye (pronounced Bligh) we took the coach along the corniche towards Bourg. Alexandra, our truly excellent Tourist Board guide, was full of knowledgeable explanations as we drove through the Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux vineyards and the wealthy villages of Plassac, Roque de Thau and the German ammunition stores deep in the limestone hillsides.
We pass many attractive ‘carrelets’ – huts on stilts (for it is very tidal here) – so called because they each have a square (carré) net for fishing. Owned by the town council they can be booked by locals who care to try their luck for mullet, lamprey, shrimp and salmon.
Did you know: the Bordeaux region employs 55,000 people in the wine making industry each year.
Bourg is a quiet but once very important 18th-century strategic town on the site of a Roman fortress. It used to stand at the confluence of the two rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne, but over the decades nature’s deposits of silt and stone have moved the confluence further downstream, leaving Bourg to stand on just the Dordogne. The locals tell us that the town comes to life in the summer months, with a lively and important market every Sunday and many visitors attracted by its peaceful setting and fascinating history.
The rocky outcrop creating its ancient vantage point of Bourg also provided stone used far and wide to build defensive chateaux, dry moats and warning bell towers. The upper town walls are impressive with a 200 foot drop down to the lower town, where once there was an important port there is still a little marina.
On our way, we find the well-preserved laverie,or ‘house of commons’ as it was known when the women gathered for the weekly wash, which is fed by an ice-cold steam and is still used occasionally by one or two of the elderly residents today.
This actually tiny sweet treat is a Figues de Bourg. Unique to Bourg this divine morsel is made of a purée of figs with a little brandy then covered with raspberry marzipan.
Before we board the Cyrano de Bergerac for the evening, we are treated to a tour of the Citadel at Blaye. It was designed by the great French military strategist and 17th-century designer, Marshall Vauban. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, it remains a stunning example of the genius of Vauban.
Miraculously, he stayed only two weeks in Blaye to design the fortress, which was built over the following four years and finished in 1689. In 1915 it housed 6,000 German prisoners, but was attacked only once in its active lifetime, by Anglo-Portuguese troops whose siege lasted two weeks resulting in 10 dead and 50 wounded. Compare this to the earlier fortress at Blaye that was attacked 16 times before Vauban built the citadel.
Did you know: grape seed oil, a by-product of wine making, has no flavour of its own. It is therefore used as the base for rosemary oil and other savoury flavoured oils.
Read more about our cruise aboard MS Cyrano de Bergerac: