Joie de Vivre – The Joy Of Life

Our Chateaux, Rivers and Wine voyage with Viking River Cruises got off to a spectacular start today with an incredibly intricate series of adventures on shore. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our Chateaux, Rivers and Wine voyage with Viking River Cruises got off to a spectacular start today with an incredibly intricate series of adventures on shore. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters…but with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.”

– Charles Baudelaire

November 23, 2014

Our first full day aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti began on a decidedly relaxing note. Unlike many river cruises that kick into high gear straight away, Viking’s Chateaux, Rivers & Wine itinerary began with a leisurely departure from Bordeaux in the early morning hours, followed by a morning of scenic cruising up to Pauillac, France.

A beautiful start to the morning, as seen from my balcony onboard Viking Forseti. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

A beautiful start to the morning, as seen from my balcony onboard Viking Forseti. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Whenever people ask me why I like river cruising so much, I always point out mornings like this. The first thing I saw when I drew open the curtains of my stateroom was the beautiful grapefruit-pink colour of the sky as the sun tried to peek between the clouds. When I opened the balcony door and took a step out, I could hear dogs barking in the distance and roosters calling out. What you don’t hear on a river cruise – at least, not on a Viking Longship – is the ship itself. Even now, nearly three years after the first Longships were introduced, I am still amazed at how quietly these operate. Rather than being drowned out by a series of exhaust blowers or engine vibrations, all you can here on a Viking Longship is the soft rippling of the water as it passes along the hull.

A quiet Viking Forseti in the early morning of Sunday, November 23, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

A quiet Viking Forseti in the early morning of Sunday, November 23, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

After showering and dressing, I made my way down to The Restaurant on Deck 1 for breakfast. Once again, nearly every river cruise line offers a tremendous spread of goodies for breakfast, but Viking’s homemade fruit yogurt and fresh-baked breads really do the trick for me. I hear the muesli is pretty darn good, too.

The mixed-media artwork that adorns the top of Viking Forseti's central staircase. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The mixed-media artwork that adorns the top of Viking Forseti’s central staircase. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Sailing into Pauillac, France. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Sailing into Pauillac, France. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I was onboard Viking Forseti for two short nights back in March as part of Viking’s massive 2014 Christening celebrations that saw 18 ships welcomed into the fleet in a single week, and it’s really nice to see so many familiar faces among the crew. The 2014 river cruise season is quickly drawing to a close; like the year itself, river cruising typically halts in January for a three-month hiatus before resuming in March. The crew of the Viking Forseti surprises me; although the end is in sight, they seem as upbeat and fresh as if the season has only just begun.

The Restaurant on Deck 2 serves up a full breakfast, while a continental breakfast is available in the Aquavit Lounge. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Restaurant on Deck 2 serves up a full breakfast, while a continental breakfast is available in the Aquavit Lounge. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In many ways, this has been the “proving season” for Viking’s Chateaux, Rivers & Wine itinerary. With no prior experience in the region, Viking has subtly tweaked each successive sailing a little based on feedback from their guests. What’s more, everyone I have spoken to onboard here seems to have travelled here for two reasons: one, they love Viking. My uneducated mathematical reference is that over three-quarters of the guests onboard are past Viking guests, based on those that raised their hands at last night’s briefing in the lounge. The other reason most guests are here is because they want to see more of France, or they love wine, or they’re simply tired of doing the Danube and Rhine.

Setting out on our adventure: Viking Forseti Group B arrives at Chateau Giscours for a wine tasting. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Setting out on our adventure: Viking Forseti Group B arrives at Chateau Giscours for a wine tasting. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

This afternoon, we got our first taste – literally – of just how unique this itinerary really is. For all guests onboard the Viking Forseti, Viking offered up a one-of-a-kind shore excursion that would span over seven hours and would continue going once we’d re-boarded our ship in Pauillac.

Guests were divided up into four groups (A, B, C and D) for an afternoon visit to a local Chateau to sample their wines. Each group visits a different Chateau in order to keep things intimate and manageable. Then, all guests would reconvene at Chateau Kirwan for an included dinner served by Viking Forseti’s own talented restaurant staff.

Chateau Giscours. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Chateau Giscours. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

This was no ordinary excursion; Viking always provides high-quality tours ashore, but our adventure this afternoon really went to a level I’ve never seen from the line before. Designed exclusively for Viking guests, the wine tasting and dinner at Chateau Kirwan reminded me of the kinds of exclusive touring events that tour and river cruise operator Tauck likes to package with their itineraries; the exception being that Tauck’s river cruises go for double the price of admission on Viking.

Our local guide explained the history of the Chateau and the wine-producing regions that make up the prestigious "Grand Cru" classification. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our local guide explained the history of the Chateau and the wine-producing regions that make up the prestigious “Grand Cru” classification. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The entire event an absolute wine-lover’s paradise. Even if you’re not into wines or not big on them, I’d urge you to not miss out on this – it is stunning, and the wealth of knowledge you gain is amazingly vast. If you don’t want to swallow the wine, you can spit it out into a spit bucket (but let’s be honest: few actually did that!)

After leaving Pauillac, our coach took us to Chateau Giscours – one of the vineyards certified in 1855 as a Grand Cru Classe – Margaux. Here, we were led on a tour of the picturesque property before heading into the tasting room to sample three different wines: Chateau Giscours 2009; La Sirene de Giscours – Second vin – 2009; and the 2011 Chateau Duthil – Cru Bourgeois.

Inside the production facility...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Inside the production facility…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

...and the gorgeous end result. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

…and the gorgeous end result. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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Our Live Voyage Report aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti continues tomorrow as we explore Blaye, France! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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