Sunday, 03 May 2015 09:44


Written by  Sue Shapiro
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Europe-franceHow many people ask you, the travel expert, what’s the hottest trend in travel? The answer you’re going to hear most often is trips that incorporate a particular theme or hobby. Look at the enormous success of “Downton Abbey” tours that are sold out as soon as they are announced. Recently, one of the most popular trends is wine and food centric trips. The NY Times and Food and Wine Magazine devote multiple pages to describing the delights associated with sampling various kinds of wine and local food right in the vineyard. Although Napa Valley does a great job of promoting itself, there’s really no place like France to sample such a wide variety of excellent wines, especially when you can pair it with gourmet food.

Two years ago, I reported on Uniworld’s Rhone River cruise through the Burgundy country. ( Because the Rhone cruise was such a success, Uniworld added another wine and food themed river cruise, this time through the Bordeaux region of southwestern France. For clients who love wine and great food, you couldn’t ask for a more ideal vacation.
Consider a few things before recommending this new itinerary to your clients.Do they really like wine and good food? Does the riverboat company offer a great product at reasonable prices and are they travel agent friendly? And is the itinerary worthwhile?
Uniworld has been doing River Cruises for many years. For the Bordeaux itinerary, Uniworld moved the River Royale from the Rhone and did a great job refurbishing it. A glass enclosed dining area for lunch and dinner has been added to the top (sun) deck. An almost complete gym includes 7 different kinds of exercise equipment, a sauna and a river view. Though compact, cabins are luxurious with all of the features of an upscale boutique hotel.
More entertainment has been added in the lounge area making it a real gathering place in the evening. With a maximum capacity of 130 passengers, you never feel crowded in any venue. Diners have 3 choices of locations for meals, including an exclusive 12-seat private room (at no extra charge) and an open seating policy.
Since there is substantial competition among riverboats, one should always look for something that distinguishes one company from another. Besides having excellent “hardware” (the boat) what sets Uniworld apart is the quality of the staff. Sebastian, the Hotel Director, learned everyone’s name within two days. You never had to search for Natalie, the Cruise Director, since it seemed she was on duty 24/7. Servers such as Constantine and Carmen anticipated our every need. That’s the kind of service you get when the staff expects tips at the end of a cruise but the difference with Uniworld is that all tipping is included in the price (a great client benefit). Uniworld has done a fantastic job with their staff training and service is at the core of the company.
One of the best reasons to travel with Uniworld is the quality of the food. It’s gourmet without being pretentious. Each night the sommelier described the wines that would be served with dinner and where in the “neighborhood” they came from. There was no snobbery attached to his message. If you like it, it’s good wine. On Uniworld, all wines and cocktails with few exceptions, are included at meals, in the bar and the lounge. That saves clients a bundle. Since there are no “formal” nights, clients don’t have to lug
extra clothing.
Two head chefs were acknowledged, and deserved to be, since they would enhance any kitchen from Paris to LA. What I especially liked was the wide variety of appetizers, main courses and deserts (you were sure to find something you liked - even vegetarian) but smaller portions so you didn’t feel guilty about trying things.
So now we know that the company (Uniworld) does a great job for clients and their boat (River Royale) offers a wonderful experience, how about the itinerary? For the wine and food lover, it’s a gourmet’s paradise.

If you haven’t been to Bordeaux, you’re missing an incredible treat. It’s a petite Paris, but without the crowds. No wonder UNESCO designated Bordeaux a World Heritage City. Even though this cruise starts and ends in the middle of the city, I suggest going a few days early since there is so much of value to see and do in Bordeaux. Beautiful 18th century mansions line the waterfront with their intricate limestone facades and carved statues. At night, the buildings are beautifully illuminated while the daytime sees them reflected in a gigantic “pool.”
Uniworld includes most of the daily sightseeing in the price of the cruise (there are a few optional tours). Unlike ocean cruising, clients appreciate not having to pay extra for sightseeing. Private audio devices ensure that you can always hear the guide and miss nothing of interest.
Each day, expert local guides take small groups of passengers sightseeing to a historic town, a local chateau (or two), a vineyard, a wine cave, an underground church, and a 500-year-old fortress in addition to multiple walking or bicycling tours. Highlights include the very beautiful town of St. Emilion, which is a very old hill town similar to Eze, Bergerac, which is renowned for both Cyrano and foie gras, cruising the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, Cadillac, Chateau d’Yquem, (owned by Louis Vuitton and home of the most expensive Sauterne wine in the world).

Does doing a wine tasting make the wine taste better if you’re doing it next to the vineyard where the actual wine grapes are grown? Is a gourmet luncheon more enjoyable if it’s served with 3 different wines in crystal stemware in a beautiful French Chateau? YES!
Two exceptional tours not to be missed were Bordeaux by night and a gourmet walking tour of the city. It doesn’t get any better than driving in an open air bus through the streets of Bordeaux past magnificently illuminated buildings like the Bourse, the Church of St. Marks, the waterfront, the Museum of Aquitaine and the blue Bell Tower. What a wonderful idea to combine a walking tour of the city with visits (and samplings) at the best cheese shop, a wonderful chocolate store, and an incredible French bakery.
Do you have clients who would love this trip? It’s easy enough to find out. Invite clients to a wine tasting at your office or at a local wine shop where an “expert” (the shop owner) will talk about French wines. Or speak to the owner of a local wine bar offering him/her a free cruise if they will lead a group of their customers and put tent cards on their tables promoting the departure. This may be the easiest and biggest commission you’re had in a while. As they say in French, “A Votre Sante.”
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