A cruise through the Bordeaux region of France is just what you might expect: a dining and drinking experience showing off the treasures of this important area where red and white wines have been produced since Roman times. Cruising along the small towns of the region with Scenic Cruises takes full advantage of this foodie dream, with the ship’s talented culinary staff incorporating area produce and specialties into French-inflected menus paired beautifully with many of Bordeaux’s 57 wine appellations.
Here are 10 culinary treats and experiences I loved on my Bordeaux Affair cruise onboard the Scenic Diamond.
Note: This information was obtained as part of a sponsored press trip, but all opinions are my own.
Oysters are found in the Bassin d’Arcachon about 30 miles west of Bordeaux, and oyster bars feature them at Scenic’s port of embarkation, Bordeaux. Briny and larger than you might expect, these oysters are actually fork-worthy, not something that this inveterate slurper was used to. Try the Boite à Huîtres overlooking the Cours du Chapeau Rouge for a true Bordeaux oyster experience. There, your oysters should be ordered as the Bordelais do with crépinettes, small flat sausages.
Better still, enjoy them during Scenic’s onboard oyster night, where guests line up for oysters newly harvested and driven straight to the dock. With a lemon wedge, a spoon of mignonette, and a touch of hot sauce, they were slurpy perfection. The best wine to accompany? A fruity white Entre-deux-Mers from the fertile region between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers.
2. Foie Gras
I can’t say that I had ever had foie gras in a casserole as it was served on the Scenic Diamond. Usually, you have a choice of seared duck or goose liver or a cold terrine sometimes splashed with pistachios. Or maybe you just eat it in a less obvious fashion as a pâté. Here, however, the foie was soft and delicate almost like a pudding, served in a ramekin with toppings of fig compote and sea salt.
As you select your daily excursions on Scenic Diamond, you may want to sign up for the tour of Bergerac, a charming town with a heritage of superior foie gras production. For one-stop shopping, Godard Specialiste de Foie Gras and 100-year-old Valette sell the Périgord specialty in many forms: foie gras in a jar, semi-cooked, canned, and truffled. A sweet Sauternes from Bordeaux is the perfect pairing.
3. Duck (And Other French Entrées)
Duck breast and duck leg confit à l’orange is a French specialty dating back to the Medici court, and Scenic made sure to include it on their dinner menu. Fresh, cooked to a medium temperature, with a skin crisped golden brown, the duck entrée was my favorite of all the choices during the week. Other entrées not to be overlooked, however, were beautifully presented French dishes including quiche Lorraine, lamb locally sourced from Paulliac, butterfish with lobster sauce, and boeuf Bourguignon. For those wanting dishes deemed more on the healthy side, there were low-carb and low-fat choices including salmon steak and chicken breast.
4. Omelets And Pasta
I am sensitive to lactose, so the morning omelet and afternoon pasta stations were my go-tos for tailormade, dairy-free dishes. With diced veggies ready for your selection, the omelet master would whip up a fluffy concoction for breakfast that felt like a cross between eggs over easy and a soufflé. For our later meals, the omelet station morphed into a pasta station. Tomato sauce with veggies, oil, garlic, and other ingredients could be selected to dress your favorite pasta. Adding to Scenic’s “have it your way” dining concept, these stations allowed you up-close observation of the chefs’ cooking finesse.
5. Food From The Carving Station
A highlight at every lunch was the end-of-the-buffet carving station which varied daily. One day you could feast on turkey, delicate and moist, as savory as you might find at any Thanksgiving dinner. Other times it was prime rib, chicken, or braised veal leg. All were plated with appropriate jellies, gravies, and mashed potatoes. And all were delicious in their simplicity.
6. Hamburgers And Fries
No, I’m not kidding. There was something very French and very delicious about the fries and burgers served for lunch. An item on the not-so-secret, “always available” menu, this combo was hard to forego with frites as delicious as these served in a charming little basket and burgers framed masterfully on a proper roll with lettuce, tomato, and onion.
7. Barbecue, French-Style
A weather-dependent event on the top deck, Scenic’s weekly barbecue was a lunchtime feast. I loved the ribs, cole slaw, chicken, and other typical “American” treats given a French spin with free-flowing Bordeaux vintages. While the windy conditions almost precluded the outdoor presentation, we were fortunate that moderate enough conditions prevailed and we could enjoy this meat-centric spread along with homemade sangria and views of the passing villes.
8. Crêpes Suzette
I first encountered Scenic’s sinful crêpes Suzette at a Scenic Culinaire cooking class that I took with a handful of passengers. Overseen by Executive Chef Normen Wolf and perfectly laid out ingredient by ingredient with a dollop of orange marmalade and a significant amount of butter, these pancakes were the stuff that dreams are made of.
Alas, owing to fire code regulations, they could not be served flambées, but the caramelized sugar and butter sauce made up for it — the taste was ethereal even without the flame. Happily, the crêpes were also served at dinner one evening so I could enjoy them one more time. Other Scenic Culinaire classes made soupe à l’oignon and Croque Madame (I did that one, too!), each with no more than 10 participants.
9. Chef’s Wine Selection And Bordeaux Wines
Savoir vivre quickly turned into “savor wine” on this lovely Bordeaux cruise. Each day, a carefully curated selection of red and white wines was offered to accompany the lunch and dinner menus. As we floated through Bordeaux — through storied wine villages like Saint-Émilion, Pauillac, and Médoc where we stopped to visit the barrel cellar of Château Lagrange and other vineyards — wines from local vintners were introduced with detailed tasting notes by Scenic’s sommelier and waitstaff.
My favorites were the red Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blends served slightly below room temperature and the lightly chilled white Sémillon and Sauvignon Gris combinations. Add to that an occasional flute of bubbly, a dessert wine like Sauternes or Cadillac, and the aperitif Lillet, and each meal on the Scenic Diamond became a celebration of the grape. If you’ve never tried Lillet, Bordeaux is its birthplace: the white, red, and unusual pink versions are a combination of red, white, or rosé wine with citrus liqueurs.
Did I hear Champagne at breakfast? Yes, that was always available, too, should you favor a morning tipple. A viniculture treat, an evening wine tasting at the Château D’Agassac, a stunning Haut-Médoc estate, was followed by a classical concert in the 13th-century castle with selections by Vivaldi, Dvořák, and Shostakovich.
Bordeaux wine shops and tasting rooms offer many options to refine your knowledge. Designed to look like a wine decanter, La Cité du Vin is the ultimate museum for wine lovers, with multiple floors detailing winemaking around the world and a top-floor tasting area with dramatic views of Bordeaux. Purchase your new favorites from the first-floor wine shop (a must-see) or at the comprehensive L’Intendant wine shop in Bordeaux — they ship their 15,000-some bottles anywhere.
For a romantic wine toast on land, Le Ferdinand at Bordeaux’s boutique hotel Villas Foch has sidewalk seating as well as an elegant bar in a 19th-century building. Art lovers should take a walk from the ship to La Petite Cave in Blaye to experience a wine tasting in an art gallery.
10. Canelés And Macarons
Canelés are a specialty of Bordeaux. A miniature cake that looks Iike a shrunken Bundt confection, a canelé is made with vanilla, sugar, butter, eggs, and a dash of rum. It’s difficult to eat only one — you just have to ignore the calories — and they pair perfectly with a double espresso. You can pick up a box to take home at Bar à Canelés Baillardran on Bordeaux’s main shopping street, rue Sainte-Catherine.
Cousin to the puffy ganache-filled version served aboard the Scenic Diamond, another French favorite and one with a special Bordeaux twist, the macaron appears in a version particular to Saint-Émilion. Almond flavored, the flat tan cookie dates back to the Ursulines religious order in 1620.
Both types of macarons could be found during our excursion to Saint-Émilion, and both pair perfectly, in my opinion, with the red wine of the region. You can purchase a take-home box of “original” macarons at Macarons Mouliérac, but watch your step — it’s a steep, stony climb to reach it.
Pro Tip: You’ll find macarons “on sticks” in a variety of flavors and offered 24/7, along with other savories and sweets including small sandwiches and “spoons,” adorable mason jars filled with gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids, and rainbow-colored marshmallows in the back of the bar. These savories and sweets satisfy any cravings for a goûter (snack), and an espresso machine provides 24-hour refreshment as well.
Pro Tip: Enjoy Breakfast On Your Private Balcony
Catching a breeze through the retractable glass windows on your balcony on the Scenic Diamond is a remarkable way to start the day. As you glide along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers and the Gironde estuary, your butler serves you oatmeal, yogurt, eggs, and an all-important croissant, with a pot of coffee to help you shake off any lingering slumber. Had I not needed to leave on an excursion, go to the spa or salt therapy room, or grab an electric bike, I could have curled up with my breakfast and the New York Times highlights and stared at the passing villages for most of the morning. This was true luxury, Scenic-style.