On a wish list of amenities aboard a ship dedicated to traveling through France’s most esteemed wine region, what would you want? Top-quality food to go with that wine, of course. And a variety of choices too, to pair with the broad scope of those varietals. Perhaps expanded fitness facilities to help keep life in balance. And plenty of deck-top space from which to sip a cabernet in view of vineyards.
The new S.S. Bon Voyage from Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection aims to tick all of those boxes, and a few more. The 124-passenger ship, set to debut on April 14, will be the sixth in the line’s class of Super Ships, the largest vessels permitted on European rivers – in this case, the scenic Bordeaux-threading Dordogne and Garonne rivers.
Over the last five years the company has aggressively moved on its plan to transform the fleet, beginning with the successful launch of the S.S. Joie de Vivre in 2017 and the debut of the fully renovated S.S. Beatrice in 2018. The plan continues in 2020 with four new Super Ships planned for the Venetian Lagoon and the Mekong, Nile, and Douro rivers.
To create the S.S. Bon Voyage in the most environmentally progressive way, Uniworld retired its former River Royale and rebuilt it as the S.S. Bon Voyage, adding four luxury suites and reducing passenger capacity from 128 to 124.
There’s more elbow room for added amenities, especially of the gastronomic sort. A ship-top poolside café will serve French-accented casual fare such as Niçoise salad and croque monsieur. At the ship’s bow, a new bistro, inspired by the acclaimed Bouillon Pigalle in Paris, will serve locavore dinners with classic dishes like beef Bourguignon, escargot, and pâté. Claret, the ship’s private dining and winetasting room, and the main restaurant, home to a new buffet and chef demonstration area, remain, multiplying the number of restaurant options to four.
“Luxury is never static, but an evolving concept that considers not only the aesthetic, but also the way service is delivered,” says Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld, who highlights regional cooking classes and chef demonstrations aboard the S.S. Bon Voyage as new elements of the immersive experience. “Our guests want to know where their food is sourced [and] about the local producers, and to understand how a dish is prepared – and with these rivers, we have some of the best inspirations in the world.”
The S.S. Bon Voyage’s signature itinerary, an eight-day “Brilliant Bordeaux” trip, begins on the Gironde estuary in a series of market towns and riverbank vineyards and culminates in the wine district capital of Bordeaux, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s home to the most protected historic buildings in France outside of Paris.
Insider trips ashore include touring Médoc châteaus – the route passes Latour, Mouton Rothschild, and Pichon Longueville Baron, to name a few along the architecturally distinguished peninsula – followed by a private grand cru tasting. It continues with a visit to a Sauternes vineyard with a sampling of the signature sweet wine at the fourteenth-century Château de Cazeneuve. Take a walk around hilltop Saint-Émilion, where grapes have been planted since the Roman age, then stop for – bien sur – an estate tasting.
In addition to culinary tours and vintage sips, the sailing offers a wealth of wellness options in wine country, including yoga at the historic Blaye Fortress, biking among the Médoc vineyards, walks in the enchanting village of Libourne at the confluence of the Isle and Dordogne rivers, a sunrise hike at Dune du Pilat, Europe’s tallest sand dune, and exploring Normandy’s World War II bunkers, which promises to be extra special in 2019, the 75th anniversary of the landings.
New shipboard wellness facilities, including a top-deck swimming pool, complement the onshore activities. The expanded fitness center promises such destination-specific classes as dance tutorials in the cancan, and a generous spa treatment room.
At the end of the day, passengers can salute the sunset with a sparkling crémant served at the deck-top café, which morphs into a bar in the evenings.
“With the emphasis on gastronomic amenities on board, it’s a match of the ship to the destination,” says Marcella Rappoport, a Virtuoso travel advisor based in New York City. “And Uniworld’s service, which is always marvelous, will be fitting to a food and wine destination such as Bordeaux.”
From French art on the walls to local provisions on nightly menus, the S.S. Bon Voyage, according to Bettridge, “brings the guest closer to the destination at nearly every touchpoint.” Even when it’s sailing between ports.
This article is sponsored by Uniworld. All images courtesy of Uniworld.