We are playing a game of “spot the chateau” that could be ours one day – when we win the lottery of course.
It’s hard not to get carried away with this French fantasy as we glide along the River Garonne, past one magnificent palace after the next, taking in the opulence and history of the country’s most popular wine region from the bow of the luxury Barge Tango.
But as I recline on the scattered cushions, letting myself be lulled by the warm summer breeze and engine’s gentle hum, I take another sip of a festive flute of Crémant de Bordeaux and decide that today, I already feel like a millionaire – with or without a chateau to call my own.
Moored at the foot of Bordeaux’s Pont de Pierre, the Tango is owned by second-generation barge owner, Captain Daniel Sak who expertly steers guests along the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers as well as the Gironde Estuary. And it’s about as cute as they come.
Built in 1931, Tango was a former grain mover that had been retired until American-raised, French-born Daniel bought it in 1999 and spent two years converting it into a luxury barge, modernising it with amenities such as WiFi, outdoor Jacuzzi and air conditioning in each room while creating an opulent art deco ambiance complete with rich teak panelling throughout and original large brass port holes.
In a charming twist, it was as a child while working with his mother on another Canal du Midi barge, he spotted the Tango and declared that one day she’d be his. He realised that dream when he was 17 before spending the next 20 years specialising in wine cruises on the Canal du Midi in southern France.
But with the recent revitalisation of the Bordeaux waterfront, Daniel decided to moor the boat there permanently, perfectly positioned just a five minute walk from the city, to showcase a different region to visitors.
From the moment we step on board, Daphna our delightful tri-lingual hostess anticipates every need, preparing welcome plates of local treats and replenishing our rapidly depleted glasses.
Below deck, heavenly Provencal linens and big fluffy pillows complete the picture in the two suites and two other guest rooms that accommodate up to 8 people (each with ensuite bathroom and plenty of hot water).
If you’re lucky enough to score the deluxe suite, you’ll have a claw foot bathtub in a setting that is pure 1930s art deco magic, inspired by opulent passenger liners of that era.
A key feature of the boat is the unique bathrooms with beautiful Provençal glazed tiles that you might recognise as a signature tile used by a famous French skincare company.
A sumptuous common living area with oversized sofas, a long dining table and “honesty” bar is set up for guests as well as an espresso machine you can help yourself to day or night.
But they don’t get a look in during our three-day escape as we’re hard pressed to drag ourselves away from the mesmerising views on deck.
At sunset it’s time for us enjoy an aperitif while our very own chef Pierre fires up the stove in the galley kitchen below, where he will turn out lip-smacking regional feasts daily.
We dine by candlelight like kings and queens in the open air on three courses that smack of summer with matching wines while cooled by the breeze off the water.
Being so close to its southern neighbour, tonight the menu has a punchy Spanish spiced theme and we couldn’t be happier. It’s a masterful stroke to begin our gourmet sailing adventures.
All guests receive breakfast, lunch and dinner aboard the Tango with produce bought daily from local farms and market stops by Pierre, who can cater to all dietary requirements with advanced notice.
It turns out that Captain Daniel is also a trained chef, a graduate of the prestigious French National Cooking School in Burgundy, and oversees all of the culinary experiences, including wine pairings.
Of course when you think of Bordeaux you immediately think of wine. There are 65 appellations (wine producing areas) across 112,000 hectares producing hundreds of millions of bottles every year. That’s 20 bottles of Bordeaux sold every second all over the world. Wine is part of the region’s DNA.
Historically the Bordeaux waterways were vital for commercial interests, connecting the city to ports around the globe.
Today it’s much quieter and the perfect way to see the city and surrounding landscapes, to admire the city’s famous quays, fortified towns, Romanesque churches, a UNESCO listed citadel, bastides, castles and chateaux that sit among the green valleys and vineyard-covered hills.
On a week-long cruise you are likely to visit St Emillion, Margeaux Wineries with stops at Bordeaux Medoc, Blaye, Saint-Emillion, Bourg and Branne. In fact Daniel tailors all cruises to suit individual desires and excel in creating itineraries to tickle even the most jaded of travellers, sharing their insider knowledge of lesser known activities and excursions from nature walks to wine tours and cooking classes.
A highlight for us is a surprise dinner at a friend’s carrelet (ancient fishing hut) whose pontoon juts out over the beautiful Dordogne River where we watch the setting sun as our generous hosts put on a veritable feast, including home made tarte aux pommes with regional apples. A few minutes later, there is not a skerric left.
Joined by some of their neighbouring friends, so begins a long, funny night of Franglish and wildly expressive hand movements to make sure we’re all understood.
It’s obvious Daniel has deep connections to the area and tides can be tricky so changes can occur last minute.
But those moments of uncertainty are when you’re likely to discover something even more special as we did when we landed at the picturesque medieval fortress village of Cadillac (pronounced Cad ee yac) on the night of the town’s fête de la village.
In summer in France, every town, village and hamlet has its traditional fête date and the summer calendar heaves under the weight of social engagements.
Cradling glasses of chilled local white wine, we watch as kids dart between tables playfully and musicians drum up a festive air for more people that pile into the square than I think is possible for such a small town.
The carnival-like atmosphere continues into the night with local marching girls, speeches and finally the townsfolk – us included – filing out past the city’s medieval walls and down toward the river for the grand finalé – a fireworks’ display we are able to watch crack and sparkle over us from the boat’s bow, in a befitting finish to our Bordeaux escape.
THINGS TO NOTE:
Tango’s cruises begin and end in the city of Bordeaux, mooring
Just five minute walk to the city centre.
Tango is available for private charter 6 night cruises – from Sunday to Saturday for 4-8 people. Three meals a day are provided except for one lunch in a restaurant overlooking the river, which is also included in the price.
Five day cruises with half board are also available.
Cruises run between May 1 and the end of October. From November, Barge Tango becomes a floating hotel permanently docked in the heart of Bordeaux.
Just two hours from Paris Montparnasse station to St Jean at Bordeaux, visitors to Paris it’s an easy 3 day getaway.
Agents can reach out to Daniel at [email protected]
For more information, visit www.canalsoffrance.com
It’s worth staying a night or two in Bordeaux to visit the impressive modern Cité du Vin (wine museum) and explore the city of limestone facades on foot, one of the best food markets in France, the myriad antique shops and arcades and open air weekend flea markets.
We stayed at the flirty Mama Shelter Bordeaux, where locals and internationals flock to the impressive rooftop bar and restaurant, overseen by Michelin-starred chef Guy Savoy.
Situated in the heart of the city, all 97 rooms are designed by Philippe Starck, combining top notch style with all your tech needs. At the funky and fun rooftop bar, watch the sun go down as easily as the sensational cocktails on offer.
There’s no pool, gym, room service or slippers and bathrobes here. But you will get funky décor, free on-demand movies and free wifi.