Dispatch, Bordeaux: Hello, old friend

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Senior editor Michelle Baran is cruising on Uniworld's River Royale in Bordeaux, France. Her first dispatch follows.

I had heard that in recent years Bordeaux had reinvented itself. But after 15 years away from the city since studying there in college, I could barely recognize the buzzing capital of France’s Aquitaine region.

The Garonne River waterfront, once home to abandoned warehouses and questionable characters, has been reborn as a social and recreational hub of activity, complete with manicured gardens, playgrounds, shops, cafes and a seasonal, open-air market.

There is a new light rail system and overhauled shopping boulevards and pedestrian streets. Biking around the city earlier this week was like running into an old friend who has lost so much weight you barely recognize her.

While “my” Bordeaux is ancient history, the new Bordeaux is indicative of a renaissance that is spreading like wildfire throughout the entire Aquitaine region.

Some 30 miles upriver in Pauillac, the riverfront square is a bustling construction site as that town, too, in the heart of the Medoc wine region, has caught the Bordeaux renaissance fever.

Adding to this regional revival is Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s 132-passenger River Royale, which was repositioned here from Provence this year, marking the company’s foray into the region.

Sailing through Aquitaine this week on the Royale, I wondered why Uniworld and other river cruise companies (Viking Cruises inaugurated a vessel here in March, and Grand Circle is bringing a vessel here in 2015) hadn’t come here sooner, with lines so hungry for new waterways.

Between the picture-perfect chateaus, the lush riverbanks and countless vineyards, it feels like such a natural fit for a river cruise.

The Garonne, Gironde and Dordogne rivers on which the Uniworld itinerary sails are tidal rivers that flow into and out of the Atlantic Ocean. And while that presents a unique navigational challenge with no locks to help control the flow (talk about high highs and low lows!), clearly it is not an insurmountable one.

When you think the market couldn’t get much more saturated, that there are only so many rivers to explore in Europe, a hidden gem emerges. And this one has hints of success, satisfaction, stinky cheese and endless red wine.
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Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.

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