Riverboats and French Cuisine cont ...
CroisiEurope has kept the best optional guided excursion until last. It’s a full day visiting the highest sand dune in Europe, an oyster farm and museum and taking a boat trip on the Bay of Arcachon. First stop is the Oyster Farming Museum in the port of Larros, some 55 kilometres from Bordeaux, where you’ll learn about the delicate and tedious job of oyster farmers, who have to undergo three-year course to achieve diploma status. After an oyster tasting session, a seafood feast is served for lunch. Then it’s off to the bustling seaside town of Arcachon to hop on a boat to see Bird Island, (it owes its name to egrets, ash curlew, moorhens and even teals), the Tchanquee fishermen’s cabins (which originally sheltered the watchmen in charge of the surveillance of the oyster beds), and, of course, the oyster beds, which were originally installed during the reign of Napoleon the third.
There are in fact two industries in oyster farming: Arcachon Bay is the biggest producer of naissin – six-month-old oysters which are shipped all over the French coast to be produced in other regions, while the bay itself produces 15,000 mature oysters.
The tour to the seaside ends at the Dune du Pilot (little mountain), at 109 metres the highest sand dune in Europe, most fit people climb to see the spectacular view. It looks like a pyramid, stretches along almost two kilometres and is 500 wide with a volume of 20 million cubic metres of sand. Wind gusts cause the dune to move inland from one to seven metres a year towards a forest behind it.
Back in Bordeaux, it’s party night after an unforgettable 310-kilometre cruise on Cyrano de Bergerac – the captain’s farewell dinner, a four-course feast by the French onboard chefs.
This was it:
Bloc of duck Foie Gras, caramel spice, brioche buns
Rack of veal with shallots and tarragon
Roasted small round soft goat cheese on toast, mesclun salad with honey vinegar
Baked Alaska flamed in Grand Marnier
(All washed down, of course, with French red and white wine)
There’s never a dull moment on board Cyrano de Bergerac, with cruise director Michel Beguin - and assistant, Gola – always on hand to assist,, as well as keeping the nightly lounge shows flowing, the 320 meals a day to everyone’s satisfaction (breakfast is a buffet). The before and after dinner entertainment is provided by talented husband and wife duo – You and Me – a performance by classy French singer, Alain Michel, and his orchestra, plus a dance routine by members of the 30 crew. During the day, those who don’t go on tours, can listen to lectures (like one on the history and landscape of the Gironde estuary), relax on the sundeck, play cards and board games or prop up the two lounge bars. Drinks before, during and after lunch and dinner are free except premium wines and spirits.
You can get further information on CroisiEurope and river cruises by calling CRUISE ABROAD on 02 9900 7201. www.cruiseabroad.com.au/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org
A demonstration on the art of making caneles turned out to be one of the most popular events on the eight day/seven night cruise.
A canele is a small French pastry with a soft and tender custard centre and a dark, thick caramelised crust. The dessert, which is in the shape of a small, striated cylinder about five centimetres (two inches) in height, is a specialty of the Bordeaux region, but can often be found in Parisian patisseries as well. Made from egg, sugar, milk and flour-flavoured with rum and vanilla, the custard batter is baked in a mould, giving the canele a caramelised crust and custard-like inside.
You can keep the caneles for one year in a freezer and then put them in the oven at 200C for four minutes before eating them, or they’ll keep for 10days outside of a fridge. But best of all eat them the day they’re made!
The writer was a guest of Air France on its daily flights from Singapore to Paris on one of its new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft and back from the French capital to Hong Kong on a superjumbo A380, while Melbourne-based Rail Plus provided first class rail travel in France on the sleek TGV that travels at speeds of almost 300 kilometres an hour between Paris and Bordeaux. Choose from Multi-Country Passes, Eurail Single Country Passes, Eurail Select Pass, Eurail Global Flexi Pass or Global Continuous Pass. For prices and further details go to www.railplus.com.au