The Quay to Bordeaux | Posted: 29 April 2015
Self-guided cycling holidays in France
Self-guided cycling holidays in France
Self-guided cycling holidays in France

Our man in France, Stéphan Bosc, tells us of his love for his home town Bordeaux's Fête du Fleuve, or River Festival.

“Like everyone in Bordeaux, I am proud of the city’s rich maritime heritage and look forward with eager anticipation to our Maritime Festival in May, which is held every other year, alternating with an equally wonderful Fête du Vin.

The whole town starts to come alive from the moment we hear the exact time and date that the historic tall ship, Belem – the undoubted star of the show – will be putting in her appearance. She plays a central role in the celebrations and crowds gather all along the banks of the river in their thousands waiting to see her slowly and elegantly making her way upriver to berth on the quayside. Her grand entrance is made all the more spectacular by the raising of the Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas, the longest vertical-lift bridge in Europe. With cannons roaring and crowds cheering, her crew skilfully manoeuvre her into place – her pride of place – on Bordeaux’s bustling waterfront.

Although such ‘tall ships’ will always draw a crowd, there’s a lot more to the festival than the Belem. During the week (22-31 May in 2015*), the riverside quais are transformed into a joyously colourful and noisy spectacle, with ships and boats of all sizes engaged in all manner of nautical activities, from boat trips and demonstrations to maritime exhibitions and concerts.

Related Holidays & Further Information

Bordeaux and St Emilion

Bordeaux is a great city to visit, whether you are there to enjoy the wine and cuisine, the maritime heritage or as a place to start and end a cycling tour through the vineyards of Bordeaux and St Emilion.

More about our cycling holidays
in the Bordeaux region >

Bordeaux's next River Festival

The next River Festival takes place in 2017. However, if you're in the Bordeaux region at the end of June this year (23-26 June 2016) , why not spend a day enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes of the colourful Wine Festival?

More about Bordeaux's Wine Festival
for 2016 >

What’s more, this year the festival will host the start of one of the world's greatest yacht races, the Solitaire du Figaro (a solo, multi-stage race open to professionals and amateurs) when, for only the second time in its history, the yachts will leave from the heart of a city.

There’s plenty of great food, too, as artisan producers and local wine-makers set up their stalls to entice the passer-by with all manner of tasty morsels, while music fills the air. Probably the most spectacular view comes after dark, when the ships along the quay are illuminated by thousands of bright lights and brilliant firework displays explode in the night sky, to be reflected in the still waters of the River Garonne.”

For those with an interest in tall ships, the Belem is the oldest three-masted barque in France. She was built in 1896, the last 19th-century merchantman still under sail, having crossed the Atlantic 33 times from 1896 to 1913 before becoming the private yacht for a succession of wealthy owners. In 1981, the Belem Trust started a massive renovation campaign, returning the ship to its former glory. However, her position as France’s favourite historic ship may just have been usurped.

While in Rochefort earlier this year, Stéphan visited another historic sailing ship. He was there to see the completion of a remarkable project – the building of an exact replica of the frigate Hermione, which was the ship used to transport General Marquis de Lafayette across the Atlantic to aid the American rebellion against the British in March 1780. Work began in 1997, using the traditional craftsmanship of 1779. All the painstaking work paid off, and on 20 April 2015, she set sail on her maiden voyage to America, retracing that historic journey undertaken by Lafayette 235 years ago.

* The next River Festival takes place in 2017. This year the city celebrates with its Wine Festival.

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