Discovering the Best of Burgundy on a France Canal Cruise with European Waterways...
As I soak in the hot tub on the prow of the boat, sipping a specialty cocktail and watching the French countryside slowly pass by, I feel totally content. This is probably the closest I will ever come to the experience of being on my own private yacht.
The boat I am on is a refurbished and restored barge that once plied lumber but now serves as a self-contained luxury boutique hotel. I am spending six glorious days on the La Belle Epoque, one of European Waterways’ fleet of deluxe barges that gently cruise the canals of France, Scotland and other parts of Europe. With six large and comfortable cabins that can accommodate a total of 12 guests, the Belle is one of European Waterways’ largest offerings. However, on my particular cruise, we are a total of only five passengers and the crew outnumbers us by one.
Our six day itinerary epitomizes slow travel as we only progress along 80 kilometers of the northern countryside along the Burgundy canal, or rather, the Canal de Bourgogne. Construction on this canal was started in 1775 as one of the many French waterway links that ultimately connected the English Channel to the Mediterranean Sea.Before trains took over the transportation of goods, canals such as this one served as the lifeline for commerce, providing easier and more accessible routes for the movement of products from one part of the country to another.
Today though, the Burgundy Canal is used primarily for recreation and pleasure. During my 6 day tour, we did not pass any other boats and hardly saw other people on the adjacent towpaths. For six days I was in a bubble of quiet luxury and comfort where every need and many whims were enthusiastically catered to.
This intimate world had a slow and peaceful rhythm where each day included three gourmet meals, exceptional regional wines and specially crafteddaily excursions which guaranteed that we saw the local sights in the most unique way. France is seeped in centuries of history and the Burgundy Canal took us near locations that would have been much more challenging to visit on my own.
On our first full day, a private van whisked us to nearby Chateaude Commarin, an imposing structure that is a mosaic of architectural styles and which has been in the same family for 26 generations. After a private falconry demonstration, the current count acted as our tour guide as he took us around his home and related amusing anecdotes of his family’s long history of ownership.
On other days we had private tours of two other sites that provided a glimpse of the diversity that is French history. At the Abbey de Fontenay we found a 12th century Cistercian monastery that was one of the best preserved examples in Europe, while at the Chateau de Ancy-le-Franc we were treated to a highly decorative example of French Renaissance architecture.
Of course, since we were traveling through one of France’s premiere wine regions, our week also included special winery tours and tastings. At Maison Alexandre Bonnet I learned all about the process of making champagne and then sampled four vintages of their wonderful bubbly. In the town of Chablis we toured the wine cellars of Domaine Laroche where they have been aging their vintages for over nine hundredyears, which was followed by a private tasting of their modern offerings.
My favorite excursion though was lunch with the Count and Countess de deTaisneat theirChateau. They welcome us into their home with gracious hospitality, gourmet food and wine, and enchanting conversation. This was a true bespoke experience like no other.
Besides the winery tours, we were also privileged to sample some of France’s best wines on board the barge as well. At both lunch and dinner, we had a white and a red wine that was specifically paired to go with each particular meal. To say that my palette was spoiled would be an understatement as our on-board chef indulged us in fresh and locally sourced delicacies at every meal. And since I love cheese, I was in heaven with the cheese course that was part of each dinner.
My week on the La Belle Epoque was one of my most memorable travel experiences I have ever had and will be hard to top. This trip was indeed all about the journey, and not the destination, and it was a journey like no other.
Please note that my trip was hosted by European Waterways but all content and opinions are my own.
My France Canal Cruise - Quiet Luxury In The French Countryside
Rose Palmer is a retired PhD chemist that shares her passions for traveling, photography and quilting on her website, Quiltripping.com. She resides in the US but has traveled extensively all over the world for the past 20 years. She likes to focus her traveling lens on art, architecture, history, nature and soft adventure and shares her experiences on her blog to inspire others to travel the world. Since starting her blog three years ago she has received 16 awards of excellence from the North American Travel Journalists Association for both writing and photography.