Good food, good wine, good company, the rolling hills of Burgundy and tranquility. That’s what we found aboard the barge l’Impressioniste as we slowly cruised the historic Burgundy Canal in Eastern France.
Unlike cruises on board ocean-going ships with hundreds or even thousands of passengers, a cruise on a European Waterways (EW) barge is custom-tailored for sophisticated travelers who value simple pleasures and the companionship of like-minded folks in a floating “house-party” atmosphere. Like all EW barges, l’Impressioniste first saw life as a working barge and was later converted into a hotel barge. She accommodates twelve passengers in six comfortable staterooms, each with ensuite bathroom. Her public space includes an expansive deck, complete with hot tub, and a spacious, “clubby” saloon, a perfect setting for memorable meals and good conversation.
Our holiday began at the Hotel Westminster on the rue de la Paix in Paris where we and our six fellow passengers were picked up by Brendan, a bright young Englishman, who drove us to Escommes, the tiny village in Burgundy where our barge awaited us. As we headed south through the French countryside, we had a chance to get to know one another, quickly bonded and became fast friends. On arrival, we were met by Captain Rudy and his crew who immediately thrust a glass of champagne into our hands and tempted us with tasty hors d’oevres.
We quickly settled into our cabins, all of which were named after French impressionist painters and gathered for a delightful dinner, lovingly prepared and introduced by Marie, our superb French chef. As was her custom throughout our cruise, she explained each of the courses, while our most efficient servers told us the stories of the wines that accompanied each course and the local cheeses that were served at the conclusion of the meal. It is worth mentioning that Chef Marie was careful to honor all special requests such as, for example, dishes free of gluten, pork or shellfish.
After breakfast the next morning, we cruised for some three or four hours to our next destination, the village of Vandenesse. Barges such as l’Imperessioniste cruise extremely slowly so that you can walk alongside on the towpath or ride ahead on one of the bicycles carried on board for the passengers. The Burgundy Canal, like many of Europe’s canals, has very many locks and it’s always interesting to watch how the captain works in tandem with the lock-keeper to raise (or lower) the barge. One of the wonders of our cruise was the perfect quiet we enjoyed as we sat on deck and watched the countryside slip by. This wondrous silence was interrupted only occasionally by the “mooing” of the white Charolais cattle grazing on the hillside or the sweet songs of birds. And since we cruised far from cities and highways, it was a treat to take deep breaths of country-fresh air.
Each afternoon Brendan would take us on an excursion to a nearby chateau, abbey or other interesting place. Among the highlights on our cruise was the 13th century Chateau de Bussy-Rabutin which looks as though it must have been designed for a Hollywood movie although, we were told, it was never actually used as a setting for a film. On another day, Brendan drove us through the premier cru vineyards to Beaune, capital of the Burgundy wine country. There we enjoyed a visit to the 15th. century Hotel Dieu Hospice, a large, remarkably “modern” and apparently comfortable hospital. This was followed by a visit to the cellars of the famed Bouchard Pere et Fils winemakers, concluding of course with a tasting.
Midway through the week, instead of enjoying lunch on board, we visited the exquisite beautiful 12th century Abbaey de la Bussiere, now converted into a luxurious Chateau et Relais resort where we were served a superb meal and toured the property’s ornamental gardens. This was followed by an afternoon visit to the mediaeval village and castle of Chateauneuf-en-Auxois. On another day, there was a visit to the city of Dijon, where we had the opportunity to walk through the famed produce market with its mustard shops and also to visit the impressive Notre-Dame de Dijon cathedral. The final tour took us to Clos de Vougeot, headquarters of the esteemed Chevaliers du Tastevin.
European Waterways was founded in 1974 and now has more than two dozen hotel barges under its management. In addition to Burgundy it operates in the Canal du Midi in southern France, Gascony and Bordeaux; the Loire Valley; Alsace-Lorraine and Champagne. It also offers six-day cruises in Holland, Italy, Scotland, England and Ireland as well as longer journeys including Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg. Given the size of the barges, EW can make them available for charter by family or other groups of up to 12 persons for whom custom designed tour programs such as visits to places of particular interest or sporting activities including tennis or golf can be arranged.
Further information is available at www.gobarging.com or by calling, toll-free, 877-879-8808.