We absolutely love the feeling of exploring the world while enjoying the good life on a luxurious cruise ship. But the idea of sailing through the incredibly idyllic region of central France while on a Burgundy Canal Barge Cruise with just 12 passengers really makes our travel feet itchy!
Guest contributor, Rosemarie Palmer from Quiltripping, was lucky enough to experience life on La Belle Epoque on a sponsored trip. The barge is a luxurious floating hotel that is the epitome of elegance and adventure. She’s here to tell us all about her incredible sailing adventure through Burgundy.
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What to expect on a Burgundy Canal Barge Cruise
I easily pedal my bicycle along the towpath that parallels the Burgundy Canal in central France. Even though it is mid-June, I barely break into a sweat. A slight breeze and the shade from the tunnel of trees through which I am biking helps to keep me cool.
Occasionally another biker passes me, and we share a brief smile and a friendly “bonjour”, but for the most part, I have the towpath to myself. As I meander along the length of the canal from one lock to another, I revel in the solitude.
It is exactly these types of travel experiences that I yearn for—experiences that are out of the ordinary; experiences that connect me to a location in a unique way. This is not the France of Paris or Versailles, destinations that are overrun with tourists. This is the heart of the pastoral French countryside where gently undulating fields are covered in golden wheat or budding grape vines.
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As I continue my trek, I am fascinated by the herds of pure white Charolais cows that I occasionally see grazing in the pastures. They are supposed to produce great beef for the table, but as I bike past them and they look at me with their mellow brown eyes, the process of going from farm to table is not one I want to ponder at that moment.
But this is the Burgundy region of France, so exceptional wine and the good food that accompanies it are a key element of this journey. It is also one reason for the bike ride—I am vainly trying to offset some of the calories I know I will be taking in later in the day.
Life onboard La Belle Epoque
My home for six days, and also the source of countless wonderful experiences, is the luxury European Waterways barge, La Belle Epoque. This ultra-slow way to travel, along with the intimate setting, is a totally new type of cruising experience for me.
This barge accommodates a maximum of twelve passengers, but on my cruise, we only have a total of five. In fact, this week the crew outnumbers us by one. Along with the captain and the pilot, we have a private chef, a guide and two hostesses that attentively cater to all our needs and wants during the week.
Each day the barge slowly transports us as we glide along 7-8 miles of new scenery. Not far by any means. In fact, I quickly pedal ahead of the barge on my bicycle outing.
But this is all about savoring the journey—and savor I do. I feast on gourmet meals, I sip full bodied French wine, and I explore the area on specially crafted tours designed to deliver unique experiences curated just for our group.
Exploring Burgundy on a canal barge cruise
It is through these daily excursions that I develop a connection to the Burgundy region of France. The excursions have all the elements that I love to explore—history, architecture, art, food, wine and interesting people.
My first tour is the Chateau de Commarin where we start the visit with a falconry demonstration just for our group. It is probably the only time I will ever see a European eagle owl flying with its full 6 foot wingspan up close.
The castle’s one thousand years of history comes to life as Count Bertrand takes us on a personal tour of his domain. The count is the current owner of the chateau and the 26th generation of his family to continuously own this property. His stories and his personal link to this historic site add a unique element that would not be possible with just a guidebook.
During the week, I also have the chance to explore two other historic locales. The first is the UNESCO listed Abbey de Fontenay where I learn all about the lifestyle and contributions made by the Cistercian monks that built the abbey.
Before this visit, I had never heard of the Cistercians, even though the order spread throughout most of Europe by the 16th century. They believed in a simple lifestyle and hard work which resulted in the monks becoming the technological innovators of their age.
The Abbey the Fontaine is one of the earliest Cistercian monasteries. Today is also one of the best preserved and restored examples in France.
At the Chateau de Ancy-le-Franc I get to see Renaissance art and architecture as it was celebrated at its height in France in the 16th century. Each room in the chateau is a beautiful work of art where every surface serves as a canvas for the architect’s self-expression.
The floors are laid out with mosaics in all manner of patterns and materials, while the walls and ceilings are covered in murals that depict different themes in each room. This is a good reminder that the mastery of the Renaissance spread into the rest of Europe beyond just Italy.
Traveling through the Burgundy region would not be complete without a visit to a winery or two. The special behind the scenes tour at Maison Alexandre Bonnet shows me the large-scale production of both wine and champagne and tasting four of their vintages tickles my taste buds—literally.
In the town of Chablis, I tour the wine cellars of Domaine Laroche which have been used for over nine hundred years to age barrels and bottles, though their collection of reserve vintages is not quite that old.
The highlight of the week for me though, is the special private lunch with the Count and Countess de Taisne in their home Chateau. They welcome us with gracious hospitality, gourmet food and wine, and enchanting conversation as we are treated to canapes and champagne in their sitting room followed by lunch in their dining room.
All this is followed by a tour of this historic family property. Even though it is an ancient building, it is clearly first and foremost the family’s home.
Unlike touring a restored museum, this visit feels more like visiting friends in their country house surrounded by generations of photos and antiques—antiques which are used and sat upon, not just looked at.
All too quickly this special week is over. Attentive service. Gourmet food. Delicious wine. Intriguing excursions. I have been spoiled beyond the point of no-return.
Though I do hope to return again to a European Waterways canal cruise another day. Their bikes have my name on them.
More unique boomer travel adventures in France
- Enjoy a bicycling the backroads of the Loire Valley
- Go roadtripping through champagne country
- Discover the tapestry and chateau life in Bayeux
Disclosure: European Waterways sponsored Rosemarie’s trip