BY TIM HEDGLEY, GROUP TRAVEL EDITOR
I know some large cruises can be lovely but if you get bad weather your holiday can be a bit of a disaster. Massive ships rolling from side to side in 40 foot waves, sea sickness, furniture sliding from one side of the deck to the other, that fill my heart with horror.
So for me, I prefer to holiday on a far more gentle form of water based holiday.
A gentle cruise on a hotel barge is the perfect way to discover the very soul of Europe, exploring its wonderful countryside and historical treasures and meeting its many friendly and diverse people.
Going on a European Waterways Hotel Barge is total escapism, absolute luxury, where everything is taken care of.
From your pick up point until you set down point a week, later you won’t lift a finger, well apart from lifting a canapé or holding a cocktail that is.
My hotel barge experience started in Paris at the stunning Westminster Hotel. The concierge had our suitcase spirited away with a nametag “Impressionist” placed on top.
Our Captain met us in the bar where my wife and I were sipping a delightful Cote Du Rhone. “Hi I’m Daniel your Captain, and along with my crew we will be looking after you this week”.
His handshake was firm and you immediately felt secure under his care. We were shown to our bespoke Mercedes Minibus for our transfer down to Fleurey-sur-Ouche. When you travel with European Waterways your thoughts are second-guessed, like every well-trained concierge, all the questions you might ask have been thought of and acted upon.
For example the new fleet of executive minibuses comes with a usb charging port at every seat, so after your flight or train journey to Paris you can refresh your phones battery. How thoughtful, this level of detail and attention flows seamlessly throughout your whole weeks barging.
Arriving at the elegant L’Impressionniste, we are greeted with a cocktail /champagne reception and the crew welcome us on board.
Cosseting our chilled champagne we meet the crew and we are given the all important safety briefing. On my cruise there were 6 guests, two people from America two from Australia and two from Ireland.
There must have been Gaelic spirit on the minibus with us as we all bonded immediately. Not surprising as the Irish did basically populate America and Australia many years ago so I sort of get that.
Our fellow guests were just amazing, former school principal and two lawyers.
To say the craic was mighty is an understatement, by the time we had been shown to our cabins; we were all new best friends.
Amazingly somehow our suitcases had been spirited to the cabin before us, and I still don’t know how they did that!
L’Impressionniste began life as a cargo barge in Holland before undergoing a complete transformation into the gorgeous 5 star hotel barge she is today. Her light and airy interior features picture windows, a selection of prints, fabrics and wall coverings reminiscent of the era after which she was named, while each comfortable cabin is complemented with an en suite shower room.
Bearing in mind canals and the barges that sail on them, are restricted by width and length, I was amazed with my luxurious cabin, beautifully finished with wood panelling wonderful egyptian cotton bedding, a considerable bathroom with full sized shower and delightful L’Occitane bathroom products, all washed down with silent air conditioning.
I knew this was going to be a special week!
A music collection and Bluetooth connectable music centre was also available. This sat opposite to the delightfully fitted and expertly well-stocked bar.
There is little doubt that a weeks cruising aboard L’Impressionniste on the Burgundy Canal introduces you to a wonderful blend of Burgundian food, wine, countryside, history and viticulture. And when you spend a week on any European waterways vessel be prepared to have your taste buds tickled and tantalised.
Our first dinner on board we met Mike our Chef, he displayed his culinary talents like a peacock fanning his feathers to catch a mate. This gentleman turns the simplest of food into a symphony of flavours that are worthy of many Michelin stars.
To start we had fresh Scallops, pan fried in clarified butter, nestled on a bed of fresh pea and mint puree with baby courgettes. We were then treated to guinea fowl with pureed potatoes and carrots. Then came what France is also famous for, the cheese, Morbier and Brillât Savarin.
After the cheese as our taste buds were screaming for mercy our cry’s were rewarded with a chocolate tart napped with a raspberry sorbet.
San Pellegrino sparkling water, Santenay Prosper maufoux in red and white complemented this Burgundian feast.
The next morning we were to experience our first days cruise along the enchanting canal from its summit in Escommes 1,250 feet above sea level and cruise to Vandenesse-en-Auxois. Cleverly we decided to walk the towpath past sleepy villages and pretty lock houses. With the food being so wonderful we knew that with a week of this wonderful cuisine a head of us, we would not fit on the plane home, so we made it our mission to walk every single day.
After a couple of hours walking we were treated to yet another offering from Mike, not that we needed it, but hey when in Rome …. Homemade quiche with fresh greens, 5 tomato salad and caper bells, Comte cheese and Bouchard pere et Fils Pouilly Fuisse. I know this was only lunch but as if I needed any more delicious food. Needles to say we were doing our best to assist the European Wine lake and cheese mountain.
After our delightful lunch we visited Château de Bussy-Rabutin to see the portrait gallery created by the disgraced courtier of King Louis XIV, before strolling through the gardens and enjoying views of the château surrounded by its moat. Daniel gave us a personal guided tour of the Chateaux and delighted us with tales of love, lies and exile. Count Roger de Bussy-Rabutin (1618-1693), the cousin of Madame de Sévigné, was a soldier, courtier and famous writer. He was exiled from court after exposing the love affairs of his famous contemporaries in his Histoire Amoureuse des Gaules. What a silly boy he was.
After our excursion we were once again delighted with a sumptuous dinner on board. As we had no television to distract us, after dinner was given to conversation and a glass of wine or two. That’s the wonderful thing about such a holiday the art of conversation is reborn.
Tuesday, Day 3 Vandenesse to Pont d’Ouche
Following a delightful breakfast we cruised to Pont d’Ouche, crossing the only canal bridge on the Burgundy Canal. Thankfully the weather was good and I found it a perfect time to explore the towpath along the canal side. After yet another delightful lunch, we visited the medieval village, craft shops and castle of Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, once an outpost of the Dukes of Burgundy and offering a fine overview of the feeder lakes, canal and surrounding countryside. The chateaux is set high on its rocky spur, where the fortified village of Châteauneuf still stands guard over the road from Dijon to Autun. From the canal de Bourgogne, along the ‘voie verte’, its silhouette forms part of one of the finest views in the region.
After some breathtakingly wonderful views it was back to our beautiful hotel barge for some cocktail making lessons
Wednesday, Day 4 Pont d’Ouche to La Bussière
After a short morning cruise, we set off on a drive through the local vineyards, stopping en route at the “vigne de l’enfant Jesus”, a famous vineyard owned by the Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils.
There, we gained a real insight into the production of the domaine’s Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines. We then continued onto one of the most beautiful towns in the region Beaune, capital of Burgundy wine country.
We stopped off for a winery tour and private tasting of Bouchard Père et Fils wines before enjoying a gastronomic lunch in the orangery of Château de Beaune, owned by the winery since 1820.
Afterwards, we visited the fascinating 15th century Hôtel-Dieu Hospice and explored the town, before returning to the barge for a short evening cruise to La Bussière.
Thursday, Day 5 La Bussière to Gissey-sur-Ouche
Thursday saw us cruise to Gissey-sur-Ouche, where most of the guests walked fellow passenger walked along the ever-present towpath past sleepy villages and pretty lock houses.
In the afternoon we visited Clos de Vougeot, headquarters of the esteemed Chevaliers du Tastevin, who annually award prized special labels to the finest Côte d‘Or vintages.
We also enjoyed a tasting of fine Burgundy wines in the cellars of the reputable domaine, Château André Ziltener, a family-run winery built on the foundations of an old Cistercian abbey.
Friday, Day 6 Gissey-sur-Ouche to Fleurey-sur-Ouche
Our penultimate morning, we did a walking tour of old Dijon, including a visit to the vivid flower and produce markets, where our check Mike let us choose lunch from the plethora of local produce.
As we were in Dijon there had to be mustard shops and the impressive Notre-Dame de Dijon. We returned to the hotel barge for freshly chosen lunch and a leisurely afternoon cruise with a local Jazz band on board. What an afternoon.
Preparations were then made for the Captain’s Farewell Dinner on board.
Saturday, Day 7 Fleurey-sur-Ouche
Sadly our superb cruise came to an end and our luggage swiftly followed by us were transported back to real life in Paris and is was Au Reviour and home to normality.
There is little doubt, if you want a wonderful relaxing holiday then European Waterways are the Experts. Each day, as your hotel barge moves sedately from one peaceful mooring to the next, you can just wander along the towpath, or get on or off at one of the pretty locks. You may stumble across some local villagers playing a game of boules, or discover a vineyard, its vines laden with grapes. Each barge carry bicycles for towpath riding and other excursions ashore, and the little villages and farms you discover as you cruise by, become part of the adventure.
Alternatively, just absorb the ever-changing scenery from a comfortable lounger or deck-chair on the sun deck.
Then, after a day of cruising and sightseeing, your hotel barge moors up for the night and there is plenty of time for a cocktail before dinner, or perhaps to enjoy a relaxing soak in the spa pool.In Burgundy, hot-air ballooning is an exciting option. Ballooning generally takes place in the early hours just after dawn or before sunset, when the air is still and the light is perfect for drifting gently along and gazing down at the beautiful countryside below.
Hotel Barging Compared to Other Forms of Cruising
- Intimate ‘house party’ atmosphere with small passenger numbers and an unparalleled level of personal service
- Cruises are generally less than 70 miles in a week, at only 3mph
- Cruises are on smaller waterways and canals inaccessible to larger vessels
- Unique cruising experiences such as Eiffel’s Aqueduct at Briare, the Arzviller Boat Elevator and the Malpas Tunnel
- Gentle pace and immersion in the local culture and history
- Cruising just a few feet from the towpath, it’s easy to moor up and explore on foot or bicycle
- We usually cruise for only a few hours each day and never at night
- Excursions in small groups to “off the beaten track” places
- Whole barge charters possible for a group of friends or family