The French waterways are known for their tranquility and lovely scenery, and these attributes have unsurprisingly inspired artists for centuries. In fact, some of the world’s most famous paintings feature rivers and canals in France.

Monet and Impressioniste inspirationThere’s something about the reflections in the water, the sunlight dappling on the ripples and the idyllic countryside along the banks that makes French rivers the ideal setting for works of art. In this French Waterways blog post we look at some of the most inspirational places on the waters in France.

 

Scenes on the Seine

Like all French waterways, the River Seine provides stunning scenery along almost its entire length as it ambles its way across northern France. But there are some spots on this river that provide a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to a painting. The Impressionists thought so and many iconic works found their inspiration on spots on the Seine including:

 

Argenteuil

ArgenteuilThe quiet backwater, northwest of Paris, became known as one of the best spots for sailing during the late 18th century. Here the River Seine meanders appealed to the Impressionists too and several key artists used Argenteuil as a backdrop to their works.

Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet loved Argenteuil so much they both owned boats here and used to take to the Seine and paint. Edouard Manet also found inspiration on the Seine at this pretty place.

Monet’s boat doubled as a floating studio and his favourite spot for inspiration was the small deck where he set up his easel. Several well-known works by Monet feature this French waterway including “Autumn at Argenteuil” painted in 1873, “Bridge at Argenteuil” and “Regatta”, both works from 1874. All three paintings mirror the intense blues of the River Seine and the reflections in it.

Renoir also painted the Seine while he was at Argenteuil, but probably his most famous river picture doesn’t feature the river at all. In “Lunch of the Boating Party”, Renoir focuses instead on the people on a boat and the laughing group of women and men in their straw hats. Today this is one of the most famous Impressionist paintings in the world.

 

Asnières

AsnieresSlightly up river from Argenteuil and nearer Paris is Asnières whose sloping river banks made it an ideal spot for bathing. Georges Seurat, who started as an Impressionist but is probably best known for his pointillism, was so inspired by the bathing station on the Seine that he painted the emblematic “Bathers at Asnières” in 1883.

The picture of a group of locals by the Seine – and of course the iconic red swimming hat worn by one of the boys in the water – has come to epitomise a relaxing afternoon by the river.

 

Giverny

Seine GivernyThis spot on the Seine, down water from Paris, is synonymous with the water lilies painted by Monet who in the latter part of his artistic career created over 40 pictures inspired by the waterway at Giverny. Not only did he paint water lilies on the Seine itself, but also those he planted in his own water gardens in the grounds of his house near the river.

See for yourself the places that inspired Monet and Renoir

 

Best of Brittany

BrittanyBrittany, one of the most popular places to holiday in France, is more famous for its coastline than its rivers and Paul Gauguin is best known for his pictures influenced by Tahiti. Yet Brittany’s rivers and the great post-Impressionist artist came together in the late 1880s.

Gauguin was fundamentally inspired by inland Brittany and some of his most famous works from the time he lived in the region draw on Pont Aven (on the River Aven) for their inspiration. This Breton river takes centre stage in several of his paintings such as “Brittany Landscape” and “Les Lavandieres” showing washerwomen in the river.

Waterways in Brittany also provided inspiration for Gauguin’s contemporary and pupil, Paul Sérusier. “Le Talisman” depicts reflections in a bend on the River Aven and is considered to be Sérusier’s finest work. Its style that takes a giant step away from Impressionism in its use of brilliant yellow, red and purple makes it one of the first “modern art” paintings.

Be inspired by Brittany waterways

 

Perfect Provence

ProvenceThe sun-drenched landscapes, lavender fields and medieval villages of Provence have long inspired writers and artists. The region became particularly popular after the 1850s when artists discovered that its warm climate and bright light made conditions ideal for painting. Many world famous painters such as Picasso, Matisse and Edvard Munch spent time in Provence.

One of the most famous Provence artists was Paul Cézanne who was born in Aix en Provence and remained throughout his life influenced by the waterways of his childhood. One of his most representative pictures of Provence is “Riverbank”, painted in 1895 and depicting buildings on a river landscape.

Probably the most prolific Provence painter was Vincent Van Gogh who was inspired by the area’s canal waterways that reminded him strongly of his native Holland. During his time at Arles, he painted over 200 paintings and made countless sketches of the landscape.

Among his pictures of rivers in the region are the several versions of Langlois Bridge, a small but unique drawbridge that crossed the Bouc Canal in Arles. However, probably his most famous painting is “Starry Night over the Rhone”, painted in 1888 and a representation of the gas lights on the east side of Arles reflected in the River Rhone. This picture later evolved into “Starry Night”, another of Van Gogh’s iconic works.

See the sights that inspired Van Gogh and Cézanne

The town of Beaune might be small in size, but it’s big in history and huge in wine – not for nothing is this Burgundy’s wine capital. Not far from the River Saone, it’s a must-stop on any waterways holiday in France.

Hospices de BeauneThe Côte de Beaune is home to five of the greatest vineyards in the region including Corton, Meursault and Pommard. So unsurprisingly many of the things to do in Beaune focus on wine. But there are other activities too in this lovely town that wine buffs may just not have heard of. So here’s our pick of the best:

Chemins de Lumieres

From 21 June to 25 September, Beaune’s iconic buildings light up every evening. Images based on the town’s history are projected onto seven key monuments while other parts of Beaune including the walls are also lit up. The projections last between 3 and 5 minutes. The tourist office provides a map of the illuminations (Chemins de Lumières) and there’s also a downloadable commentary, in French, for smart phones.

Fine dining

Le Bistrot Bourguignon in the heart of Beaune offers the very best in Burgundy dining including (of course) the region’s signature boeuf bourguignon and a long, long list of wines. They serve a good-value lunch menu on weekdays and the bistrot becomes the hub of the Beaune Jazz Festival in September. And it’s worth befriending the bistrot staff – they’re lovely once you do and they’re win knowledge is naturally second to none!

8 Rue Monge, open for lunch and dinner.

Fine wining

As the wine capital of Burgundy, Beaune makes an ideal base for visiting some of the best vineyards and tasting some grand crus on the way. Several local companies organise tours by 4×4 vehicle, by horse and carriage, by bike and even by Segway. Or you can opt for a wine tasting course. Prices start at €40 per person.

Read about the Beaune wine tours

Going, going, gone…

During the third weekend in November (19-20 November this year) Beaune celebrates its three Glorious Days of Burgundy with street performances and parades, gourmet food and wine tasting, and even a half marathon. The highlight of the weekend takes place on the Sunday afternoon with the Burgundy Charity Auction in the Halles de Beaune when local wines are auctioned by Christie’s for seriously high prices.

Find out more about the auction

Gothic hospital

The Hospices de Beaune, built as a hospital for the poor in 1443, count among the finest monuments in the country. Admire the stunning architecture, brightly tiled roofs and lovely courtyard on a visit that takes in the hospital pharmacy, chapel, wine cellars and the vineyards established in 1457.

Open daily 9am to 6.30pm 19 March to 20 November. Adults €7.50, children under 10 free

Head for the beach

The Côte d’Or might be a step from the coast, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go to the beach. One of the top family things to do in Beaune is visit the Côté Plage where four natural pools, acres of grassy ‘beaches’ and a lot of fun activities await you. Jump into the water from the high diving board, the aquatic climbing wall or a jungle vine, or just paddle around at the shallow end. Toddlers have a designed pool and lifeguards are on duty always. There isn’t a lot of shade so you may want to take a beach umbrella with you.

Open 14 June to 14 September, daily from 11-7. Adults €5.60-6.10, children (3-15) €4.10-4.60.

River park

Located in the centre of town and at the source of the River Bouzaize, the large Parc de la Bouzaize has something for all the family: from the play parks and mini zoo to rowing on the lake and the English style formal garden. The large plane trees provide some welcome shade in the hot summer and there’s a café open in the warmer months.

Tapestry treasures

The Basilica of Notre Dame in Beaune, built in the Romanesque style with Gothic details, dates from the 12th century and houses some real treasures. These include the Saint Leger chapel with its fresco murals, the cloisters and several stunning stained glass windows. But the real highlight in this church is five tapestries, woven in 1500, depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. The Basilica is open Friday and Saturday 10am-1pm and 2-6pm, and Sunday 2-6pm in April, May, October and November, and daily (except Tuesday) from 10am-1pm and 2-6pm, and Sunday 2-6pm June to September.

Wine exhibits

As you’d expect in a town surrounded by vineyards, Beaune has its own wine museum. Reopened after restoration in March 2016, the museum and its exhibits offer a unique insight into the history, culture and science behind the wine tradition in the area. A must-see for anyone interested in how Burgundy wine is made. Visit the Beaune wine museum first and then take a tour of a Burgundy vineyard afterwards so you can see the process in action!

Hôtel des Ducs de Bourgogne, Rue Enfer. Adults €4.80

And if you weren’t spoilt for choice on wine tastings and vineyards, we’ve now jam packed your Beaune itinerary even more!

The Côte de Beaune ranks among the best wine areas in Burgundy. And not surprisingly the lovely town of Beaune is home to some fine wine cellars. Visiting a wine vault in the town is one of the top attractions in Beaune. So we’ve pulled together what we believe to be seven of the best Beaune wine cellars.

Vineyards of Beaune

Bouchard Ainé & Fils

This Beaune wine cellar and producer have been in business since 1731. Located in the 18th century Hôtel du Conseiller du Roy, a fine example of traditional Burgundy architecture, the original cellars have been preserved in their original state. Visits to the vaults include tastings and food pairings.

Fine Beaune wines: Bouchard Ainé & Fils produce several fine wines including the Grand Cru ‘Les Marconnets’ and ‘Clos du Roi’, both reds.

Where: 4 Boulevard Maréchal Foch, Beaune

More information: http://www.bouchard-aine.fr/en/

 

Champy

Champy currently owns 25 hectares of vineyards acquired since 1990. Yet their wine production in Beaune goes back to 1720 and many believe they are the among the oldest wine merchants in town. The Champy wine cellar houses original wine equipment including the rail tracks that transported the giant copper fermentation containers within the cellars.

Fine Beaune wines: Champy produces organic Beaune wines and the best includes the white Beaune Premier Cru ‘Les Reversées’ and the red Premier Crus ‘Aux Cras’ and ‘Les Champs Pimonts’.

Where: 3 Rude du Grenier à Sel

More information: http://champy.com/

 

Loïs Dufouleur

These Beaune wine cellars date from 1879 and production today continues to use traditional methods. Their vineyards cover just 5 hectares and you can’t visit the cellars themselves, but their shop has a well-stocked selection of their best Beaune wines.

Fine wines: The Dufouleur label makes seven wines. Six of them are red, including three Premier Crus such as ‘Clos des Perrières’ and ‘Cent-Vignes’. Their sole white wine, ‘Champs Pimonts’, also has the Premier Cru domaine.

Where: 8 Boulevard Bretonnière

More information: http://www.domaineloisdufouleur.com/en/le-domaine/

 

Louis Jadot

One of the best known wine producers in Beaune, Louis Jadot set up in the town back in 1859. Although the family had already set down roots in the area in 1826 when they bought the ‘Clos des Ursules’ Premier Cru. Their wine cellar provides an exclusive experience, perfect for the true wine connoisseur – not only do you get a chance to see the Louis Jadot classics, but you can purchase ‘fins de loges’ wines, the very last bottles from a particular domaine.

Fine wines: Louis Jadot produces numerous Beaune wines including many white and of course, the red ‘Clos de Ursules’.

Where: 62 Route de Savigny

More information: http://www.louisjadot.com/en/index.php

 

Louis Latour

Another of the oldest wine merchants and producers in Beaune, Louis Latour was founded in 1797, although the family bought their first vineyard in the area as far back as 1675. By 1815, the company was exporting abroad and became known as the wine producers for ‘princes and kings’. Nowadays they rank as the largest Grand Cru domaine in Burgundy. The Louis Latour wine headquarters are housed in a 17th century mansion in the centre of Beaune.

Fine wines: Louis Latour produces a total of 12 Beaune wines including seven Premier Cru such as the Beaune ‘Aux Cras’ (white) and the red the ‘Domaine Latour’ and the ‘Clos du Roi’.

Where: 18 Rue des Tonneliers

More information: http://www.louislatour.com/en/

 

Maison Joseph Drouhin

These Beaune wine cellars date back to the 13th century and are situated in the Duke of Burgundy’s parliament building. They’re also among the largest in the town – they cover a hectare in area. The Maison Joseph Drouhin was founded in Beaune in 1880 and now has 32 hectares in the area dedicated to vineyards. They use a biodynamic approach to grape growing and natural products only.

Fine wines: This wine house produces seven Beaune wines including several Premier Cru such as the ‘Clos des Mouches’, red and white.

Where: 1 Cour du Parlement

More information: http://www.drouhin-oenotheque.com/en/visite

 

Patriarche

Another one of the oldest wine producers in Beaune and Burgundy, Patriarche was established in 1780. Their wine vaults are enormous – in total there are 5km of tunnels that house over 3 million bottles of wine. A variety of visits and guided tours are available to the Patriarche wine cellars.

Fine wines: Patriarche produces a range of wines in the Burgundy region including sparkling wines and signature reds and whites.

Where: 5-7 Rue du College

More information: http://www.patriarche.com/

So depending whether you want a tour or just a taste of Beaune’s finest export, take your pick.

From May, two of the most stunning and authentic barges to grace the Canal du Midi, Esperance and Savannah, are teaming up for one unique offering. In addition to their regular cruises, they will be joining forces to provide tandem cruises for groups of up to 12 guests.

Hotel barge Savannah and a 2CV tourA tandem cruise brings added excitement, fun and challenges between the barges, with guests having the opportunity to invite each other aboard for drinks, meals and musical entertainment.  It allows people the chance to enjoy the pleasures of both barges whilst taking advantage of the gorgeous backdrop of the Canal du Midi.

Hotel barge EsperanceGuests will be able to choose from two options:

Luxury tandem cruise
The luxury cruise for 12 guests follows the same advertised itinerary as an individual cruise on either Esperance or Savannah – just choose which of the itineraries you wish to follow or be tailored to suit your party.

Esperance’s three cabins and saloon have all been refurbished for 2016. If you can tear yourself away from the sun deck, its itinerary includes a day at Chateau Villemange where you’ll taste and savour the wines of an 8th generation vineyard and enjoy the best picnic you’ll ever attend, courtesy of Esperance’s chef. Aside from Narbonne and Carcassonne, guests can hop off and discover the Cathar village of Minerve perched above deep gorges through which the rivers of La Cesse and Le Briant tunnel meet. It’s also home of the delicious Minervois wines. Let’s not forget Pezenas, said by some to be the most beautiful town in Languedoc. And depending on which history book you read, it was home to Moliere (however briefly).

The Esperance guest experience costs from $4,750pp.

Savannah’s itinerary takes in pretty French villages and historic towns and cities. Its 2016 cruises include the opportunity to explore the countryside and find the perfect restaurants in your own Citroen 2CV, hired for the day. For those on the tourist trail, hop off in coastal Narbonne where you’ll find a gothic cathedral and the underground labyrinth of Roman warehouses, The Horreum. Then there’s beautiful, medieval Mirepoix with its picturesque market square in the foothills of the Pyrenees and Languedoc-Roussillon’s iconic ancient city, Carcassonne, which really needs no further introduction. Both on board and off, you’ll be gastronomically spoilt by Savannah’s fabulous onboard chef plus an evening’s dining at Chateau de Pennautier.

The Savannah guest experience costs $5,500pp.

The departure point of the tandem cruise will be Homps and the cost includes all of the amenities, visits, musicians and the 2CV drive.  However, the barges will be travelling in tandem so you will have the chance to hop between Esperance and Savannah and experience the luxury of both.

Group activity cruise

The group activity cruise, between Homps and Carcassone, is a flexible and cost-effective option that allows guests to create and plan their own daily activities. It’s a cruising B&B that will take you from one beautiful French town to another via your chosen stops and activities. Have a think about what activities you’d like to experience as part of your holiday in France… family fun, golf, cycling, oenotourism (wine and vineyards), musical and art festivals or, if it all becomes too much, simply relaxation! You can ‘DIY’ your itinerary or ask your travel agent to create one for you. We’ll provide you with the cruise route and suggested stops and moorings, and you can create your itinerary from there.

Each barge will prepare breakfast and host guests on board for the afternoon cruise. Guests will be free during the day to follow their planned activities and organise their own lunch and dinner, allowing them the chance to sample fine dining in a local restaurant or make their own picnic.  Of course guests have access to all facilities on the barge, including the on board hot tub, bicycles and TV.

The cost for B&B cruise will be $2,900 per guest.

This tandem cruise is a truly unique and exceptional experience for guests to enjoy the stunning scenery and romance of a river cruise, on board two of the finest barges operating on the Canal du Midi today.