There are about 60 boutique hotel barges that cruise along the peaceful and beautiful canals and rivers of France. They vary in size, comfort level and price – and they can be found in all the most attractive regions of France. Some can be booked by cabin (room) others are chartered complete by groups and families. Whatever the details of any particular barge, they all come complete with captain and crew who look after navigation; and professional chef and hostess to care for guests.
People often say that they feel they have been treated ‘like royalty’ and this is a very unique experience. Here is just one example of what that fabulous luxury hotel barge cruise in France is like:
Hotel Barge Après Tout
Après Tout offers two Burgundy cruising options:
• River Saône: Lyon to St. Jean de Losne
• Canal de Bourgogne: St Jean de Losne to Pont d’Ouche, Burgundy
Unlike many other luxury hotel barges, Après Tout has only three (rather than four) king size en-suite state rooms on board, which means that owner-operators Rory and Caroline Macrae, (who cut their teeth as managers of the Orient-Express luxury barge fleet now called ‘Belmond’), can offer an unparalleled level of service and attention. The cabins have emperor sized beds with L’Occitane toiletries, the communal areas are bright and spacious with the best in contemporary styling and the deck is equipped with sun loungers and a Jacuzzi.
The Canal de Bourgogne in eastern central France, completed in 1832, follows the course of the River Armançon and then the River Ouche. Its southern reaches glide through one of the most highly-regarded winemaking region in the country – the celebrated Burgundy Route des Vins offers some of the best of French reds from the Côtes de Nuits to the Côte de Beaune and all stops in between. The historical and architectural highlights of the area to be found in the regional capital Dijon, where the Ducal Palace was once the official residence of the Dukes of Burgundy and now houses the inestimable Musée des Beaux Arts. In the 17th century Dijon was granted exclusive rights to produce mustard, a skill that locals have honed down the years and nowadays the famous Dijon mustard adds a piquant note to the cuisine for which the Burgundy region is so well known.
Spend your mornings meandering along this stunning waterway, unwinding on deck with a cooling drink in your hand as the verdant countryside unfolds around you, and for those keen to explore this fascinating region with its fortified farms and churches full of ancient charm, there are bicycles available. After a delicious three course lunch, most afternoons will offer an excursion to a local attraction, for example a visit to the renowned wine producers at Clos de Vougeot in a vintage WWII jeep.
Co-owner Caroline Macrae, a Cordon Bleu trained chef, will rustle up gourmet meals using fresh ingredients sourced from trusted local suppliers. Smoked salmon parcels filled with smoked trout pate, roast fillet of beef with truffle sauce and meringue swans with raspberry coulis are a few of the options that might tempt you. They are served either in the dining room or up on deck, accompanied by carefully matched wines from the region. Vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan and non-allergenic dishes can be arranged given at least 8 weeks’ notice prior to departure.
A champagne reception and gourmet dinner on board Après Tout, moored in the great barge town of St Jean de Losne, is a fitting start to your Burgundy adventure. After passing along the southerly reaches of the Canal de Bourgogne you will moor at Longecourt to explore the famous vineyards along the ‘Route de Grand Crus’ and discover the local truffle producer at Nuits St George. A leisurely cruise the next morning ends in Dijon for trip to the Ducal Palace and the Grey Poupon mustard shop and a visit to the 12th century Château at Clos de Vougeot nearby for a wine tasting is also included. There’s a viticultural theme to the following day as well, with a drive to the charming village of Gevrey Chambertin where the wine-makers provide a splendid lunch and owner Madame Drouhin Laroze will give a tour of the cellars. En route to Gissey the next day you will visit Beaune, with its fabulous medieval hospital the Hôtel Dieu. The final stretch of this beautiful canal passes through several more locks until reaching Pont d’Ouche from where you can drive up to Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, a historic hill-top village offering panoramic views of the landscape through which you have travelled. This unforgettable trip is rounded off with the Captain’s Farewell Gala Dinner back on board.
These lazy days on Après Tout, drifting through some of the most languidly beautiful landscapes and offset with just the right amount of cultural stimulation, will surely work their magic and leave you feeling renewed and replenished. The countryside, the culture and the cuisine really are the stuff of which dreams are made and when you surface at the end of a memorable week, you will probably find yourself wanting to dream again.
► Make an enquiry to get a firm quotation for this or any other hotel barge for the time of year that interests you.
Barge Cruising – The Ouche Valley and Dijon
– [below] In the region: Vandenesse-en-Auxois, Canal de Bourgogne, Longecourt, Burgundy Route des Vins, Dijon –
Hotel barges often collect and return guests to a pre-agreed Paris or Dijon hotel. The primary French international airport is at Paris-Charles de Gaulle and there is a European-flight airport at Dole. There are also TGV express train stations at Montbard, Dijon, near Dole and Le Cruesot (near Montchanin); and many other towns in the region have railway connections.