French Country Waterways Ltd. (FCWL) tends to attract Americans and some Canadians, usually ages 50-plus. Those we met were well-traveled and had selected this cruise specifically for the food, wine and excursions. In 2010, the trips will traverse the Burgundy and Champagne regions, although past years also have featured the Loire Valley and Alsace.
Our cruise in the heart of France begins at Tanlay and ends at Venarey-les-Laumes with stops in or visits to Chablis, Auxerre, Ancy-le-Franc, Noyers, Montbard and Flavigny.
The scenery is stunning, but it's the food, wine and the affable captain and crew who made this trip remarkable. Barging allows you to interact with the captain, pilot and crew as they maneuver through locks (we traverse 34 locks in our six days) or guide the daily excursion. Guests also can opt for hot-air ballooning high above the beautiful patchwork- and grapevine-covered countryside.
With a staff-to-guest ratio of, literally, 1-to-2, service and the attention to detail are top-shelf. There's twice-daily cabin service including nightly turndown, and three meals daily before which is complimentary cocktail hour (plus serve-yourself cocktails whenever desired).
Mealtime is the daily highlight on French Country Waterways. Breakfast is buffet-style with croissants and other breads typically baked onboard. Jams and jellies, cold meats and cheese European-style along with fresh cut-up fruit, cold cereals including muesili make this a meal not to be missed.
Lunch is also served buffet-style, usually on the deck if weather permits. The chef often emerges from the kitchen to provide guidance and explanations. We loved the cold salads, quiches and grilled marinated chicken. A personal favorite was the smoked bacon, onion and coriander quiche with basil pesto. There are always plenty of fresh local ingredients.
Dinner is a sit-down affair and includes appetizer, entree, cheese course with salad and dessert. Our welcome aboard dinner begins with a Burgundian specialty, Les Oeufs en Meurettes, a classic French dish of poached egg in red wine sauce served atop homemade bread. And this is only the first course!
Guests we talked with on this and the other FCWL barges love the laid-back pace. These cruises are perfect for reconnecting as a couple, napping, reading, watching the passing scenery, biking on the tow path. The daily outings ensure that more active guests will be kept busy.
After a week barging aboard the cozy Horizon II on the Burgundy Canal in the heart of French wine country, we conclude that the best food and wine we've experienced in 40+ cruises worldwide.
If You're Going:
Horizon II sails six-night Burgundy Canal cruises April-October departing Sundays from Paris, with van transfer.
The 12-passenger Adrienne sails France's Champagne region between Maizy and Château-Thierry; the recently renovated 12-passenger Nenuphar sails the Dijon-to-St. Léger-sur-Dheune route in France's Côte-d'Or wine region. And the 18-passenger Esprit features "casual cruising" in Cote d'Or between St. Leger-sur-Dheune and Pontailler-sur-Saone.
Our Horizon II cruise included a visit to Chablis, home to Burgundy's most famous white wine; the waterfront town of Auxerre; tour of the 16th-century Renaissance château of Ancy-le-Franc; exploring Noyers, designated one of the most beautiful villages in France; tour of an 18th-century iron foundry/forge and estate; dinner ashore at a Michelin three-star restaurant; tour of a 12th- century monastery; market visit; and finally, a walk through the picturesque hilltop village of Flavigny where the 2000 film Chocolat, starring Johnny was shot in part.
For more information:
The barges are available for individual bookings and for charter by families or groups. Call (800) 222-1236 for details, or visit online www.fcwl.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article By Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher for Luxury Travel Magazine. Award-winning freelance travel journalists, Newbern and Fletcher often incorporate their romantic travels into their other business, www.YourNovel.com, where they put you and your sweetie in your own personalized romance novel "wild" or "mild." Among those offerings is a book based on their barge cruise from London called "Holiday on Thames". They are also the creators of the award-winning travel blog/podcast/radio report, www.YourSpaReport.com.
Photos by Fletcher/Newbern (balloon photo courtesy of French Country Waterways)