Burgundy Barge Cruising with Heike & G Adventures
Not one of the best known, yet increasing popular holiday options, is following European waterways on hotel barges. Some say France is where the idea of luxury barge cruises first started and that is where I had my first taste of this type of travel. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect and can now say that it is a wonderful way to explore the quiet countryside, the rural side of France.
Arriving in Dijon, we were whisked to the blue and white Daniele barge and offered a welcome drink as soon as we stepped on board. The Daniele is a 22 passenger barge, newly renovated in 2016, specifically for G Adventures. I expected tight spaces but was pleasantly surprised at the spacious sitting and dining areas and how modern and clean it was. The cabins were cozy with an en-suite bathroom, creative storage spaces and waterline views out the window. It is a stylish and well-designed boat.
Days were spent cruising down the calm inland waterways of Burgundy, visiting historic towns and villages, cycling through vineyards and canal towpaths and lounging on our floating hotel watching pastoral scenes unfold.
Burgundy is interlinked by centuries-old canals which provide a North-South access through France. The canals were built as a means to transport cargo that was too heavy to move on land. Horses and people (women & children!) pulled the barges by walking along the towpaths on either side of the canals. As trains and trucks have taken over this heavy transport, the canals are now used for recreation.
Our route followed the Canal de Bourgogne (Burgundy Canal) from Dijon to the Saone River. Due to having to negotiate a lock here and there, the barge travels slowly, slow enough that you can walk or ride alongside on the old towpaths. There are a number of bikes onboard the Daniele, which can be used to ride ahead and explore the towns along the route.
Where the Burgundy Canal ends, the capital of barging - Sainte Jean de Losne, we joined and followed the Saone River. This river is a larger waterway and the barge moved more quickly. Cycling alongside was not an option, rather it was required to lounge on the barge and watch the scenery slowly unfold (all the while sipping a beverage of choice).
The dining onboard was exceptional. Amazing multi-course gourmet meals came out of the small kitchen. Hand-picked local wines were paired with every delicious dinner. Burgundy produces a vast variety of cheeses and we were given lessons prior to savoring the unique (and sometimes very strong) flavors. Wine, beer, pop, juices, coffee and tea were included and available all day long.
Two full days of cycling are part of the itinerary. Cycling through the lush vineyards and yellow fields of Burgundy was definitely a highlight. You do have to negotiate some hills and be able to cycle 40km. E-bikes are available to organize and pay for ahead of time, of which a good number of our group used. The incentive to keep pedaling was the included wine tasting halfway along!
The Burgundy vineyards produce some of the most expensive and prestigious wines in the world. It is all about the ‘terroir’ here. Terroir refers to the character of the earth, the sun exposure and the altitude of the slope in each vineyard. Every plot of land has a different terroir and the quality of the wine is based on this. Higher up on the slope the vines fight to survive among the rocks and stones, and work harder to place it’s roots. This struggle creates grapes of such complexity and character and produces the most sought after and expensive wines. We didn’t sample these rare wines, but we did try local Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Cremants.
My trip timed with the European heatwave of 2019 and after what felt like a ride through a furnace of 38 degrees, it was absolute bliss to return to the air-conditioned barge and be handed a cool glass of iced tea in a chilled sugar-rimmed glass. The crew was fantastic – attentive, friendly, and all had a great sense of humor. We were made to feel special and welcome. Our G Adventures CEO was full of energy and kept us on track to make sure we made the most of our time in Burgundy.
When not on the barge or cycling through the countryside, we visited villages steeped in history. Imprinted in my memory are impressive churches, ancient half-timbered houses, shuttered windows, balconies with geraniums, bakeries and chocolate shops, and the beautiful French language.
Whether you are part of a group of friends, a couple, or a single wanting a relaxing getaway, this type of travel is something to consider. G Adventures does it exceptionally well! There is no need for fancy dress or high heels, no need to unpack every night and no need to think beyond the present moment.
I have returned to the Kootenay’s enriched and recharged and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
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