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A canal boat holiday in France: Burgundy with European Waterways

As we start to travel again some holidays are going to be more tempting than others. I know I’m not alone in being drawn to experiences that involve seeing new places away from potential crowds, which is why I wasn’t surprised to learn there’s been a lot of interest in chartering barges.

While a canal boat holiday in France is still off the cards for most of us right now, European Waterways say they’ve been seeing an boost to their 2021 charter bookings from families who want to have a luxury barge all to themselves.

Even if you’re travelling solo and join other people on your slow cruise down the canal, thanks to an average of ten passengers on board you’re travelling with a small group of people, and know everyone has been temperature checked before you set off together.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to take a canal boat holiday I’m bringing back one of my stories from the archives. All about a journey I did on a luxury barge through Burgundy. And you better believe I’d love to travel that way again.

Now to my original story…

It was decadent and felt slightly ridiculous but it had to be done.

After all, when else would I have the chance to sip Kir Royale in a hot tub on a luxury barge slowly making its way through Burgundy?

As I sat in the warm bubbles sipping bubbles and crème de cassis from the area we were gliding through, I smiled at small groups of families and friends riding bikes along the towpath beside us.

Things got a little strange when we reached the locks, where both we and the people on bikes were waiting to cross, mere metres away from each other. Here I found myself in swimmers with a cocktail in hand making conversation with people in Lycra who were enjoying a much more physical sort of day out.

I could have explained to them that we also had bikes on board so we could go cycling.

I could have told them how much I enjoyed getting off the barge at one lock and going for long walks in the countryside before coming back to the canal to find my floating home.

Or I could have just said I was having a deliciously decadent time and didn’t have a care in the world. But I think they figured that bit out for themselves.

The Canal Boat Holiday Begins

Ever since I was a child I wondered what life might be like on a barge, and when I realised you could do a canal boat holiday through beautiful parts of Europe it went straight onto my Travel Wish List.

Of course, comparing a week on a luxury hotel barge with a crew of six for up to 12 passengers to living full time on one full time is a bit like comparing a week in a gorgeous boutique hotel to actually living in a city. But it was a chance to call a canal boat home for the week and I was excited.

The journey technically starts and ends in Paris where we met our driver, Albert, at the Hotel Westminster. I’d been staying just around the corner in the beautiful Hotel Mansart, and already had that loved up Paris feeling when we hopped in the minibus.

After driving out of the city and through the countryside, with a comfort stop at a motorway service centre we arrived at Escommes, the small canal port at the highest point on the Saone side of the Burgundy Canal.

Read: Inside the luxury boutique Hotel Mansart, Paris

This is where the canal meets the 3.33km tunnel to Pouilly-en-Auxois, and for European Waterways it is either the starting or ending point for their weeklong canal boat holidays.

Life On Board European Waterways’ L’Impressionniste

As we stepped out of the mini bus I felt my heart lift at the sight of our beautiful barge. She looked so fine with her sleek navy and white body with a pop of red for her name, and I couldn’t help wondering what she looked like years ago in her first life.

L’Impressionniste was built back in 1960 as a working vessel to carry coal and gravel in Holland. When Europe’s largest luxury hotel barge cruising company, European Waterways, bought her in 1996, she was gutted and refitted as a hotel barge.

After enjoying a welcome glass of champagne it was time to explore. There are seven cabins downstairs, and mine was simple and comfortable with two single beds, a small cupboard for hanging clothes and drawers under the beds, and a bathroom stocked with L’Occitane products.

My cabin had a cute porthole to look out of, while some other cabins have windows. All have air conditioning.

L’Impressionniste is 128 feet long and the upper deck feels lovely and spacious in the open plan living and dining room that leads out to a generous outdoor seating area. There’s a good mix of under canopy and in sunlight seating options, and that hot tub is up the front on the bow.

Read: The best luxury villas in Sicily

Our crew was made up of our captain Daniel, our pilot James, driver Albert, chef Scotty and hostesses Laura and Heidi, who took care of our every need.

As we set off on our journey I soon discovered a barge holiday in this part of the world really puts the Slow into Slow Travel.

I laughed as I thought how a river cruise could feel like breakneck speed after a barge holiday.

Over the course of the week we passed through 43 locks and only covered around 45 kilometres, and while it took a little while to adjust I loved the way it was such a serene way to travel.

I also loved the little lock houses along the way. These charming houses are where the lock keepers live, and at times they almost looked like scenes from a film, including that time kittens gambolled around the feet of a sweet lady watering colourful blooms in her flower boxes.

Excursions along the Burgundy Canal

Between the wild flowers, green fields with dots of white Charolais cattle, and stone villages along the way the scenery on either side of the 200 year old canal that we travelled along was so pretty it would be easy to spend the week within walking distance of our barge.

But there was also much to see nearby so European Waterways had the optional excursions every day.

Along the way we had the chance to visit beautiful castles, or chateaus, including the Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, and Château de Bussy-Rabutin where I became fascinated by the twisted tale of the disgraced courtier of King Louis XIV.

Once a popular lad, Count Roger de Bussy-Rabutin was also a nymphomaniac and when he wrote down what he got up to at an orgy during Holy Week and the book got passed around King Louis XIV cut him loose. Somewhat disturbingly in his chateau he had one room filled with pictures of famous chateaus he used to party in and another filled with portraits of the people who no longer spoke to him. Definitely not one to let things go.

Then there was the day we visited Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy.

Château de Beaune’s orangery, a special lunch spot on European Waterways canal boat holiday

Here we stopped by the vineyards of Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils before doing a tour of their cellars where around two million bottles of wine lie beneath the medieval town’s streets.

After learning about their Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines we were treated to a wine tasting and lunch in the Château de Beaune’s orangery where we our meal was matched with delicious wine including their famous de l’enfant Jesus.

While in Beaune we also visited the 15th century Hôtel-Dieu Hospice, which was not only beautiful to look at with its Flamboyant Gothic architecture, but it also has something hadn’t seen before – rows of four poster curtained beds in the chapel so bedridden patients could still attend mass.

And at the end of the trip we visited Dijon and its famous market, with beautiful ironwork by Dijon born Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame. Here we got to see our chef Scotty in action as she picked up delicious new things for our last supper.

Wined and Dined on a Burgundy Canal Boat Holiday

As you can imagine with this being a canal boat holiday through Burgundy, the food and the wine was divine.

As a lover of pinot noir I was in very fine territory indeed and every lunch and dinner involved at least one glass of a special red, with one highlight being a Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru.

And as someone who swore off Chardonnay long ago, it was good for me to be in Chardonnay land and be introduced to different types of Chardonnay. By the time I’d heard myself saying ‘oh, well I like this Chardonnay’ for the sixth or seventh time I realised I had been prejudiced against a grape based on out of date experiences.

Our chef, Scotty, not only created magic in the kitchen, she was warm and lovely when she would come out and tell us a little bit about the meals she had prepared. For a little taste of the meals we enjoyed our welcome night dinner started with pear stuffed with local blue cheese, roasted honey hazelnuts and basil dressed salad, and followed by baked cod with chorizo crumb, green beans, samphire and garlic lentils before a desert of mint pineapple carpaccio with home made coconut ice. With matching Santenay Prosper Maufoux red and white wines.

Our hostesses would introduce the wine and cheese for each meal, explaining both what we could expect in taste and the stories behind them.

And this is probably a good place to share a travel tip. With so much great food and wine – we’re talking three course lunches and four course dinners every day here – this is not the time to skip meals. Or drinks. So pack forgiving, comfortable clothes for the flight home.

European Waterways canal boat holidays are all inclusive, and as well as all of the meals, wine and shore excursions that also includes an open, help yourself bar fully stocked with premium brand spirits.

At times I’d look over at the bar and think it was a bit of a shame not to make up a few cocktails from it, but for me it was a week of bubbles and wine, so apart from a Baileys on ice one night, the liquor cabinet didn’t even get a nudge from this girl.

Maybe next time.

European Waterways have barge holidays in Italy, Scotland, Ireland, England, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.

And they also have more options in France, including some through the Champagne region.

Anyone for bubbles?

Amanda Woods travelled as a guest of European Waterways but as usual all opinions remain her own.  

Love seeing the world from the water? You may also want to check out what it’s like to do a self drive boating holiday in Ireland, take a river cruise down the Rhine, or see Antarctica on an ice-breaker.

Burgundy Canal on European Waterways' L'Impressionniste canal boat holiday
Burgundy Canal on European Waterways' canal boat holiday

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  1. Charlie at The Millennial Runaway says

    I never even knew this type of thing existed but my goodness I want to do it! Thanks for the information.

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