Slow Down And Watch The World Go By

By Jenny Peters

When the hustle and bustle of New York seem overwhelming, there’s a way to escape into a blissful world of slow travel through gorgeous landscapes with nary a care in the world. The European that bliss on La Belle Epoque, the 12-passenger luxury hotel barge that European Waterways runs through the Burgundy Canal, the waterway system first planned in the 1600s and finally completed in 1833. This isn’t your typical 20-story cruise ship teeming with as many people found in Times Square at rush hour; instead, it’s a sleek, small barge that meanders its way through the French countryside, moving along the canal at a leisurely pace.

While the vision of meandering through Burgundy was irresistible for wine lovers like us, European Waterways runs these small-boat barge cruises in nine countries, including France, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland, Italy, Scotland, England, and Ireland. But no matter which trip calls to you, there’s world-class wine on board, part of the all-inclusive pricing that encompasses everything from transportation to and from the barge, stateroom, incredible gourmet meals, all excursions, hot tub, and bicycles on board, as well as a fully stocked bar. All cruises last for six nights.

We got France’s best for our Burgundy cruise, with city and country experiences. Because the adventure begins and ends in Paris, building in a day or two (or more) on each side of the cruise to enjoy the City of Lights is simple. So, spend a few incredibly comfortable nights at the Hilton Paris Opera, a spectacular hotel built in 1889, be amazed by the Grand Salon as you enter and grab a Paris Go City All-Inclusive Pass.

That pass gets you onto the hop-on/hop-off bus. It includes entrance to the best Paris offers, from the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre art museums to the incredible Saint Chappelle chapel, up the Eiffel Tower, and to a fashion show at Galeries Lafayette (the famed department store steps from the Hilton Opera).

When the cruise begins, it’s easy and comfortable to ride south into Burgundy, where the La Belle Epoque barge awaits, anchored in picturesque countryside. Champagne is ready, and the attentive six-person crew (including the captain and our incredibly talented chef) is, too. Settling into our small but comfy below-deck stateroom, it doesn’t dawn on us that soon we are going to watch the portholes move up and down so close to the walls of the locks that we’re sure the barge will be damaged—yet it never does.

The cuisine onboard sets an incredibly high bar from the first night’s dinner to the last morning’s breakfast. With a considerable breakfast spread each morning to a three-course lunch and a four-course dinner featuring cheeses to die for, expert wine pairings (from the Burgundy region and beyond), and incredibly memorable entrees and desserts, the food onboard are world-class. And if you’re interested, the chef will invite you into the compact kitchen to see just how it’s done.

Happily, as the barge moves slowly across the bucolic Burgundy landscape each morning, it’s easy to hop off and wander ahead of it, via foot or bicycle, to the picturesque French villages along the way (working off some of that gorgeous food in the process). Instead, mornings are devoted to soaking up the sun, reading a favorite novel, and watching the fascinating process of moving through the canal’s locks, which happens over and over again all along the way.

Afternoons mean incredibly curated excursions; on our cruise, from Tanlay to Venarey-les-Laumes, we explored Chablis and visited Domaine Laroche, tasted their incredible, aromatic Grand Cru white wines, and discovered the story of St. Martin and the monks who began the history of Chablis. Next, we wandered into a 16th-century chateau with spectacular gardens and Renaissance murals on the interior walls. Finally, we explored the nearby Champagne region, where Maison Alexandre Bonnet poured some reserve Champagnes.

In Champagne, we made our way to Chateau de Ricey-Bas for a tour of the family estate of the Baron and Baroness. It was followed by a visit to the Chateau de Commarin on the last full day of the cruise, meeting the charming Count Bertrand de Vogue, whose family has lived here since the 13th century.

Each bespoke experience was memorable and spectacular in its way, including the day we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Abbayé de Fontenay, constructed in 1118, and every day on the barge, moving sedately through the Burgundy countryside reminded us of just how much human history this picturesque landscape has witnessed.  

Leaving the idyllic barge cruise and returning to the crowded streets of Paris was something of a shock. Still, as we settled into the hip and modern Hilton Trocadero on a quiet street near the Eiffel Tower, that comfortable hotel made it easy to begin re-entry into our fast-paced city life again. But something had changed in that easygoing week on our barge trip, as we discovered that taking it slow and easy has a charm that’s as appealing as our significant city lives.  

For more information on taking a European Waterways barge cruise to Burgundy or elsewhere,
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