Richards French Barge Trip with Kirker

“What is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”?
What comes to mind when you hear the term “Barge Holiday”?
A narrow boat holiday on one of our many canals or a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads?
Well think again!  A luxurious trip along France’s Canal du Bourgogne on “ La Belle Epoque” (owned by European Waterways) – originally built in 1930 as a barge to carry timber between Burgundy and Paris – is a world away from either.
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Our trip (organised by our good friends at Kirker) started with a relaxing two-and-a-half hour train journey from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord.   Leaving London at 0750 we arrived in the French capital at 1117 to be met by our chauffeur who was waiting for us as we left the platform, escorted to our car, and whisked off to our hotel – the 4-star Castille, close to the Place de la Concorde and The Louvre..
My own room was a very comfortable, spacious, light and airy suite with fascinating views across the city from the bedroom.
We were then taken for an excellent lunch at Chez Janou. a restaurant just off the Place des Vosges in the Marais district, where the menus is inspired by the gastronomy of Provence.
My starter of crayfish with grapefruit and avocado was followed by an Entrecote Bistro – accompanied by some excellent local wine  (This restaurant can be prebooked through Kirker’s unrivalled concierge service).
All Kirker holidays that take in Paris include a two-day Museum Pass – giving you access to over 60 museums and art galleries in the capital – including the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles. (Kirker’s concierge will also be happy to arrange transport to Versailles).
When you tire of museums and art galleries there is no finer way of relaxing than to sit and people-watch from one of the countless number of sidewalk cafes and bars. And if you fancy a spot of shopping – Maison Chanel is very close to the hotel.
Our dinner that first evening was at The Four Seasons Hotel’s George V Restaurant where we were treated to the Mediterranean Taster Menu – which included melt-in-the-mouth Tuna Carpaccio and tender Mountain Goat   The Four Seasons is one of the most beautiful hotels in Paris with an almost unbelievable budget of over a million Euros a year for flowers alone!
(And, of course, reservations for The George V can also be confirmed through Kirker’s Concierge Service).
The following day after an excellent breakfast we departed Paris for Ravieres – a two-and-a-half journey by comfortable mini-bus – thoughtfully stocked with bottled mineral water for the trip.
Arriving Ravieres at 1130 we embarked “La Belle Epoque”, our luxurious home for the next two nights  – welcomed aboard by the crew of six with champagne and canapés!   And shortly thereafter we set sail.
Drifting along at a leisurely, almost snail’s, pace we relaxed over a light lunch (washed down, ‘naturellement’) with a few glasses of excellent local wine!
On arrival at our first stop, Ancy le Franc (having passed through two locks), we were taken (in the same minibus that brought us from Paris to Ravieres) to the William Fevre vineyard at Chablis where we sampled some of the great wines for which the district is world renowned.   We then returned to “Belle Epoque” via some beautiful villages just in time for a pre-dinner aperitif!
As it was a beautiful summer’s evening, dinner was served al fresco on the upper sun deck where we enjoyed a delightful 4-course meal that included Mushroom Pate and Quail roasted with lemon.
I rounded off my meal with an excellent selection of three local cheeses – including Brie de Meaux and St Vincent au Chablis.
After a post-prandial digestif we relaxed in the hot tub and gazed at the stars which, because of the lack of light pollution were highly visible to the naked eye – the Milky Way was almost breathtaking.
Then time for bed!
“ La Belle Epoque” accommodates a maximum of 12 guests in six cabins – most of which can be configured as one double or two single beds.  All are en-suite and have at least two portholes – affording wonderful vistas of the canal and countryside.  Cabins are approximately 135 square feet which, may seem a little small, but is not a real problem as there is plenty of deck space from which to enjoy the ever-changing scenery.
Bright and early the next morning we enjoyed a cycle ride (the barge carries its own bicycles) for a few miles along the towpath (a great time to cycle as it was very peaceful) – working up an appetite for a delicious breakfast (the only meal that does not include wine!) – an excellent selection of cold meats, cheeses. bread and pastries.
After breakfast, our Captain. Paul, took us for leisurely 10 minute stroll to the chateau of Ancy le Franc.   This beautiful 16th Century stately home houses a huge collection of Renaissance treasures – and Paul proved himself to be a thoroughly knowledgeable tour guide.
Re-joining our floating home, we set sail for  Lezinnes –  enjoying a leisurely luncheon (with wine, of course!) passing through another two locks en route – arriving mid-afternoon.   At Lezinnes we were met by our now familiar minibus and driver and taken, with Paul again acting as our guide, to the mediaeval village of Noyers, where Paul’s in-depth knowledge once again made the whole experience that much more enjoyable and informative.
Then back to “La Belle Epoque” where we joined our Captain and crew for  a very special Captain’s Dinner – the star of which was some of the delicious Charolais Beef for which the region is famed   Oh!  I almost forgot to mention that it was accompanied by some excellent local wines?
All too soon, the following morning, we bid ‘Au Revoir’ to  “La Belle Epoque” and headed back to Paris where, before boarding our Eurostar train for the trip to London, we were treated to an excellent lunch at The Brasserie du Terminus Nord (a favourite with Kirker guests – just across from the station) which offers excellent set menus starting at just 27 Euros per head.(and no prizes for guessing that Kirker’s concierge service can book a table for you at The Brasserie too).
This was actually a ‘sampler’ trip for me – and what a wonderful experience it was too.  The normal length of cruise  aboard “La Belle Epoque” is 7 nights.
But Kirker will be very happy to tailor-make a holiday of any duration around a cruise aboard European Waterways’ “La Belle Epoque”.
This is an excellent option for those who enjoy a slower paced holiday.   Board basis on “La Belle Epoque” is all-inclusive –  alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages as well as tours and entrance fees are included in the fare.
This would also be an ideal experience for a large family holiday as the barge can be privately chartered.
This is one experience that anyone would be happy to touch with a barge pole!
Richard Lucas

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