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4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2015
L'Art de Vivre is a wonderful barge with a fascinating history dating back to the Somme of 1917. Beautifully fitted out, it is a gorgeous barge on which to travel. The crew - Fabrice, Kat, Oli and Melissa - were an absolute delight, ... Read More
L'Art de Vivre is a wonderful barge with a fascinating history dating back to the Somme of 1917. Beautifully fitted out, it is a gorgeous barge on which to travel. The crew - Fabrice, Kat, Oli and Melissa - were an absolute delight, friendly and helpful. Oli's gourmet food is truly stupendous - these were meals to die for! The camaradarie and friendship between the crew was clearly evident and much enjoyed by all the guests. Kat was quick to put everyone at ease, and was incredibly informative about the wines at each meal. From start to finish, the organisation was superb and at every stage the care and consideration for the guests came first. At the Hotel Westminster, bags were kept safely until the vans arrived before being taken out to the bus for us. From the welcoming champagne on board the barge to the fresh hot coffee and croissants served on the coach back, the service and food was first class and more! Fresh croissants and bread were collected from a local patisserie every day. Each day, there was a cruise further down the canal, plus a guided excursion led by Melissa. Melissa was a friendly, helpful guide who was really interested in everything she was showing us. She had taken the time to research and study the different places and was able to identify the most interesting aspects such as the fascinating history of Vauban at the Chateau de Bazoches du Morvan, the pilgrmage links at Vezelay or the crypt in the cathedral at Auxerre. She was always full of ideas as to where to shop, find the most appropriate chocolate. When one of the guests had a birthday during the cruise, Oli made a spectacular birthday cake at very little notice. We loved the idea of the challenge - supplying him with unusual items to make a meal from the market! It was a wonderful way to show his skill. His dramatic style added to the overall fun. The scenery along the route was really pretty, especially once we started going through the limestone cliffs. A small vessel, with space for just 8 guests, it is very intimate and relaxing. Bikes were available if anyone wanted to go for a cycle along the towpath. A local group came on board to provide live entertainment on the Thursday evening. Moorings each night were in peaceful quiet spots guaranteed to ensure a good night's sleep. This was undoubtedly the best trip I have ever undertaken and my breath was taken away by the sheer service provided. Fabrice even used the minibus to take guests (one of whom needed crutches to walk) to the top of a cliff so that everyone could enjoy the view. For sheer relaxation, enjoyment and fun - this is a cruise that can only be wholeheartedly recommended in every single way. It is superb, pure gold. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2014
Our trip started in Paris, meeting on a Sunday at the Hotel Westminster on Rue de la Paix at 1:45pm. The drive down to the boat was about 3.5 hours as we went to the farthest point from Paris in Venarey-les-Laumes. We were met by the crew ... Read More
Our trip started in Paris, meeting on a Sunday at the Hotel Westminster on Rue de la Paix at 1:45pm. The drive down to the boat was about 3.5 hours as we went to the farthest point from Paris in Venarey-les-Laumes. We were met by the crew with champagne and snacks. I had extremely high expectations about this canal barge trip...and they were exceeded almost immediately. The cabin was comfortable and the bathroom quite large with big fluffy robes and towels. We had one of the Jr. Suites. It was definitely bigger than the regular cabins but you really don’t spend much time in it. Our first dinner was nothing less than suburb - Escargot (a bowl of 20), a huge, perfectly cooked Duck breast with orange sauce, 3 regional/artisan cheeses, and a poached pear with caramel mascarpone ice cream. I have never in my life had ice cream or even gelato that good...not even in Italy! All this was paired with 2 excellent local wines. Even my husband, a non-duck eater, LOVED the duck. He told the chef that it couldn't possibly be duck as it was way too delicious. All meals continued to be five star plus. Breakfast was the same every day: cereals, fruit, yogurt, pastries, bread, meat, and cheese. The bread and pastries were fresh from local bakeries. The jam was made in one of the villages. Everything served on board was basically purchased by the chef at local markets. Lunch was elegant with a main dish like Quiche Lorraine, Stuffed Quail, Baked Salmon, or various pates and meats together several salads. This was followed by either two cheeses or dessert but usually not both. There were always two local wines, a white and a red. About an hour before dinner we had aperitifs with appetizers that were always different and always excellent. We had stuffed mushrooms, tempura shrimp, duck or salmon mousse on blinis, tapenades, etc. After a drink from the open bar came a top notch dinner, accompanied by two local wines, a cheese course with 3 local options, and dessert. Over the course of the week we had duck, veal, venison, white fish (or guinea fowl), and beef tenderloin. There are not enough superlatives to describe how truly good dinner was. We did eat out at a top rated restaurant in Chablis one evening. It was fine but could not even come close to the dinners we were having on the barge. During the course of the week we visited an abbey, several chateaux, markets, vineyards, and quaint villages. The barge was always moored at night. We would normally cruise either before or after our excursions. We would walk and or bike along with the boat to get some exercise in an attempt to diffuse the day’s gastronomic extravaganzas. There are lots of locks on the canal so it’s very easy to move faster than the boat. Most days we moved somewhere about 10 km and went through a half dozen locks. There is also a hot tub on the main deck. I was the only one to use it during our trip. All I can say is the others missed out! The crew caters to your every whim. My husband wanted chips and they magically appeared. A couple of us on board drank Diet Coke rather than coffee, so it was always stocked. All manners of spirits were available. If there was something you didn't like, the chef would make you something else. The crew really makes the cruise special. It was a first class operation that leaves you wanting for nothing. Our cruise ended in Tanlay. We were transferred back to the Hotel Westminster, arriving about 12:30p. If you love excellent food & wine, beautiful countryside, interesting excursions, and personal, attentive service, then a canal barge is the way to go!   Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2014
FLEURY-SUR-OUCHE, France – The morning mist rises slowly from the canal as L’Impressionniste glides almost silently through the water. A grey heron watching for its breakfast fish takes off from the edge of the canal as the hotel barge ... Read More
FLEURY-SUR-OUCHE, France – The morning mist rises slowly from the canal as L’Impressionniste glides almost silently through the water. A grey heron watching for its breakfast fish takes off from the edge of the canal as the hotel barge approaches. Depending on your temperament (and how late you were up the night before), you might be still asleep, or looking out your cabin window, or sitting on deck with a morning cuppa, or riding a mountain bike along the towpath as the rising sun flickers through the trees along the shore. You and 10 or 11 others are getting to know a way of life here in France’s Burgundy region in perhaps the most relaxed way possible – that is unless you are powering along on that mountain bike before breakfast and after dinner every day to work off the three gourmet meals, featuring 18 different regional cheeses and 21 different fine French wines (plus an open bar) served during the week-long cruise. It’s such an amazing feeling to have this experience on so many levels: educational as you learn about the people of this area – their lifestyle, their history; self-indulgent as the crew of six anticipate practically your every need and want; scenic as you get up close and personal with the birds, fish and mating frogs (more on those later); above all, gastronomical as you feast on the specialties of the surrounding countryside. So come along on what for me has been a particularly memorable travel adventure, something for almost everybody’s bucket list – and remember to bring your appetite. Our adventure starts in Paris, where the 11 of us meet for the three-hour drive south to le canal Bourgogne (the Burgundy Canal). Lively laughter soon dispels any concerns about whether we’ll get along: six women who are either related or good friends plus two couples, all from the U.S., and I. The cruise begins at the tiny village of Escommes, the high point of the canal 378 metres/1,250 feet above sea level. And there she is, tied up at the side of a pond, the lady herself: our home for the next six nights. She’s a 38 metres (126 feet) by five metres (16.5 feet) hotel barge with six cabins, all with ensuite bathrooms, and a crew of six to look after the maximum 12 passengers. There’s a Jacuzzi up front, open and covered deck areas for sitting outside or doing yoga, and a dining room inside. Also on deck are the mountain bikes. Dinner the first night sets the bar high: After a champagne reception with nibbles and then cocktails, we dine on asparagus with quail’s eggs and homemade mayonnaise; duck with puy lentils (the green variety from this area), cherry and cassis sauce; two cheeses – Langres, Morbier; mousse au chocolat. How impressive to see all of this is prepared by chef Josh in a tiny galley with only two burners and a home-size oven. The 33 glasses on the table are never empty: bottled still or sparkling water, Condieu white wine and a 2002 Moulin a Vent red. Plus three or four varieties of bread with that amazing salted French butter. And tea/coffee. After dinner I really do need to jump on one of those bikes to burn off at least a little of all that food and wine. I ride around the lake as the sun goes down, past locals who sit in folding chairs with fishing rods angled out over the water, past a lone white swan and some ducks, past a horse grazing in a field. Together with the evening bird sounds and sweet grass fragrance, they all combine to create such a tranquil and relaxed feeling that after my ride sleep comes quickly. I’m up early the next morning for another spin – this time on the towpath which runs along the canal, to check out the first of 42 locks we’ll be navigating. I venture off the towpath toward a local village – but beat a hasty retreat when I run into a McDonald’s under construction. I pick some mock orange blossoms and long grass for the breakfast table and return to the barge just in time to accompany Captain Rudy on the first of his daily forays to a local bakery to collect a variety of baguettes, croissants, brioche and sweet rolls. Add cereals, fresh fruit, any kind of cooked breakfast – and several others decide to step ashore at the next lock to walk along the towpath, quickly getting far ahead of our barge which rarely reaches 4kph (2.5mph) and frequently stops at yet another lock to be lowered to the canal’s next level down. The canal even crosses a bridge over a river. After a “light” lunch on board (chicken, ham terrine, a quinoa-like salad, broccoli, green salad, beetroot salad, cheeses, wines) we head off to visit the Chateau de Bussy-Rabutin, with all its portraits including those of various historic notables’ mistresses. We wander through the rose garden, and follow the twisting path of a labyrinth created from shoulder-high bushes. This evening I am impressed by the 1999 Louis Jadot Les Bertins Pommard Premier Cru Cote de Beaune Burgundy we are served – costing at least $100 a bottle in a store, perhaps $200 in a restaurant. Of course, here on L’Impressionniste you can have as many refills as you want. I definitely need another bike ride after this dinner, feeling the warm and cool air spots as the late summer dusk approaches around 10pm. Day Three and the locks come every few hundred metres/yards on this stretch of the canal. Almost all are manual, some operated by the people who live in the lock houses, others by attendants who control several locks, riding from one to the next on a bike or scooter. This afternoon we visit Beaune, with its famous Hotel-Dieu – founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin who had been a bad boy and wanted to redeem himself by providing a hostel-hospital for the indigent. (Impressively it stayed open until 1971.) Then back we go to the world of wine, for which the Burgundy area is so famous, with a visit to the Bouchard Pere et Fils cellars. Some 2.5 million bottles are stored here at a constant 13 degrees, including 2,000 bottles from the 19th century – the oldest: six whites bottled in 1846. “We use these very old wines for research purposes,” says Laura Muller, our guide. That evening we are serenaded by very vocal frogs apparently having a marvellous mating session – sounding out both high and low notes. I go ashore for a walk, record the “music” on my iPhone and spot a green frog sitting on a leaf at the water’s edge. The days pass with more visits to local landmarks, more peaceful times on deck, more walks and bike rides, more food and wine. “You know you have been drinking a lot of fancy wine when you start swirling your glass of water,” says fellow barger Joe, adding: “You also know you are on a luxury trip when you wash off fruit with a bottle of Evian water!” Indeed, there are the special touches: A Lindt chocolate on your pillow after turndown service before bed, a designer Kleenex box, l’Occitane amenities in your bathroom. And caring guest support: “Let me wheel the bike off the barge for you – the gangplank is a bit slippery,” says deckhand Mark. We start our final day with a visit to the food market in Dijon, where Captain Rudy and tour guide Brendan buy the groceries for the upcoming week. “Let’s all meet at 11am – we have a special surprise,” says Rudy. It turns out to be…more food and wine, this time sitting outside a local café-bar: oysters, smoked salmon, prawns, sea snails, bread, cheese, cherry tomatoes, ham-veg in aspic, Aligote wine. Back on the barge and we – our stomachs – are relieved to hear lunch has been delayed until 2pm. Which means the Captain’s Farewell Dinner (five courses including three cheeses) has also been put back, and runs until midnight. We drive to Paris the following morning, already missing the unique experiences and feelings of a hotel barge canal cruise in the French countryside but grateful for the good weather (generally only one week in five has sunshine every day). On this last day, our group exchanges email addresses and for months to come will share with each other our memories of everything we enjoyed on this luxury escape.   Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2009
1) It's all inclusive - no nasty surprises. Luxury cabins, all meals, drinks, wine, transportation to and from private excursions/tours, equipment, EVERYTHING is included for one reasonable price.2) Our luxury suite just happened to ... Read More
1) It's all inclusive - no nasty surprises. Luxury cabins, all meals, drinks, wine, transportation to and from private excursions/tours, equipment, EVERYTHING is included for one reasonable price.2) Our luxury suite just happened to be located on the ship. Rather than us packing, unpacking and then repacking at a luxury resort every day - they move our resort for us! Talk about easy! You simply could not replicate this trip on dry land without spending a huge amount of money and spending most of your day traveling from one port to the next. And even then, finding restaurants and meals and equal accommodations, for all practical purposes, impossible. The canal barges are an excellent value for money deal.3) The entire crew was Johnny-on-the-spot eager (!) to help, answer questions, find answers and provide whatever our whims required. Want a major US newspaper delivered to your cabin door in the morning (even if the ship is miles from any major city)? Just ask ahead of time; out in the relaxed rural areas, the locals are very much less interested in stocking the LA Times daily. We asked for - and got - the papers of our choice. (It turns out the crew spent some time arranging delivery to a local shop, in the shop in the town we would b at the next morning. Then at first light a crew member would go out and retrieve the papers from the local shop. This feat is even more amazing as the local shops are not usually open at 5:30 AM. How the crew managed to pull of this trick day after day still amazes me.)The crew did not cease to amaze me in the care and feeding of the passengers. Can't eat grapefruit because of a medical concern? Let them know ahead of time, and if by magic, grapefruit disappears from the menu. The replacement, a large assortment of other fresh fruits, was available. The impressive part of this is that the chef very quietly took care of our diet needs in such a way as to be absolutely undetectable by any other passengers. Rather than pointing out a medical condition by serving one 'odd man out' meal, the entire menu was seamlessly adjusted so that everyone could fearlessly eat everything that came out of the kitchen. It's a small touch, but it means a lot.Our guide would meet us after breakfast and off we would go for another private tour (no line to wait in at all). Private wine tasting with the vintner himself? Check. Private tour of historical sites? Check. Time to explore small towns? Check. And all the while, our Guide was charming, funny and very informative.The entire (small) crew work hard and long to achieve, and retain, a very high level of service and comfort. They seemingly defy gravity in their efforts to meet passenger requests. These guys and gals earned their tips, and I gladly stuffed an envelope for their gratuity, for I was, and remain, grateful for all of their hard work. Read Less
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