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!