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.
Well fitted out and extremely comfortable cabin with a lovely ensuite bathroom. It was kept superbly clean by our hostess Kat. Even suitcases could be taken and stored elsewhere if you wanted to ensure there was maximum living space in the cabin. Each cabin had an individual heating control. The toiletries were by L'Occitane en Provence and were delightful. There were books in the lounge for anyone to borrow, and even a guitar!