She Barges the French Nivernais Canal
JourneyWoman goes off to research the site's GirlTalk
travel guides, I'm often on the road for long stretches
of time that are very hectic. My days are go, go, go
in order to cram as much fact-finding in as possible.
I use public transportation, eat on the run and sleep
in a different hotel each night. It is far from an indulgent
why I try to schedule one 'spoil-me-silly' travel treat
midway through my journey so that I can relax completely
and recharge my batteries. This summer I chose a barge
holiday in Burgundy, France aboard "La Belle Epoque"
cruising the Yonne River and Nivernais canal. While
the word "barge" might suggest a rustic, cramped
experience, let me dispel that idea up front. This is
a state-of-the-art luxury hotel barge that sleeps twelve
passengers and five crew members. It quickly exceeded
all my 'pamper-me' expectations.
Let the pampering
pal Marilyn joined me in Paris and together we taxied
to the Hôtel Ampère (Avenue de Villiers)
that serves as the meeting point for all passengers.
That was the last thinking task we had to perform for
the week. By early afternoon we had been introduced
to the other guests, gallantly relieved of our luggage,
and whisked by roomy mini van to the medieval town of
Auxerre, starting point of our river cruise and sightseeing
the shore of the Yonne River, we could see
La Belle Epoque
moored opposite one of the town's small squares. Brightly
painted in red, white and blue and looking in tip-top
shape, our decidedly chic vessel stood out easily from
the other more mundane river barges. Large flower boxes
bursting with blooms lined all the railings while casually
arranged wooden tables and blue striped sun chairs beckoned
invitingly from the two-level deck. A large rack held
the bicycles we'd use to explore the towns and footpaths
on our week's itinerary.
goodies and chilled champagne...
complete staff was outside to welcome us, inviting their
new charges to sit and enjoy copious, piping hot appetizers
and chilled glasses of champagne. That first warm welcome
and friendly attitude would repeat itself continuously
over the next seven days. A large basket of fresh fruit
was always available; the open bar crammed with wines,
sodas, juices and bottled water. Guests'
requests were taken care of immediately. This crew made
it exceedingly clear that they were there to help us enjoy
our stay to the fullest.
the time we made our way inside our luggage was already
stowed in the proper suites. We replenished our sunscreen,
grabbed cameras, and went off to explore the charming
town of Auxerre with its splendid church, half-timbered
buildings and interesting shopping opportunities. We had
only one responsibility -- to get back to the barge in
time to enjoy our first sumptuous dinner aboard.
comfy barge-hotel room...
and I shared a wood-paneled junior cabin with two single
beds adjacent to each other. Our belongings were stored
in a big drawer under the beds while pants, skirts and
hiking jackets fit nicely into a shared small cupboard.
Our modern, immaculately clean marble bathroom with shower
was en suite. Fluffy blue towels (as many as we needed)
and bath products sporting the upscale L'Occitaine
brand were a perfect touch of elegance. Of course,
with so much to do we spent little time in our room however
when we did we never felt cramped.
your own pace...
barging holiday can be as active or inactive as
you wish. Each day La Belle Epoque continued it's unhurried
journey through the locks of the Nivernais canal meandering
from one tiny town in Burgundy to the next. The boat moved
so slowly that guests could hop on and off, walking solo
alongside the barge or biking ahead to explore a tow path
or bustling country market.
through the manually operated locks was an unhurried process.
Barges lined up for their turn and often we were left
waiting as the lockkeeper went off for lunch. That sometimes
put our barge behind schedule but we enjoyed every minute
of the delay. It gave us time to laze on the deck, reading,
chatting, taking photos and studying the distinct character
of each lockkeeper and the small, stone cottages that
served as their headquarters.
were gorgeous summer flowers on display everywhere --
a riot of pinks, reds and whites -- in baskets,
informal beds and huge ceramic pots. An enterprising female
lockkeeper offered a stand of local products -- jams,
T-shirts, honey -- that we jokingly nicknamed, 'The Lock
Boutique', another older couple showed off a statue of
a comely stone mermaid while one gent (who looked an awful
lot like Santa Claus in shorts) worked with the help of
his cavorting, twin sons. It took the combined strength
of those two young boys, but they made operating their
lock pure play and we took pleasure in watching them have
fun. The sun shone, the sky was bright blue and we were
happily becoming acquainted with a tiny, charming corner
of rural France.
More on glorious food, fun and