Cruising The French Canals
A milestone birthday forthcoming, the hourglass of time well into its autumn years, I carefully scanned the remaining choices on my bucket list of travel adventures and excitedly chose to make it one of comfort and leisure. I chartered a 6-passenger vessel, crewed by husband and wife, and invited six close friends to join in celebration. The week long cruise on the canals surpassed every expectation. The owners, accompanied by their Chef, crewman and assistant were not only friendly, but also attuned to every guest’s personal needs. Daily activity included visits to historical sites, vineyards, markets, and the passage through the locks aside beautiful countryside. Being both an oenophile and foodie, I looked forward to each meal, not once disappointed in the presentation or sumptuous cuisine. My favorite exploration off the barge was the truffle farm, where I observed the well-trained canines digging for this prized fungus, heralded as some of the most expensive food in the world. The single most difficult experience was saying goodbye to staff after such a marvelous journey. Returning with fond memories to last a lifetime, I kept a diary of notes describing it all.
Built in the 1800’s, the canals were used to transport goods between the north and south until rail travel was deemed more efficient, faster and less costly. Currently there is a 750-mile network of canals in France, which are used for barging. The choices for renting the barge range from cruising with a fully staffed crew to choosing to personally operate the barge on one’s own. All barges are star rated, offering a given number of cabins for guests, with availability dependent upon which destination is chosen for the cruise.
Superlatives abound as you lazily cruise along picturesque canals, gliding passed tranquil scenery and the friendly waves of greeting by local residents. While sipping your morning coffee or afternoon champagne on deck, an unusual peace, inspiringly spiritual, overtakes you. You have been on water mere hours, and the lackadaisical setting begins working its magic upon you. Feeling a spurt of energy, you decide to hop off the barge at the next lock and bicycle along the canal path, at times passing your cruising barge, earnestly waving back to your fellow passengers.
Having worked up an appetite, it is now time for a sumptuous dinner, served in the dining room or upon the upper deck as the changing colors of skylight welcome a starlit sky. Attentive care has been given to present each meal in a well-appointed manner with decorative table cover, wine glasses and the most colorful tableware. Offering the finest of local wine, its history brilliantly described by your barge hostess as she reveals the vintage, name and type of grape used for each serving. Many are labeled cru, translating to the very top pour of whichever featured vineyard. A typical menu might include, Potimarron soup, leg of Lamb with gratin dauphinois, bean and peas with red wine sauce, followed by cheeses, Morbier and Brillatt Savarin, and of course, the most delicious chocolate cake fondant with crème’ anglaise. Daily menu changes always are prepared and served with a variety of local fish, beef and vegetables. On occasion, you are invited to attend the local market to choose what is appealing for your own dinner or lunch that day.
After dinner activities included stimulating conversation with fellow travelers, games, or simply reading and relaxing, while anticipating the morning’s new adventure.
Nancy Chappie, CTC is a 40-year world traveler offering consultation for barging the canals of France. email@example.com CST 2016168-40
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