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European Waterways Barge in Burgundy

Exploring Burgundy on a France Canal Cruise

In Cruises, France by Daryl & Mindi Hirsch2 Comments

Our France canal cruise with European Waterways transported us into the heart of Southern Burgundy via a luxury barge. If you’re considering this type of travel, expect to eat great food, drink world class wines and experience the beauty of rural France.

European Waterways Barge in Burgundy

Barging in France is not for the weak. This type of travel requires tenacious stamina to handle a never-ending onslaught of classically prepared French food and a constant flow of some of the world’s best wine for seven straight days. However, the rewards are high for those up to the challenge.

Why We Took a Barge Cruise in France

Aperol Spritz on European Waterways Barge Cruise

We never went thirsty during our European Waterways barge cruise.

As avid food travelers, we were game to give barge cruising in France a try. We previously dipped our toes into the cruise world during a river cruise up the romantic Rhine and then dove deeper with a two-week ocean cruise in Asia. But barge cruising, with jaunts through picturesque villages, immersive locks and century-old stone bridges, was a mystery to us.

Canal Barging with European Waterways

L’Impressioniste travels slowly on narrow canals in Southern Burgundy, twisting and turning on centuries-old waterways.

Although we had heard good things about France canal cruising from friends and colleagues, we were skeptical. The idea of floating along French canals on a small boat seemed like it might become boring after a day or two.

And, to be honest, we wondered if the food and wine would really be that good. We’ve eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world, tasted amazing wines in destinations as far away as South Africa and California and stayed in the finest hotels in cities like Shanghai and Hanoi.

In other words, we have high expectations and have been disappointed before.

Chef Joss Roper on European Waterways Barge Cruise

Chef Joss Roper uses fresh Burgundian ingredients to create gourmet meals on L’Impressioniste. Serving a small table of guests on a barge seems like a dream job, and Roper makes the most it.

However, our love for France and its wine outweighed any minor concerns when the opportunity arose for us to travel through Southern Burgundy for a week. Plus, we’re always looking for excuses to return to great French culinary hotspots like Lyon and Paris, both of which are within a couple of hours of Burgundy.

What It’s Like to Take a France Canal Cruise with European Waterways

Selfie at Lenfant Jesus Vineyard in Burgundy France

We were all smiles while drifting through Côte de Beaune vineyards during our week-long European Waterways barge cruise experience.

Cutting to the chase, we loved everything about barging in France with European Waterways. However, we loved the wine most of all.

Burgundy’s big beautiful vintages are reason enough to travel by canal boat in France. With this in mind, our European Waterways cruise team curated an amazing array of wines, both white and red, that ran the gamut from solid regional appellations to outstanding grand cru wines that astonished us on a daily basis.

Chablis on European Waterways Barge Cruise

This Grand Cru Chablis was just one of many excellent wines we drank during our European Waterways barge cruise.

Each day of the week was a culinary adventure in which we experienced a different aspect of Burgundian gastronomy. The epitome of slow travel, the barge’s leisurely pace provided ample time for us to relax and savor the region’s many flavors, often with a glass of wine in hand.

Wine on European Waterways Barge Cruise

We never bored of drinking wine with Burgundian views during our barge cruise.

Our barge cruise on the L’Impressioniste kept us busy as it gently flowed through Southern Burgundy’s Ouche Valley. It sailed over serene canals and through fascinating locks from Escommes to Fleurey-sur-Ouche with detours to historic chateaux, epic vineyards and the Burgundian cities of Beaune and Dijon.

European Waterways Barge

European Waterways’ L’Impressioniste traveled through dozens of locks during our France canal cruise.

Though our cruise itinerary included all meals and an open bar as well as activities each day, we never felt overwhelmed. How could we when the itinerary allowed us to spend hours floating by medieval cities while sipping champagne?

Lockhouse on European Waterways Barge Cruise

In Southern Burgundy, charming houses greet boats at every canal lock. The lockhouse above sports an array of old tools.

The barge cruised at a snail’s pace, allowing us to walk along towpaths, pass cycling locals and savor the scenery. The canals drift pass some of the richest farmland in France where cows happily graze along verdant, sloping Burgundy hills.

Charolais Cows in Burgundy Countryside

These happy Burgundy cows look as relaxed as we were during our European Waterways canal cruise in France. Judging by its tall grasses, this land is Bovine heaven.

Perhaps you’re considering taking a French barge cruise and are wondering what the experience will be like. Though we can’t speak for every barge cruise and every barge cruise company, here’s what life is like on European Waterways’ L’Impressioniste:

The Boat

European Waterways Barge at Dusk in Burgundy France

Our home for a week, L’Impressioniste provides comfortable accommodation for up to 12 passengers.

Built in 1960 and converted to a hotel barge in 1996, L’Impressioniste accommodates up to 12 passengers in four well-appointed staterooms and two junior suites. Keeping to theme, each room on the bateau (boat in French) is named after an Impressionist artist. Names like Monet, Degas and Renoir adorn entrances along a narrow hallway below deck.

Barge amenities include a six-person hot tub situated on the outdoor deck, a fleet of bicycles, various books and board games. We were the only passengers who utilized the hot tub during our cruise, though most of our companions were happy to partake in an open bar that included dozens of premiums liquors, wines and beer available on an unlimited 24/7 basis.

Pro Tip: Drink a Pastis like the French. The crew mixes cocktails upon request.

Our Stateroom

Stateroom on European Waterways Barge Cruise

The Sisley stateroom included a double bed, storage furniture and an ensuite bathroom.

We stayed in the Sisley stateroom during our week-long barge cruise. Located mid-stern, this room features a comfortable double bed, three portholes and a modern bathroom stocked with L’Occitaine products.

This compact living quarters provided adequate room for us to unpack all of our clothing and personal items. Though we didn’t spend a lot of time there, it was a comfortable refuge after nightly multi-course meals.

Common Areas

Common Area on European Waterways Barge Cruise

It’s easy to feel at home and kick your shoes off in L’Impressionite’s comfortable lounge.

L’Impressioniste hosted nine wine lovers (including us) during our barge holiday with room to spread out in both the common “saloon” area and outdoor deck. We often chatted with worldly fellow cruisers, sharing stories about past travels and favorite food experiences. However, we could always find a quiet spot to check email or share a private moment.

Cocktails on European Waterways Barge Cruise

Our cruise was more than just wine. Each evening started with crafted cocktails.

Though we enjoyed drinks and snacks in the lounge, we ate our meals at a communal dining room table. In many ways, this table became the hub of the boat. It’s also where we ate fabulous food while enjoying wine fit for royalty.

The Wine

Grand Cru on European Waterways Barge Cruise

We ramped up our wine education by drinking bottles like this excellent Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru from Camus.

Oenophiles flock to Burgundy for the chance to drink and purchase wines like Chablis and Pinot Noir at Burgundian vineyards. These wine connoisseurs make advance arrangements to meet with negotiants or to visit winemakers. As we learned during our first trip to Burgundy, these appointments can be difficult if not impossible to secure especially during the harvest season.

During our Southern Burgundy barge cruise, we didn’t have to worry about making appointments yet we still drank copious amounts of Burgundy wine. Not only did the crew shower us with amazing vintages during every lunch and dinner, but they also had bottles available at the bar any time we wanted to drink a glass or two.

Wine Lunch at Chateau de Beaune in Burgundy France

Our Burgundy wine education continued at vineyards and wineries. We drank this bottle at Domaine Bouchard Pere et Fils in Beaune.

At some meals, we indulged in regional and village wines. We enjoyed these wines but the real thrill came from drinking premier cru and grand cru vintages during other meals. To us, exploring Burgundy’s world-class wine while drifting along its quaint canal system was the best part of the barge cruise experience.

Wine Tasting at Domaine Quivy in Gevery-Chamberlin in Burgundy France

Our European Waterways cruise featured an epic tasting at Gevrey-Chambertin producer Domaine Quivy in the Côte de Nuits.

Drinking wine beyond the barge’s confines was an unexpected perk. During our cruise, European Waterways whisked us to great Burgundian wineries.

During one excursion, Burgundy native Clair Burnez dazzled us with tongue-tingling Grand Cru Montrachet at legendary Domaine Bouchard in Beaune. She escorted us deep into Bouchard’s daunting wine cellars before guiding us through a tasting of Burgundy’s liquid elixir.

The next day, we sampled complex Grand Cru reds at intimate Domaine Quivy in the Côte de Nuits. Passionate winemaker Johan Chatelus introduced us to a variety of wines produced without pesticides or chemical fertilizers as is required in Burgundy. The family-run winery creates a range of classic Burgundian wines ranging in price from €12 to €200 at the time of our visit.

The Food

Tortilla Espanola on European Waterways Barge Cruise

We’re not sure how this tortilla Espanola ended up on the barge cruise menu but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

Starting with nibbles during Sunday’s welcoming champagne reception all the way to Saturday’s final breakfast, we ate well. As we discovered during the week, the crew sources ingredients at hyper-local markets on a daily basis as part of the barge’s culinary program.

Pro Tip: Let European Waterways know if you have any dietary requirements. Barge chefs can make special accommodations for Vegetarians and passengers with eating restrictions.

Breakfast

Breakfast on European Waterways Barge Cruise

Though the simplest meal of the day, our barge breakfasts showcased Burgundy’s excellent food products.

Served for two hours each morning, breakfast on our barge was a leisurely meal with a variety of meat, cheese, croissants, yogurt and fruit placed on the barge’s large dining room table. Though these options were more than enough for us after the ship’s extraordinary nightly feasts, other passengers ordered specially prepared eggs and omelets from the kitchen.

Lunch

Salmon on European Waterways Barge Cruise

During one of our favorite barge lunches, we ate salmon topped with vermouth sauce and garnished with prawns, potatoes, asparagus and peas.

Lunch on L’Impressioniste spans the bridge between breakfast and dinner in terms of scope and formality. We typically ate two-course lunches starting with savory dishes like salmon fillets and leek tarts before finishing with either dessert or cheese.

Pre-Dinner Snacks

Escargots on European Waterways Barge Cruise

Days are long in France during summer months when the sun sets as late as 10 pm. The L’Impressioniste crew serves pre-dinner snacks like this plate of Escargots de Bourgogne to mark the beginning of the evening festivities.

Before each dinner on our cruise, passengers nibbled on passed hors d’oeuvres while sipping on a wide array of beverage options. Some of our companions opted for cocktails at these times. Being in Burgundy, we always opted to drink ‘local’ wine instead.

Dinner

Steak on European Waterways Barge Cruise

We ate this Rack of Lamb Provençal cooked to juicy perfection during one of our outstanding barge cruise dinners.

The highlight of each day and the glorious culmination of the chef’s culinary efforts, our barge dinners were epic events featuring four courses and bottomless bottles of wine. Main courses varied every night with dishes like duck confit, rack of lamb, herb crusted hake and locally sourced Charolais steak.

Cheese

Cheese Board on European Waterways Barge Cruise

Cheese played a prominent role during our French barge holiday on European Waterways’ L’Impressioniste.

There’s a French expression that goes “triste comme un repas sans fromage” loosely meaning “What’s a meal without cheese?” We were never blue during our European Waterways barge cruise, except maybe when there was no more fromage bleu.

Cheese Course on European Waterways Barge Cruise

French cheeses, like Epoisses de Bourgogne (above left), are oozing globs of heaven.

Like most meals in France, L’Impressioniste features an impressive cheese course during every dinner. The crew served us a number of fromage champions including oozy Brie de Meaux, pungent Epoisses de Bourgogne, umami-filled 36-month aged Comté, head knocking Roquefort and goaty Valencay. If you love cheese, this is your cruise!

Pro Tip: Cheese lovers won’t want to skip breakfast with leftover cheese from the previous night’s dinner. We call this excellent product repurposing.

Dessert

Crepes Suzette on European Waterways Barge Cruise

Smothered in orange sauce and served with cream, this 15-layer Crêpes Suzette may have been our favorite dessert of the week.

We thought we were too full for dessert every night during the cruise yet we couldn’t resist desserts like carmelized lemon tarts, chocolate fondant and Italian tiramisu. In retrospect, we have no regrets for enjoying every decadent bite.

Staff and Service

Captain Dan on European Waterways Barge Cruise

Captain Dan Jones helmed our L’Impressioniste barge cruise with a firm hand and friendly smile.

Our barge crew totaled six professionals including a captain, chef, pilot, hostess, host and matelot (i.e. sailor). Beyond handling logistics and transportation both on and off the barge, the crew made sure that we were well fed and hydrated at all hours of the day. And by hydrated, we mean filled with wine.

Crew Member Albert on European Waterways Barge Cruise

Captain Dan didn’t run the ship on his own. Pictured here, matelot Albert is opening a lock to ensure smooth sailing of the vessel.

The ratio of crew to passengers is a major differentiating factor when comparing European barge cruises to river cruises. With a ratio of six to nine during our barge cruise, we felt fully pampered at all times. The international crew focused on hospitality as much as safety, ensuring a smooth sailing on all counts.

Shore Excursions

Cheese Tasting in Dijon

Tasting cheese in Dijon was a favorite moment during our European Waterways barge cruise. Our excursion included a stop at cheese shop Fromagerie Porchoret. The shop, adjacent to the Dijon’s Central Market (Les Halles de Dijon) supplied all of the cheese for our cruise.

Despite the barge’s slow pace, we covered a lot of ground in Southern Burgundy during our week-long cruise. Daily excursions immersed us into local culture and left us yearning for a repeat visit.

These were our favorite excursions:

L’Enfant Jésus Vineyard

Claire Burnez at Domaine Bouchard Pere et Fils Vineyard in Burgundy

Claire Burnez welcomed us at Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus, a Burgundian vineyard owned by Domaine Bouchard Pere et Fils.

As much as we enjoyed drinking wine in Burgundy, we can’t overstate the impact of visiting a vineyard and experiencing the region’s unique terroir in person. Feeling calcareous soil under our feet and touching young grape leaves with our fingers gave us an appreciation to Burgundian wine that can’t be obtained from a book or class.

Local wine professional Clair Burnez provided a succinct introduction to Burgundy and its wine appellations during our visit at l’Enfant Jésus. Her informative words resounded as we stood on a sloping vineyard surrounded by rows of grapes as far as our eyes could see.

Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils

Vintage Bottles at Domaine Bouchard Pere et Fils in Burgundy

Our private tour at Domaine Bouchard Pere et Fils took us into the winery’s private collection where bottles are safely stored and recorked every 20 years. The collection’s oldest bottles date back to 1865.

Burnez continued our accelerated wine education during a private tour at Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils. As interesting as it was to view the winery’s private collection stored underneath a former castle, the true magic happened while we tasted a variety of the famed winery’s Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines.

Our tasting including three red and two white varietals including 2013 vintages of Chapelle Chambertin Grand Cru and Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru. Having just encountered local terroir during our vineyard visit, we felt a surge of confidence as we identified local fruits and spices while savoring every sip.

Lunch at Chateau de Beaune in Burgundy France

When in Burgundy, we prefer to start our meals with Champagne. Commencing with glasses of Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs, our lunch at Chateau de Beaune was no exception to this rule.

Giddy from the experience of tasting world-class wine at Bouchard’s converted castle, we convened to the winery’s orangery for lunch. This multi-course meal featured gougères, smoked trout, guinea fowl, cheese and cassis-laden berries.

Meal highlight? We’d have to pick sharing a bottle of 2014 Beaune Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus Premier Cru wine produced from grapes grown at the vineyard we visited earlier in the day.

Domaine Quivy

Johan Chatelus at Domaine Quivy in Gevery-Chamberlin in Burgundy France

Winemaker Johan Chatelus guides us through a private wine tasting at Domaine Quivy in Gevery-Chamberlin.

Winemaker Johan Chatelus greeted us at Domaine Quivy, a family vineyard located in an 18th-century mansion. Though he’s not part of the family, Chatelus spared no wines during an interactive tasting featuring the winery’s premier and grand cru vintages.

Wine at Domaine Quivy in Gevery-Chamberlin in Burgundy France

Our Burgundy wine education continued at Domaine Quivy. Pictured here is one of the many wines we sampled during our tasting at the winery.

Tasting wine at a Burgundy winery is a bucket list experience for wine lovers around the world. Thanks to European Waterways, we experienced two different tastings in one week.

Pro Tip: You can purchase wine at tastings like the one we did at Domaine Quivy. As a bonus, value-added taxes (VAT) are typically waived for shipments to destinations outside the European Union.

Château de Commarin

Count Bertrand de Vogue at Chateau de Commarin in Burgundy France

Count Bertrand de Vogue stands proudly next to the moat at his family home, Château de Commarin.

Historic Château de Commarin dates back centuries in the Côte d’Or. Beyond its classic architecture and many tapestries, the château is notable for having 26 generations of the de Vogue family reside on its palatial premises. While exploring the châteaux grounds with current resident Count Bertrand de Vogue, we even met the estate’s miniature pot-bellied pigs.

Falconry at Chateau de Commarin in Burgundy France

The medieval sport of falconry is alive and well in Burgundy.

As an added treat, local aviculturists led us through an interactive demonstration involving exotic falcons and owls. The demo’s showstopper was a Siberian eagle owl with a 70-inch wingspan. Since this bird is a predator capable of killing large animals, including humans, we kept a respectful distance.

Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune

Hotel Dieu Hospice in Beaune France

Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune is an iconic building in Beaune’s city center.

Founded in 1443 as a hospital for the destitute, Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune provides an intriguing glimpse into Burgundy’s storied past. During our visit, we explored the hospice’s history as well as the building’s classic Burgundian architecture and art. Our tour took us into the Room of the Poor, where patients slept, as well as through the chapel, pharmacy and kitchen.

Pro Tip: Plan a separate visit to Beaune in November when the Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune hosts its annual charity wine auction. The city is filled with festivities during the entire weekend.

Dijon Market

Asparagus at Dijon Market

White asparagus is a seasonal delicacy in Burgundy. We found these stalks at Marche Les Halles Dijon.

More than spicy mustard, Dijon is a charming Burgundian city with a deep culinary tradition. Our Dijon excursion took us to the city center where we sampled local treats including macarons, cheese and mustard. However, this excursion’s highlight was visiting Dijon’s bustling covered market.

Built in the 19th century, Marche Les Halles Dijon is a grand market filled with vendors selling a melange of local products. Butchers sell Bresse Chickens and Charolais beef. Produce merchants sell fruits and vegetables plucked from the earth that morning. Traiteurs sell all manner of French specialties including large varieties of Pâte en Croute and saucissons.

Vendor at Dijon Market

Eric Leger proudly displays his wares at the Marche Les Halles Dijon.

Though our Dijon excursion was relatively brief, we had just enough time to fall for the city’s many charms. Not only did we enjoy a decadent slice of Pâte en Croute stuffed with Guinea Fowl and Foie Gras at the market, but we also indulged in colorful macarons at local pâtissier Pierre Hubert.

We hope to return to Dijon and more deeply explore the city’s cathedrals, shops and food. Especially the food.

What to Pack

French Canal Cruising with European Waterways

Come prepared for your France canal cruise. There aren’t a lot of shops along the scenic canals.

Unlike most other cruises, European Waterways’ barge cruises do not have a dress code. During our week-long cruise, everybody dressed comfortably in what can best be described as business casual. Some of us dressed up on the last night, but this was optional with one of our companions opting to wear shorts that evening.

Don’t Forget These Items

Gift Shop at Chevaliers du Tastevin

Don’t forget to pack books. You’ll have plenty of free time to catch up on your reading list.

  • Adaptors: Unless you’re based in Europe, you’ll need adaptors to plug your electronics into the barge’s many electrical outlets.
  • WiFi Hot Spot: Barge cruising in France includes free internet but coverage can be spotty on the canals. You will want to bring a hot spot if you want uninterrupted connectivity during the week.
  • Books or Kindle: Be sure to upload any books to your Kindle before the cruise. Barge cruising provides ample downtime for reading.
  • Swimsuit: Bring a swimsuit if you plan to use the jacuzzi. The cruise provides towels, so you can leave those at home.
  • Comfortable Shoes: Pack walking shoes for strolling along towpaths and flip flops for lounging on the deck

Leave These Items at Home

Macarons in Dijon France

Macarons make the ideal gift for friends and family.

  • Basic Toiletries: Since European Waterways provides L’Occitaine products, you can leave your shampoo, conditioner and lotion at home. However, don’t forget personal items like sunscreen, shaving lotion and toothpaste.
  • Umbrellas: Umbrellas are available on the barge if it rains. Since it rained several days during our cruise, we can attest to their quality and functionality.
  • Maps: The crew handles all logistics and ground transportation during the cruise.
  • Fancy Clothes: Sorry fashionistas, you have no need for ball gowns or stilettos during a barge cruise. Though not mandatory, men may want to pack a sports jacket for the final evening’s dinner.

Pro Tip: Leave extra room in your luggage for any edible souvenirs you buy during daily shore excursions. These edible souvenirs may include macarons, wine and Dijon mustard, of course.

Additional Logistics

European Waterways Barge on Burgundy Canal

It’s never too soon to plan a barge cruise in France.

European Waterways operates 17 luxury barges in its namesake continent. As you make your plans, consider the following:

  • European Waterways runs cruises in nine counties. Popular destinations include France, Italy and Scotland.
  • Cruises operate from April through October.
  • Each cruise is six nights long.
  • All cruises are all-inclusive of food, wine, activities, ground transportation and an open bar.
  • Tips are not included and are expected.
  • Large groups can charter an entire barge.
  • The European Waterways website has details regarding availability and pricing.

Pin It for Later

France Canal Cruise Pin

We thank European Waterways for hosting us to facilitate this article.

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About the Author

Saveur Magazine's BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel influencers are based in Lisbon, Portugal.

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Comments

  1. This is the ultimate trip for me, I’m so jealous! I was actually looking at a similar trip option departing from Dijon and was contemplating whether I should do this one or the cruise along Canal du Midi. I think I’ve made up my mind. I can’t wait to start planning!

  2. Just reading about this cruise makes me high. It sounds fantastic.

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