Hear about luxury barge cruising on the Canal de Briare in the Loire Valley of France as the Amateur Traveler talks to Rose Palmer from quilttripping.com about her recent adventure.
Rose says, “Whenever I first mentioned this type of cruise to people they tend to think of it as a river cruise. And I often have to clarify that no, these aren’t rivers. These are actually smaller. These are canals that were put in place in France starting in the 17th century, and they were developed to connect the major waterways and act as transportation and as a means of transporting goods from all over France, primarily to Paris and the king and the royalty. Now those canals are no longer needed for transportation in that form, and they’re used for recreation.”
“And companies like European waterways have taken these old barges that were had once transported. Logs and coal and all sorts of goods and turn them into luxury floating hotels that travel slowly through a fairly small region of France. So doing very slow travel that is more intensive and more focused on just one area. And in the process you’re tasting great food, you’re drinking good wine, and you’re seeing some unique destinations that are within an easy drive from the canal that you might not as easily do maybe on your own, especially if you don’t speak French.”
Rose’s journey was on the Renaissance. The barge can accommodate up to eight passengers, but there were only four guests and four crew members on board on her trip. The living and dining areas are elegantly furnished, and the top deck has a hot tub, outdoor dining area, and lounge chairs.
Her trip started in Montargis and cruised south on the Canal de Briare to the Loire River which they crossed over on the Briare Aqueduct. Part of the time the passengers spend cruising, part of the time walking or biking on the towpaths, and part of the time exploring the surrounding region with a guide.
On the second day, they explored the Chateau de La Boussiére with their guide Bryan, learning about its history and touring its public rooms. They had a cooking demonstration by their Chef Hannah and me the Countess de Chasseval caring for her gardens.
On the 3rd day, they backtracked to the town of Montargis, a town known as the “Little Venice of the Gatinais” due to its many canals and bridges. They visited the Montargis Castle, Town Hall, and the Church of Sainte Madeleine with its stained glass windows. Montargis has received a “Ville Fleurie” award, which recognizes towns that beautify their public spaces with flowers. The highlight of the tour was a private chocolate tasting at Mazet which is famous for its Praslines, a delicacy developed in 1636.
In the afternoon, they passed the historic 7 locks on the “new” locks which were built in the 1800s.
The excursion of the next day was to the Chateau de Rosa Bonheur, the home and studio of artist Rosa Bonheur, who was an internationally renowned female artist in the mid-19th century. Her most famous work is The Horse Fair, a huge canvas that realistically depicts horses being sold at a horse market in Paris. She purchased the chateau with the money she earned from selling this painting. The chateau became her home and studio for the next 40 years until her death in 1899.
The literal high point of the canal is Lake Gazonne. From here it was quite literally all downhill.
The next excursion was to La Perriére Winery in the Sancerre wine-producing region of the Loire Valley, where the group learned about the winemaking process and tasted some of the wines. The winery is located inside a natural cave on a hillside. The group visited the town of Sancerre after the winery excursion. The town has preserved its medieval architecture and narrow streets that date back to the 13th century. The town offers views of the vineyards that surround it.
The group then visited the Briare aqueduct. The aqueduct was built in the 1890s and spans over the Loire River, allowing barges to pass easily over it. It is almost half a mile long and was engineered by Gustav Eiffel, who also built the Eiffel Tower and the metal framework of the Statue of Libery.
A barge cruise is not the cheapest form of travel, nor does it cover the most ground, but it can be a wonderfully relaxed and luxurious way to explore the French countryside.
right click here to download (mp3)
An Intimate Loire Valley Barge Cruise on the Renaissance with European Waterways – Quiltripping
Canal de Briare Guide
Château de la Bussière
Cruising on the Canal du Midi – A Luxury Barge Cruise in Southern France including Carcassonne
Canal Cruising in France – Episode 655
Eglise Sainte-Madeleine, Montargis
House of Mazet
Concours des villes et villages fleuris
Château de Rosa Bonheur
Saget la Perrière
Eglise Saint-Etienne, Briare
Accueil – Château de Ratilly
One other recommendation for when near Kuala Lumpur – there are lots of afternoon/evening tours that go out to Kuala Selangor for some sightseeing, dinner, and then a firefly tour after dark before returning to KL that night. I remember it being a nice change-up from the city. – Justin Barnes
Excellent podcast. Now I want to go to Malaysia. – Sam
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