Yesterday, I wrote about a rendezvous in Paris to begin our French Country Waterways barge cruise through Burgundy. We left Paris at around 3 p.m. and just before 6 p.m. reached the village of Tanlay, which was wearing spring colors — picture-postcard perfect.
Matthew, our host, guide and captain, pulled the Mercedes van up next to Horizon II. The attractive barge sat low and long, with a blue and white hull trimmed in red. A stately 62 years old, the commercial barge was reconfigured in the mid-1980s as a hotel barge carrying 12 passengers. She was reconfigured again in 2004/2005 to create spacious staterooms for only eight passengers.
A gangway spanned from the bank of the canal to the sun deck. It took only eight steps for me to become a guest on Horizon II.
Seldom has an embarkation been so easy — or so warm. Horizon II’s six crew members stood on the river bank and on the sun deck to assist us aboard. It was as if we were stepping into a French country home with the family there to welcome us. A good beginning to what would be a great trip.
The lounge/living room/dining room was situated just a few steps below the sun deck. We gathered in the attractive room; champagne was poured and a toast initiated.
Matthew informed us about what we could expect for the week. We would meander along the canal at a relaxed pace. We were free to step off the barge at the locks for walks and bicycle rides (there were eight well-maintained bicycles on board).
Our days afloat would be punctuated by visits to wineries, villages, chateaus and castles — and, of course, lavish lunches and dinners. We would dine one night at a Michelin three-star restaurant, compliments of French Country Waterways.
Practical matters followed. Nothing but toilet paper in the toilets, there was plenty of hot water for showers, and most importantly perhaps, the complimentary bar was open 24/7. We were welcome to summon the staff at any time or simply pour one for ourselves.
Champagne in hand, Monica and I walked down the two steps to our stateroom. It featured a large bed, desk, two closets, drawer space, separate heating and air conditioning units, no television (thankfully), two rectangular porthole windows and a spacious bathroom with shower, towel warmer, bathrobes and luxury Lanvin bath amenities. We were able to store our suitcases under the bed.
On the desk was a passenger list and a note about gratuities. Pre-cruise documentation indicated that while not required, gratuities were appreciated, and that average gratuities ranged from 5 percent to 10 percent of the cruise cost. How much is that? 2012 rates for two on the six-night voyages range from $11,000 to $13,000 per couple, putting gratuities in the range of $550 to $1,300 per couple.
As mentioned, the trip was a lifelong aspiration for a few of our fellow passengers, and an “agonizing” decision for at least one of them, because of the expense, yet no one expressed buyer’s remorse at any point during the trip. During lunch at the end of our trip, I asked if the others if they felt that the trip, while pricey, was a good value. Each of them indicated, in their own ways, that the trip had exceeded their expectations.
Monica and I unpacked and went out to explore tiny Tanlay, strolling through the village and entering the grounds of the Chateau de Tanlay, dating from the 16th century.
We also sampled three varieties of French cheese after each lunch and dinner. Again, our hostesses would explain the cheeses, so that by the end of the week, I knew a great deal more about wine and cheese than I knew before stepping on board.
In her book French Women Don’t Get Fat, writer Mireille Guiliano says that French women eat bread and pastry, drink wine, and regularly enjoy three-course meals, but manage to stay slim and healthy. We certainly consumed a lot on our barge cruise, but I can’t say that my belt felt any tighter after cinching on the last day.
On that first night aboard Horizon II, I slept well after a moderate amount of wine and the delicious dinner. I wanted to be well-rested for the morning. We had a busy day ahead, and I couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow would bring.