Welcome Aboard French Country Waterways Horizon II

We reached the barge on a beautiful spring day in the village of Tanlay, near Chablis. © Ralph Grizzle

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.

Horizon II features a sundeck, and a lounge/living room/dining room, all in one large space, down below. Come on in. We’re going barging © Ralph Grizzle

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.

The four staterooms each feature individually controlled air conditioning and heating (two separate units in each room), a small desk, two closets, a big comfy bed and two porthole windows. © Ralph Grizzle

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.

Built in 1950 as a commercial barge, Horizon II was reconfigured in the mid 1980s as a hotel barge carrying 12 passengers. She was reconfigured again in 2004/2005 to create larger staterooms and bathrooms, reducing the passenger count from 12 to eight. Large by barge standards, Horizon II’s bathrooms feature showers with plentiful hot water, towel warmers, robes, good lighting but no make-up mirrors, and luxury Lanvin bath amenities. © Ralph Grizzle
Robes and towel warmer in bathrooms. © Ralph Grizzle
Our barge carries a maximum of eight guests and six crew. Recommended gratuities are from 5% to 10% of the total cost. 2012 rates for two on the six-night voyages range from $11000 to $13000 per couple. Charter rates for 2012 begin at $42,360. © Ralph Grizzle

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.

Before dinner on the barge, we took a stroll to explore tiny Tanlay. © Ralph Grizzle
Dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, Chateau de Tanlay. © Ralph Grizzle 
Strolling the grounds of the Chateau de Tanlay. © Ralph Grizzle
We returned for dinner, sitting at a table set for eight, and thus began an elegant evening of dining.
Each evening, Matthew, or the hostesses Amina, from Morocco, and Emma, from England, introduced and explained the dinner menu. Clearly, we were on an Epicurean adventure.
In fact, I’ll jump ahead and tell you that on the next to the last night on board, Matthew took us to Bernard Loiseau, a Michelin three-star restaurant in the commune of Saulieu. Our dinner was included in the cost of the cruise, and while I don’t want to take away anything from this fine dining establishment, which was truly remarkable, I will say that the eight of us agreed that our dinners on Horizon II, prepared by Chef Tadek Zwan, equalled or perhaps even surpassed the Michelin three-star experience. I enjoyed some of the most pleasurable dining and some of the best cuisine of my life on board the barge.
During the course of the week, we would sample more than 30 wines, most from Burgundy, all from France. Who knew that Chablis is one of the best known wines coming from the Burgundy region? © Ralph Grizzle
As much as it was an epicurean adventure, our barge cruise was also an adventure for oenophiles. Two varieties of fine French wines were presented for lunch and dinner, always a white and a red, and always fine vintages. During the course of the week, we would sample more than 30 wines, most from Burgundy, all from France.
A twist on gazpacho: The first appetizer of many during the the six dinners we would enjoy on French Country Waterways. © Ralph Grizzle
Gourmet cuisine paired with delicious French wines. This dish: Caille glacée a la sauce Bernaise, Millefeuille de Foie Gras, Pomme de Terres en Eventail & Brocoli. © Ralph Grizzle
A glass of Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru, 2008, which sells for more than $85 a bottle in the U.S. © Ralph Grizzle
During the course of the week, we would sample more than 30 French cheeses served at the end of the lunches and dinners. Our hosts educated us about each cheese, as they did with the wines. These cheeses, clockwise from right: Fourme d’Ambert, Chabichou, Tomme de Savoie. © Ralph Grizzle

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.

Horizon II’s daily activity list: Emphasizing quality over quantity. © Ralph Grizzle

Stay tuned as we barge through Burgundy this week on Avid Cruiser.

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Join the Conversation

Rita Messina Chipok says:

My husband and I also took the same cruise with Matthew and Chef Tadek!! Most wonderful vacation we have ever had and can’t wait to do it again with French Country Waterways.

Rita Messina Chipok says:

My husband and I also took the same cruise on the Horizon II with Matthew and Chef Tadek!! It was the most wonderful vacation we’ve had and can’t wait to cruise again with French Country Waterways. I highly recommend it.

The Bottom Feeder says:

I suppose this is a bit dated, we Just returned from the same cruise, except on the Nenuphar. We could only echo what has been said. Being a “foodie” (I hate the term but is descriptive) I also agree that Tadek’s skills rivals the three stars. This was our third trip with French Country Waterways (Burgundy, Champagne) and was as wonderful as those. I do a food blog and I took many of the same images seen here!!

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