For five full days, I lived with plentiful joie de vivre on a luxury barge chugging along the Canal de Bourgogne — during April, no less.
A lifelong aspiration for many, the journey on French Country Waterways through gorgeous French countryside was a trip that I had looked forward to for years. I had an idea of what barging in Burgundy might be like but no experience. Yes, I had done ocean cruises along the south coast of France, and I had done a fair amount of river cruising in France — in my twenties, I had even bicycled through France, but a barge adventure was something new to me.
There were questions and, despite my excitement, a few anxieties: I was traveling with my significant other, the ever-elegant Monica, who hails from Sweden. How would we get along with the six others who would be traveling with us in a confined space for the week? How confined would the space be?
We met our fellow travelers at the Hotel Raphael, a luxury five-star hotel near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris where a representative from French Country Waterways would retrieve us and drive us to our barge, moored in Tanlay, 2.5 hours south of Paris.
Along with our cruise tickets, French Country Waterways had thoughtfully included vouchers for complimentary cocktails in Hotel Raphael’s exquisite lounge. With glasses of champagne in our hands, we introduced ourselves all around.
Two of the couples, in their 70s, came from northern Georgia, not far from my neck of the woods (Asheville, NC). The other couple hailed from Indiana, in their 80s, and married for only three years. At ages 54 and 53, Monica and I, could have been their children.
During the course of the week we would all bond. Indeed, we departed Paris a week later with handshakes, hugs, email addresses and promises to stay in touch.
Monica told me that our traveling companions had even changed her view about growing older. Mine too. Through them we learned that it is possible to age gracefully and to stay fully engaged in life, an unexpected bonus to our week of barging.
As we were finishing our drinks at Hotel Raphael, a man approached and introduced himself as our host for the week. An Englishman who has lived in France with his English wife and daughter for quite some time, Matthew would demonstrate remarkable knowledge of France, French wines and foods, and European history in general. Midway through the week, I resorted to calling him “Mattipedia.”
“Right,” Matthew said, “if you’re all finished with your cocktails, we can get going.”
We took our seats in a large Mercedes van, and off we went down the Champs Elysees and through the streets of Paris to begin a week that would turn out to be one of the most memorable of my life.
Our next stop: the Horizon II, which could not have been moored in a more picture perfect place. I’ll take you there and on board Horizon II tomorrow.
Stay tuned as we barge through Burgundy this week on Avid Cruiser.
Want to learn more about barge cruises? See these posts on our sister site River Cruise Advisor.