What’s Dining Like On French Country Waterways Horizon II?

A sunny side up start to another day on the Burgundy Canal. © Ralph Grizzle

We spent yesterday touring one of France’s most beautiful villages (see A Damp Day In One Of France’s Most Beautiful Villages).

Today, we have another special treat in store: dining in a Michelin Three-Star restaurant. Now I don’t know about you, but I know little about the Michelin ratings. Why only three stars? Why not five? Or six?

Tonight, we will dine at a restaurant boasting three Michelin stars, included in the cost of the cruise. It is hard to imagine, however, how meals can be any better than those served on Horizon II. © Ralph Grizzle

What I learned is that three stars is as good as it gets. This is how Wikipedia describes the Michelin star system: One star indicates “very good cuisine in its category;” a two-star ranking represents “excellent cuisine, worth a detour;” and a rare three stars is awarded to restaurants offering “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.”

Note the mistletoe in the trees lining the banks of the Canal. © Ralph Grizzle

As of late 2009, according to Wikipedia, there were 26 three-star restaurants in France, and a total of 81 in the world. So France boasts nearly a third of the restaurants worldwide worthy of a special journey. We were all excited about the dining experience tonight.

Visiting the privately owned La Grande Forge de Buffon. © Ralph Grizzle

Our day would start, however, with a visit to La Grande Forge de Buffon, just north of the city of Montbard.

In 1768, Georges-Louis LeClerc, Count of Buffon, built the most modern forge in the world at the time. After a short drive, we toured the grounds to learn about some of the count’s innovations. The good Count was a French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopedic author.

Exploring the blast furnace, which reduced the ore to cast iron through heating for 12 hours at 1200°C. The  water wheel (pictured below) powered the blast furnace blower. La Grande Forge de Buffon. © Ralph Grizzle

It was here that Buffon undertook an improbable series of experiments, measuring molten balls of iron of different sizes to see how long it took them to cool down, according to an article in the New York Times. He posited that the earth had originated as a fireball, gradually solidifying as it cooled. By scaling up from iron balls to the size of the planet, he hoped to estimate the age of the earth.

The waterwheel at La Grande Forge de Buffon. © Ralph Grizzle

Buffon died two decades after founding the forge, but steel making continued until 1868. In the middle of the last century, the forge was designated an historic monument, and in 1978, its owner, Miss Taylor-Whitehead, opened the property to the public and for scientific research. In 2011, the Michelin Guide named the forge as one of the most beautiful places to witness the world’s industrial heritage.

Matthew shows us the kitchen, which served 30 workers and their families (about 100 people). © Ralph Grizzle

We had an interesting tour, which ended with a glass of wine with the current owners, who still live on the property and take care of this national monument.

Around midday, Matthew drove us back to Horizon II, where the crew had prepared for lunch on the sun deck.

Ready for lunch on the sundeck on Horizon II. © Ralph Grizzle

Once we boarded and sat down to dine, Horizon II began to cruise the canal. As we approached a couple of low bridges, Albert came over to lower the umbrella, with remarkably little disturbance to us.

A low bridge, and Albert lowered the umbrella, disturbing us only to lower our heads. © Ralph Grizzle
High water caused the locks to overflow during April. © Ralph Grizzle

Monica and I walked into the town of Montbard after lunch, exploring for an hour or so and walking up to beautiful Parc Buffon before returning to Horizon II to dress for our night out at Bernard Loiseau.

The Relais & Chateaux restaurant, along with the hotel and spa, is situated in Saulieu, and of course, patrons arrive here with high expectations. It could have been high expectations that caused the chef Bernard Loiseau to commit suicide by firearm in 2003.

At the time of his suicide, newspaper reports hinted that his restaurant might lose its three-star status. Driven to perfection and perhaps near madness, the 52-year-old was consumed by his work, putting in 13 hours a day, seven days a week.

Dressed for dinner at Bernard Loiseau restaurant, awarded three stars by Michelin.

Entering the establishment, we were impressed. The surroundings, and as we would later discover, the service, was outstanding. And so was the cuisine itself. I

t could have been that our expectations were so high, however, that we left, not disappointed, but with the feeling that the cuisine on Horizon II was better. Certainly, if Michelin distributes its ratings solely on the basis of how well foods please the palate, Horizon II should rank equal to — or better than — the three-star restaurant where we dined. I’m glad we experienced dining at Bernard Loiseau, and I think it works well to complement the barge experience, but our chef Tadek is no slacker when it comes to fine cuisine.

A night to remember. © Ralph Grizzle
When in France, what else? Frog legs. Jambonettes de grenouilles à la purée d’ail at au jus de persil. © Ralph Grizzle
A beautifully prepared starter. © Ralph Grizzle
Elegant service at Bernard Loiseau. © Ralph Grizzle
Dessert at Bernard Loiseau. © Ralph Grizzle

Tomorrow, our last day on Horizon II and some parting thoughts.

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

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