Always keen to try something new, when we needed a chance to relax and recharge the batteries we decided on a hotel-barge sailing along the lazy Marne river from Paris out into the Champagne region of France.
We embarked by the Eiffel Tower and travelled east from Paris at about 5mph, passing through towns and villages well known for their cheeses, wines and champagnes as well as for the engineering developments in navigation and their turbulent and important wartime history during both the world wars. The impression today is of the peaceful, rural environment of the gentle landscapes of vineyards, villages and small towns captured by Impressionist/Post-Impressionist painters including Cezanne and Pissarro.
During the days we were either out with our guides on pre-arranged visits and experiences or exploring independently; in Paris, walking the hidden covered corridors between the Grands Boulevards; in Meaux tasting the king of cheeses, Brie de Meaux; exploring Hautvillers, the home of Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon, father of champagne; the cathedral and city in Reims; the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay; and in between exploring the sleepy towns and villages. But the highlight for me was a tour of one of the smaller artisan Champagne houses in Fleury-la-Riviere, well away from the big labels in Epernay. The tour was led by the winemaker himself, offering tastings at each stage of the process, from pre-blended Chardonnay with no bubbles, to the finished product. Good thing we were being driven back!
Our home for the week was MS Raymonde, a little gem of a barge with 11 twin cabins, carrying just 16 guests on our trip, and 6 crew. The cabins were on the cosy side of compact on the lower deck, with two duck-eye view windows and a good shower room ensuite. The dining room and lounge/bar are both on the main deck, with the lounge leading out to a small terrace with bistro style tables and chairs and a jacuzzi. The top deck was fully taken up by a sun deck, apart from the wheel-house which could raise and lower to accommodate the low bridges along the way.
The quality of the meals and wines onboard was high and the whole week was a very relaxing format but for those looking for a bit more activity there was a fleet of bikes onboard which we could use when moored. We came back well restored but several kilos heavier.
If you’d like to know more about cruising along rivers and canals please give me a call on 01225 744992 or send an email to email@example.com.
Kit Williams, Silver Compass