Yesterday, on our French Country Waterways barge excursion along the Burgundy Canal, we stepped off the boat and into a Michelin three-star restaurant.
Today would be the last full day of our barge trip. We’d enjoy a morning at the open-air markets in Montbard, where Horizon II was moored, and follow that with a visit to the 12th-century Abbey of Fontenay. We’d return for lunch on board, one last delicious lunch, then head out to see Semur en Auxois, a beautiful medieval town built on a granite bluff.
Our evening, and our time on board, would end with the Captain’s Dinner and a few final toasts with glasses of those fine French wines. The next morning, we would return to Paris, with one of the most memorable weeks of our lives behind us.
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I would not classify Montbard as the most charming French village I’ve seen, but certainly this industrial town on the river Brenne had some redeeming qualities. One of those was the open-air market that was a short walk from where we were moored on the Burgundy Canal. We spent about 30 minutes strolling the expansive market, admiring the French flair for aesthetic displays of the simplest of things, such as the radishes and garlic pictured.
Montbard is also the gateway to the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay, one of Europe’s oldest and most complete Cistercian abbeys. Amazingly intact and well-maintained, the abbey was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
One of the highlights was the abbey church. Originally constructed in the 12th century, the church represents typical Cistercian architecture, built in the Romanesque style. There is an interesting connection to the church from our visit yesterday to Le Grande Forge de Buffon: The daughter of the current owner of that Historic Monument will marry here at the church in September. Imagine what that wedding will be like.
We returned to Horizon II for lunch, then set out again for Semur-en-Auxois. Perched on a pink granite cliff, the town has a medieval core that is perhaps more attractive to look at from afar than to explore up close. From a distance, you can see the four towers that remain from the Semur Castle, as well as the 13th-century Notre Dame church.
After a couple of hours exploring the town, we returned to Horizon II for the Captain’s Dinner. The crew had pulled out all the stops, and we were in for a treat, not just the food, but the atmosphere. We were all amazed at the elaborate table setting.
We enjoyed a beautiful dinner that night, with the requisite two wines during dinner and three cheeses following the main course. It was hard to believe that our trip was coming to an end. Six nights, five full days had passed quickly, but for such a rich experience, culturally immersive and with all the fine wines and food, five full days was probably enough. After all, we had spent five days of our lives in a way that few get to experience in a lifetime.
Barging Burgundy on French Country Waterways certainly is an aspiration and one that can be agonizing, as one of our fellow passengers had said during the week, not something that you plunk down more than $10,000 to experience without thought and consideration. To us and our fellow passengers, however, the week on board had been worth every penny of the price of admission, and I know I gladly stuffed an envelope with several hundred euros to thank the crew for their outstanding and attentive service.
I’m actually glad we didn’t stay longer. Leaving the small crew was like leaving part of our family. Sure, this is work for them, but they did it gladly and with what I felt was no “game face.” They seemed to have enjoyed the experience as much as we did, and getting to know us as much as we enjoyed getting to know them.
For a good part of my life I have wanted to barge in Burgundy. Now I can say I have done it, and I can also say that I can’t wait to do it again.
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com