Here is the review:
WelcomeWe have two departures in 2011 for this same cruise, departing 16th October and 23th October 2011 (value priced weeks). You can view the full itinerary for the Guided Walking Tour cruise on La Belle Epoque's brochure.
On arrival, our travel-weariness quickly dissolved thanks to the beaming smiles of the crew who welcomed us aboard, handing us a glass of champagne and a selection of delicious canapés. After our various introductions, we had just one instruction from our Captain, Stephane: “Start enjoying yourself straight away as the week will go by very quickly.” So we did, and he was right!
Accommodation and Décor
On first seeing La Belle Epoque, I was instantly struck by the size of the vessel. It appeared much bigger than in the photos I’d seen and very impressive with its crisp blue and white paintwork. The interior décor is dominated by traditional wood paneling and there is space for everyone to sit comfortably in the interior lounge or outside on the sundeck. The cabins are cosy and have everything you need for a very comfortable week. They have windows or portholes encased in that lovely old heavy brass which you just don’t see nowadays. The house-keeping team worked very hard at their role, discreetly cleaning and tidying the cabins and providing fresh towels every day. And the bathrobe and slippers are especially handy for keeping your modesty when walking up to the hot tub on deck!
Food and Wine
Not considering myself a food buff, I wasn’t sure if the gourmet meals would be as important to me as to others. How wrong I was. The delicate flavours, imaginative food combinations and beautiful presentation by our chef, Emma, were a delight. Served with seamless efficiency by Kayleigh and Lindsay, each lunch and dinner was accompanied by appropriate red and white wines for us to enjoy and compare, expertly described by our Captain. And, in true French style, we had a different selection of cheeses at every meal, dutifully described by Lindsay. It didn’t take long for dinner to become a highlight of our day. And after one of our slightly longer afternoon guided walks, we laughed as we noticed that everyone had arrived especially early for dinner, perched on the edge of our seats and casting hopeful glances at the kitchen door.
The gentle chug of the engine is more comforting than intrusive. With locks occurring every 20 minutes to one hour (40 locks in 5 days), the Captain and his effervescent First Mate, Rudy, are kept very busy. Far from becoming repetitive, this process remained as fascinating for me at the end of the week as it did at the start. Each lock has its own little keeper’s house, complete with name and number plaque above the front door and a friendly dog eager to greet the barge. The gardens have their own individual style and one features a selection of bizarre follies, including a huge giraffe! The lock offers an opportunity for guests to hop off for a tow path walk or cycle ride, or to step back on board for a coffee or to just sit and enjoy the cruise.
On most autumn mornings, the mist hangs heavily over the water. It’s beautiful. Stepping outside, you need to be wrapped up warmly while the mist lingers but it becomes surprisingly warm if the sun burns through. One of my fellow passengers commented as we strolled along the tow path “There is something very pleasant about having your hotel bedroom gliding along the river beside you.” As well as the option to walk along the canal towpath, there is no doubt that having the experienced walk guide, brought an additional dimension to the trip. He led us on a two to three hour leisurely walk into the surrounding countryside each morning or afternoon. The walks were not fast paced or demanding. They were designed to give us time to absorb the views and relish the quietness of our surroundings. We also had regular pauses to hear his anecdotes, bird and wildlife observations and snippets of local history. Under his gentle leadership, we passed through pretty pale limestone villages, saw evidence of wild boar foraging, tasted a grape or two in a fine Chablis vineyard and, on the morning we walked to Les Clefs de Rochefort, this derelict castle was appropriately enshrouded in Hammer Horror-esque mist.
Our sightseeing visits were guided by our well-informed and articulate Captain who brought to life the classic French Château de Tanlay and the stunning Abbayé de Fontenay – a ‘must-see’ if you visit this area. He kept our attention whilst knowingly mispronouncing the occasional English word with a glint in his eye!
We were surprised to be guided around one of Chablis’ leading wineries by a bright young Australian whose extensive knowledge of French wine growing and Australian wine blending belied his youthful looks. He explained the sometimes complex production methods with remarkable clarity. Finally our curiosity got the better of us and we asked “What brings an Australian to live in France?” With the panache of his adopted country, he smiled and shrugged “A girl!”
I had two personal concerns before this walk:
Firstly, as a single person accustomed to living alone, would I feel the need to ‘escape’ from the barge and my fellow passengers? I can honestly say that this thought did not cross my mind at all during the whole week. Far from being a challenge, the mix of cultures in our group (Canadian, American, Australian and English) added to the interest of the trip and the mix of visits, walks and fine-dining kept me occupied but not at the expense of relaxation.
Secondly, being on the most susceptible end of the motion-sickness scale, would I suffer any effects of the barge’s movement? Not at all – I felt as stable as on dry land. In fact, being surrounded by water had a truly therapeutic effect.
If you are considering this type of voyage but haven’t done anything like it before, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Don’t hesitate to take the opportunity. It’s an experience which will leave you well-rested, enriched and smiling at your memories for a long time afterwards. Would I go again? Absolutely!
The difference with this theme cruise is that it is available for individuals or couples to book a cabin and join others on board. No need to charter the whole barge and no extra supplements to pay for the services of the on board professional walking guide.
If you are part of a couple and not as keen about walking as your "better half", pas de problème... There are other activities available if you wish, or you can just chill out on La Belle Epoque and watch the countryside glide by while listening to tunes on your iPod or reading a book in the jacuzzi!
This all-inclusive deluxe barge is 128 feet long, has two levels, a crew of 5 or 6, and accommodates up to 13 guests in 7 cabins, each with private, ensuite bathrooms. La Belle Epoque is fully air conditioned and has central heating. They have two sundecks with steamer chairs, recliners, parasols, a large dining table, plus a Jacuzzi spa pool.
Sounds good? Contact Paradise Connections and let's get started. This is a very popular cruise and it books up quickly. Currently (10 months before cruise) there are already 2 cabins booked for October 16th and 4 cabins booked for October 23rd, so don't dilly-dally too long!
View La Belle Epoque's online brochure
Visit our website for more info on our barges & barging: www.BargeCharters.com