February 5th 2013

A luxury river barge like La Belle Époque, fully equipped for modern comfort, is a wonderful way to travel in France. You glide along dreamy waterways, over sun-dappled water, in the midst of beautiful countryside. No wonder our October walking tour of Burgundy, using La Belle Époque as our base, is one of our favourite trips. Life aboard French barges used to be very different. They were used for transporting heavy goods and manned by bargees who lived aboard. The barge was their home. It was a tough but independent life and the bargees themselves were often idiosyncratic characters. The idea of using their boats for leisure purposes, let alone luxury leisure, was entirely alien. It took an equally idiosyncratic Englishman to spot the potential. The late Gerard Morgan-Grenville spent his life pioneering new ideas. He spent some time in California in the sixties before setting up the world-renowned Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, UK. As well as being an ardent environmentalist, he was also a successful businessman who founded a string of businesses. In the 1970s he bought an old barge, The Virginia Anne, and spent many summers living on the French waterways. The story of those years is told in a series of entertaining books that he wrote and illustrated. Barging into France, Barging into Southern France and Barging into Burgundy recount Gerard’s adventures, which were many and mixed. In Barging into Burgundy he survives sampling a lock keeper’s homemade eau-de-vie, which was basically raw spirit and caused him to fall naked and inebriated into the canal. He learned how to mend holes in the barge the traditional way using bacon and quick drying cement (the bacon is squishy enough to squash into the holes and the cement provides a seal), and that bringing peacock feathers on board is a certain harbinger of disaster. Despite the disasters, Gerard’s friends adored staying on the barge and he had so many requests that he started a luxury barge vacation company, which was the first of its kind. He ran this with great success before retiring to Dorset, UK, in the 1990s. Barging has retained its popularity and Burgundy is one of the most delightful places to enjoy this historic mode of transport. We cruise the upper Burgundy Canal in the North of Burgundy, between the two classic French towns of Tanlay and Venaray les Laume. Tranquility and comfort accompany us on our journey. Every day we leave our barge to set off on foot to explore Renaissance châteaux, dramatic cliffs, wooded hills, medieval towns, lush valleys and ancient vineyards. Fine French cuisine prepared on board by our personal chef and accompanied by regional wines make this trip a gourmet's delight.

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