I BLAME it on Rick Stein. He started my longing for barge travel through the serene waterways of France.
Anyone who saw his Rick Stein's French Odyssey series, where he sailed on a barge from Bordeaux to Marseille over 59 sumptuous days, eating, cooking and romping in the glorious French countryside, would have felt a yearning to follow in his footsteps.
I can think of no better way to unwind than to sit on the deck of a barge while it glides at snail pace along serene canals flanked by leafy plane trees, watching the locals bicycle along the tow paths, looking out to lush vine-covered countryside, gazing to fields of sunflowers, with perhaps the occasional sighting of a grand chateau before sailing through cool tunnels and under low-hung bridges until gliding elegantly into beguiling small villages.
Just the dream has made me slow down already.
Let me embroider the fantasy by joining the locals at the vibrant markets to hand pick (the way French people do) tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, to chat to the cheese man about which of the myriad varieties would suit a picnic lunch, to step into the boulangerie for a just-baked baguette to tuck under the arm (a baguette under the arm is mandatory in this French fantasy).
For more fantasy embellishment, the next day tied up by another village of infinite French loveliness, I will lunch on the barge decks on a salad nicoise or graze slowly on a charcuterie plate with a bottle of chilled pale pink wine close to hand.
Oh, stop it. I've made myself ill with envy at my own delicious fantasy.
I visit France every year and know the seduction of pretty, small villages with colourful markets. I know the ripeness of the countryside when the apricot and cherry trees are heavy with fruit and the grape vines full with promise of a good harvest to come.
But I haven't known France (yet) from the deck of a slow-moving barge, and now this glorious deal from European Waterways has me salivating with longing, yearning for a lazy week gliding through the boundless charms of France.
European Waterways has itineraries to take you all over France on its fleet of barges whether you want big, small, budget or all-out luxury.
Particularly appealing is the deal from European Waterways for new Champagne cruises (see opposite).
Imagine gliding into Epernay where some of the world's most renowned Champagne Houses live and are waiting there just to pop a cork for you.
Let's pack our bags.
EUROPEAN Waterways, has added four new Champagne region cruises in June to its French itineraries for the European summer this year.
Aboard Panache, the 12-passenger hotel barge, the new departure dates are June 7, 14, 21 and 28.
One of the great agriculture regions of Europe, the waterways of Champagne are just to the east of Paris.
The region starts about 120km from Paris, around the city of Meaux and stretches along the beautiful River Marne to the city of Epernay.
For the convenience of travellers in Paris there are minibus transfers to and from the hotel barge.
Highlights of the Champagne route include:
Cruising the delightful River Marne and the Canal Lateral a la Marne
Private tastings at three select champagne houses, including in Epernay
- Visit to the Chateau Thierry WW1 battlefield and the moving cemetery at Belleau Wood
- Tour of Reims, the magnificent 800-year-old Gothic cathedral and a tasting at a renowned "fromagier"
- Visit to the hilltop village of Hautvillers, where Dom Perignon discovered the "methode champenoise"
- Transfers to and from Paris in air-conditioned minibuses
The fully-crewed, six-night cruise includes all gourmet meals prepared by the on-board chef, fine wines, an open bar, daily escorted excursions, admissions and local transfers for $7150 per person.
For people wishing to have Panache exclusively in Champagne, European Waterways will take $14,500 off the 12-passenger charter price, reducing the cost to $5300 per person.
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