Slowly Navigating the Rivers and Canals of Burgundy on The Amaryllis
In a busy world, the only way to relax is to slow down. Sure, we hear it all the time. But how do you literally do that? How about a barge trip through France? I did just that and not only was it slow. It was low, too. Let me explain.
The Amaryllis, one of five luxury barges operated by Afloat in France, was our hotel (or péniche-hotel, as the locals call it) for exploring Burgundy, floating down the river Saône and the Canal du Centre. I was surprised by her length, 125 feet, and how comfortably she sat in the water. The crew of six welcomed us (full capacity is eight guests) aboard with flutes of Champagne and a tour of the boat’s luxurious interior.
The living room was not unlike a land-based, well-decorated house: beautifully proportioned rooms with large windows, admitting light and the fabulous landscape; a gorgeous mural filled one wall in the dining room; and, most unexpectedly, a staircase with a chandelier above. My generous room had a private marble bath with windows. Looking out of my bedroom porthole I had to laugh: While my head was above the waterline, my body was technically under water! I told you it was low.
That night, we enjoyed a delicious four-course dinner with a wine pairing designed by Jean-Pierre Cropsal from the Joseph Drouhin vineyard. As we tasted our way from a white bean soup to a fillet of sea bream to crème brûlée with shortbread and a selection of cheeses, Jean-Pierre enlightened us with the history of the Burgundy region, the art of winemaking and, of course, his food-and-wine pairings. After a meal like that, I was relaxed.
Before getting under way each morning, I started with a walk or a bike ride along the canal, passing fields of flowers and grazing cows. Sunny days were spent eating lunch (with refined wines), relaxing on the deck or taking a dip in the heated pool (yes, on board!). Daily stops gave us time to wander and explore the vineyards, local shops and open markets along the river and canals. I never tired of the ever-changing pastoral landscape of ancient cities, stone walls and proud people as I floated along the waterways. All of those French landscapes from Art History 101 came alive for me.
A less bucolic but no less exciting pleasure was watching our crew navigate the Amaryllis through the locks of the canal. With inches to spare, they maneuvered the boat into place as the water rushed out and we were raised or lowered though these marvels.
I’ve been to Paris, done Provence, but a canal trip through Burgundy relaxes, inspires and invigorates you. There is no finer way to slow down and be part of the French landscape, than being on the water.
> Maison Joseph Drouhin. Located in the center of Beaune, these cellars were once part of the Duke of Burgundy’s Parliament; the cellars date back to the 13th century and were built over Roman ruins. Four generations of Drouhins have created world-renowned Burgundies. I am still tasting the 2010 Clos des Mouches Blanc, a delicious Chardonnay.
> Château de Chamirey in Mercurey. The chateau, built in the early 17th century and influenced by Italian architecture, looks down onto the French garden and vineyards beyond. I enjoyed a spicy, rather tannic 2009 Mercurey Premier Cru Clos du Roi.
> Visit Hospices de Beaune for a history of the region, all in one place. Founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor of Burgundy, as a hospital for the poor, the building is recognized for its decorated glazed roof tiles of red, brown, yellow and green. This technique has its origins in Central Europe but quickly became the landmark of the architecture from Burgundy.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2014 issue of Connecticut Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Current Events.