A BURGUNDY SIPPING TOUR SPICED WITH MEDIEVAL DELIGHTS
Life slows to a delightfully relaxed pace on a yacht in the French canals. In the heart of the Burgundy Valley, we chartered a 38-foot boat to tour the Route des Grands Crus, the wine-rich region of France. Spending a week navigating through centuries-old canals and manually operated locks, we plied the scenic
The sun was high, the September air was heavenly, and we were cruising a gentle five kilometers per hour on the Yonne River along France’s Canal du Nivernais, originally constructed from 1784 to 1841 to transport timbers to build Paris. Our inaugural day, we cruised five hours through 10 locks, docking in the vineyards to lovely Saint-Bris-le-Vineaux, later returning to our boat to explore the quirky cobblestone streets and sights of Auxerre. The next day, we boated up the Canal du Nivernais to Vincelles through many locks 1- to 4-meters deep. A short bike ride to the tiny town provided a market We biked to Irancy in fresh morning air, because this pretty hillside town hosts a handful of wine producers and tasting rooms.
On our return ride, we discovered the famous Les Caves Bailly Lapierre, a 4-hectare cave that stores four million bottles of wine, where limestone was once mined for Paris’ landmarks, and later medieval village of Auxerre. A celebratory glass of Burgundy wine on our top deck was in order after tie-up and shore power plug-in (12 euros a night to the marina keeper). Hot showers on board invigorated us for a stroll through Auxerre’s preserved village, dominated by six towering churches from the 11th to 16th centuries, authentic timber-frame homes and grand pedestrian plazas where we found a delightful café called Hot showers on board invigorated us for a stroll through Auxerre’s preserved village, dominated by six towering churches from the 11th to 16th centuries, authentic timber-frame homes and grand pedestrian plazas.
Awaking to church bells, our morning walk brought us to Pâtisserie Eric Roy, Auxerre’s most beautiful and delicious bakery. We biked uphill through vast for water and snacks, and we scouted a pricey but lovely chef-owned restaurant, Les Tilleus, overlooking the river, where we dined on escargot and turbot that evening under the stars. mushrooms were cultivated. Since the 1970s, it’s been a dark cavern aging legendary Crème de Bourgogne, a crispy bubbly wine of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (this region’s version of champagne).
TIPS & TRICKS FOR CHARTER BOATING
Le Boat charters range from $1,000 to $3,700 a week, depending on the season, boat age and size. Considering Le Boat is your lodging and entertainment for the week, it’s affordable when shared among several couples or extended family. Plan on $500-plus in extras for insurance, bikes, fuel and a one-way trip, which we recommend.
Plan your boating itinerary with flexibility for lock closures, weather, etc. We averaged about 3.5 kilometers per
hour including locks and self-operated drawbridges.
Bring gloves for handling boat lines at docks and locks, as the lines get wet and dirty.
Le Boat provides a handy Timetable of Boating Distances and number of locks. Request this in advance.
Provision when you can, because some villages offer limited services, and France has old-school store hours with closures for lengthy lunches, frequent holidays and Sundays.
Rent bikes to have on board for trips to villages, shops and wineries along your voyage. Paths alongside most of the rivers and canals are perfect for cycling.
Marina fees average 8 to 12 euros for docking, power and water. You can easily tie up anywhere along the gently flowing canals for free.
Make reservations for dinner and lunch, even a few hours in advance. The French are insistent on this protocol, and service is commensurate with their custom.
We savored our tour and tasting before an easy bike trek back to our boat. Pushing off for Châtel-Censoir, we passed through 11 locks, and by now we’d grown accustomed to their cadence. Captain Greg motored into the narrow stone cell, while I tossed our bow and stern lines ashore. With a “bonjour” and “merci” to the lock master, we secured our boat to prepare for the flood, hauling lines tighter as our boat rose with the water. Locks take 10 to 30 minutes, depending upon timing. That means you wait if you arrive when the gates aren’t open or if the lock is already full (they accept a maximum of three boats). We helped the lock man or woman open our lock gates to expedite the process.
Our scene as we floated along the canal was perfectly peaceful, as if time stood still. We gazed upon amber grain fields, white cows grazing the river banks, lush grape vines climbing the hills, and occasional castles and church spires towering above humble towns. We docked amid Le Boat’s fleet at a pleasant marina in Châtel Censoir, rendezvousing to share with fellow boaters our adventures, favorite wine findings and escapades at the locks.
We made the historic town of Clamecy in five hours the next day, in fine time for wine. Clamecy is a charming village with a well-placed marina (8 euros a night). Exploring Clamecy’s medieval cobblestone streets, we savored a dinner of fresh pasta and Burgundy wine in a Roman piazza. We then strolled to our boat to the sound of church bells, and I spotted the perfect pâtisserie for morning.
Spending two nights in Clamecy was a luxury, a break from boating and locks and a chance to bicycle the countryside. Delicious Pain Au Chocolat breakfast with cappuccino fueled us for the day’s bike trip to Vézelay despite locals’ warnings that our plan was difficult and not possible.
The 22 kilometer ride was courageous but worth it as we crested the hill to one of France’s most beautiful villages. Vézelay is a medieval postcard come to life, with a fantastic panorama of the surrounding vineyards. Lunch at La Terrasse in the shadow of the immense ninth-century abbey was a delicious “plat du jour” with local domain wine.
We made it back to the boat in time for … you guessed it … wine on our top deck, commenting to each other on the predictable mineral-tasting wines of Burgundy, all harvested in France’s unwavering centuries-old method in its revered climate, soil and tradition.
Our friends back home thought we were bold (or crazy) to charter our own boat in a foreign country. To those worrywarts, we toasted this enchanting lifestyle of canal boating, biking, wining and dining.
Our last day, we navigated the final stretch south to Tannay under overcast skies and brief rain. We had no complaints after six days of brilliant sun. In port, we passed a quick inspection and received a refund on unused fuel from our deposit. Smart move by Captain Greg to turn off the engine in each lock, saving us boat hours, fuel and money.
There’s a peaceful, no wake, no rush rhythm to boating French river canals. Slow boating is like France’s slow-cooked food, best savored at a leisure pace, not to be rushed. We relished passing gorgeous landscapes of verdant color in ever-changing light, docking in quaint historic villages and feasting on unique regional foods and flavors.
The Le Boat charter experience is social, whether you charter a boat that sleeps eight in four cabins or simply meet up with the rest of the fleet at each dock, lock or wine tasting at ports along the way. The clientele is international: French, German, Dutch, Brits. Everyone has stories and enthusiasm for their unique but shared charter voyage.
Le Boat does not require previous boating experience, but it’s better enjoyed with some knowledge. We recommend downloading Le Boat’s app and purchasing a canal guide in advance to plan your itinerary. Boating and navigating are straight forward, and Le Boat’s extensive fleet are fendered with big rubber bumpers all around the hull to guard from points of contact on locks and docks.
Our 2017 Horizon was spacious, with a bright blanched- wood salon, a full galley, a head, a V-berth stateroom and small twin bedroom. Most boats offer twin helms, so you can drive inside the cabin’s protection in inclement weather or up top on the flybridge with a commanding view. The top fun deck was our favorite space while cruising and especially afternoons and evenings in port, thanks to a large table, cushioned benches, a sun bed, and BBQ grill.
We are already planning our next Le Boat voyage, in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium or more of France, and perhaps Canada. So many choices. So many fabulous foreign canals.
Heather Burke is an award-winning travel journalist who loves to sail, boat, hike, bike and ski around the globe with her husband/photographer Greg. When not traveling, they’re likely writing and editing from their coastal home in Kennebunkport, ME. See more of their adventures at theluxuryvacationguide.com and Facebook.com/theluxuryvacationguide.
PHOTOS BY GREG BURKE AND HEATHER BURKE