Barging, Revisited

Drifting down the Saone, on the Libellule

By: David Wishart

The year 2003 might have been good for French wine, but it almost sank the hotel barge industry. Disagreement over U.S. military policies in Iraq led to some negative feelings on the tourism front between the U.S. and France. Mass cancellations on both sides of the Atlantic ensued. One company, Continental Waterways, the pioneering hotel barge company in France, had half its bookings cancelled in a matter of days and later sold most of its boats to Grand Circle Travel of Boston.

Fortunately, some of the key people in Continental are back in business with Canal & Company, which has four vessels cruising the rivers and canals of France, and according to John Senior, the marketing director, Americans have returned in such numbers that 2006 was a vintage year.

My fellow passengers (all-Americans) and I had a thoroughly good time on the 20-berth Libellule (it means dragonfly) last fall, on a six-day cruise from the mustard capital of Dijon to Lyon, a cuisine mecca and home base for celebrity chef Paul Bocuse.

Each day on board we enjoyed carefully prepared meals accompanied by select wines, cheeses in the evenings, as well as wine tastings escorted by a knowledgeable guide. The meals were enthusiastically received as was the chef, Mario, who chatted with every passenger during every meal.

After food and wine, relaxation is what river barge cruising is all about. Between the stress of air travel and jet lag, Americans are tired when they arrive in Europe, so why not start their vacation on a boat which cruises slowly through beautiful countryside?

Canal & Company picks guests up at a Paris hotel, escorts them to the railway station for the super-fast TGV train to Dijon, where they are met by a bus, which shadows the barge for the next six days.

After a champagne reception, it’s a short cruise to Seurre where Libellule moors in an idyllic, quiet spot of the River Saone a river the ship follows downstream all the way to Lyon, where it joins the Rhone.

The next day the Libellule arrives at Chalon sur Saone, where a huge flea market and pretty town await a few steps away. Another day the barge ventures to Beaune, center of the Burgundy wine trade, where guests enjoy a wine tasting. Another wine tasting the following day revealed a superb Pouilly-Fuisse and several passengers made

purchases. Macon was another good stop, where a few passengers decided to dine at a riverside restaurant that was connected with the Michelin three-star chef Georges Blanc.

Our sailing also featured three onboard wine tastings. In between stops, there was plenty of time to sit and watch the delightful Burgundy vineyards and chateaux drift by.

As our trip drew to a close, we were reminded of the motto of a wine lovers’ group, La Cousinerie de Bourgogne at Savigny: “There are five reasons for drinking the arrival of a guest, a thirst, an oncoming thirst, an excellent wine or any other reason you can think of.”

Those words just about summed up our Canal & Company barge experience. Not only was the atmosphere very convivial (the British would say it is like a country house party), the cruise provided a superb way to get into the heart of France, try the food and wine and go exploring both with the guide and on our own. v


Canal & Company works with a number of tour operators in the U.S., including Abercrombie & Kent; American Dream Vacations; Barge Connection; Elegant Cruises; and European Barging. Tour operators pay travel agents at least 10 percent commission, according to Canal & Company’s marketing director, John Senior.