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Last updated 1 February 2020
Barge cruises in Burgundy France
Over the past several years, we’ve been fortunate to get to experience the special world of barge cruises in France. In the south of France, a week of dining and fine local wines along the Canal du Midi on board the luxury barge Savannah was our first foray into this secret world.
Roll forward 12 months, and this time the European Waterways flagship, the Renaissance took luxury in the Loire to a new level. Stepping out of France for a while, we were shown that cruising the canals of Scotland onboard the appropriately named Spirit of Scotland was just as amazing.
All three barge cruises had something in common; exceptional service, day trips, wines and cuisine. These are high-end luxury barge cruises and every moment on board is simply delightful. So when the opportunity arose to cruise on another barge, we jumped at the chance, keen to explore what differences, if any existed.
Know how to live. This is the English translation of Savoir Vivre, and when we found ourselves on a barge bearing the same words, we knew we were on to a good thing. The Savoir Vivre is an eight-passenger barge that cruises the southern waters of the Bourgogne Canal in the east of France.
With an owner based in another country Captain Richard Megret is the heart and soul of the Savoir Vivre. Part of a barging family and with over 20 years of cruising in his blood, there’s no better person to make you feel right at home here. Richard has been a chef, a deckhand, a tour guide and now captain. He’s across all the detail of the barge, making sure that all guests wishes are taken care of to ensure the best of experiences.
As it is a smaller barge, Richard was also able to spend more time with the guests, something which we loved. His lively personality and good humour had us constantly laughing and generally enjoying our time onboard.
There is three crew dedicated to the eight guests, but Richard is the only one who stays on board for the entire time.
At 29 metres, it’s a much smaller barge than we have travelled on previously. There is only one level. The four cabins are adjacent to each other on the port side of the barge, with a narrow corridor, not dissimilar to what you would find on a train. This provides access to the cabins and the rear of the vessel.
At the rear is the captain’s area and a small deck which is mostly unusable as a result of the diesel output from the nearby engine room.
At the front, a small space has been cleverly designed to meet several needs. During the day, the space is a cosy living room, with comfortable chairs in which to sit and enjoy a drink from the 24/7 bar, read a book, or listen to some music. A range of CDs, DVDs and books will keep guests occupied if they haven’t bought any entertainment themselves.
The room has large, clear windows which afford guests a wonderful view even whilst inside. When it’s time to dine, a table miraculously appears, having been folded down during the day and the chairs from the front deck and the living area become our dining chairs. It’s snug but it works.
The bar is small but well stocked with all of the main favourites occupying the shelves. There’s nothing particularly “top shelf” here but guests aren’t paying for this either. With French bubbles, Prosecco and a good range of gin, whiskey, bourbon and liqueurs, no one was left without. After learning I was a bit partial to Aperol Spritz, Richard also made sure there was plenty of this on board, along with a new ready-made mix he was keen to try out.
At the front of the barge, a small deck is a perfect spot to sit and watch the world go by as you cruise along the canal. It can get a little crowded if all eight guests are out there, but generally, we found that everyone moved around enough in order to access the deck at some time or another.
Cabins on the Savoir Vivre
The cabins are small, but due to some good design features, they work better than I might have expected. The bathroom has a full-size shower that distributes plenty of hot water and good pressure, which always gets a tick from me. A small vanity sits alongside the toilet and heated towel rail.
The cabins are air-conditioned, which was essential as there were several days of over 35 degree Celsius during our week-long canal cruise. The main living area is also air-conditioned.
There is good lighting within the cabin and an overhead bed light supports night-time reading. Each cabin has a large window over the bed allowing for a good view and also natural lighting. A wardrobe provides excellent storage for a small area, with hanging space and shelves as well as a digital personal safe available.
There is also a powerpoint but if you have multiple devices you might consider taking a power board or a universal travel adapter. We use this universal travel adapter which allows us to charge many devices at once.
Our room this time was a twin room, with two separate single beds along each wall. Whilst ordinarily we might have one bed, I actually recommend the twin bed configuration when the cabin is small. Firstly, it creates a corridor down the middle making getting into bed and around the cabin a much easier task. It also provides better storage as the beds have been fitted with large drawers underneath.
With one bed that fills the cabin, the sides can’t be accessed. Of course, this is a personal choice, but prior to staying on the Savoir Vivre, this is something that I would not have considered.
Dining on the Savoir Vivre
Dining on the Savoir Vivre is a mix of onboard meals and dining at local restaurants. In fact, the Savoir Vivre is the only barge on the Bourgogne canal that offers this type of dining. Due to the size of the barge, there is no kitchen available for cooking and no resident chef. Breakfasts are an assortment of cereals, pastries, fruit, yoghurt and cold meats and cheese. Juice, plunger coffee and tea are also available. It’s a relaxed dining atmosphere that prepares the guests nicely for the day ahead.
Lunch is also served buffet-style, with a selection of salads, meats or terrines and cheese. The food is of very good quality, provided by local restaurant Abbaye de la Bussiere. From a foodie’s perspective, as the week wore on, we found that the lunch menu became less innovative, with similar salads and terrines being served.
It was here that I really understood the difference between the barges that have their own chef. For those that don’t place the high importance on food that we do, it is still a fantastic experience and for many, will be more extravagant than they are used to eating at home. Importantly, this type of food experience is designed to allow guests to travel on barges in France on a reduced budget.
From local auberge to restaurants and even an old abbey, the evening meals provide the variety and the local foods we crave. Over the course of the week, we’ll eat duck terrine, a clear favourite of mine and traditional Boeuf Bourguignon. Our attendance at a creperie means both the savoury and the theatrical, flaming Crepes Suzette, a must for any visit to France. Foie gras will make an appearance, with its richness being tempered by fresh fish, pork and fillets of duck. Of course dining in France also means allowing for your waistline to expand with delicious desserts always there to tempt the most strong-willed.
Meringue, chocolate fondant, and raspberries feature heavily as does crowd favourite, lemon tart. Cheese is served with every meal and by the time the week is over we will have devoured more cheese than many would eat all year. If you are a cheese lover, it’s just got to be done.
Local wines are matched with all lunch and evening meals which give guests a chance to indulge in wines they are unlikely to have heard of or be able to buy back home (with a few exceptions depending on location). It’s where we learn the difference with a Grand Cru and a Premier Cru, and why French chardonnays aren’t really called by this name, and why they taste much better than any other chardonnay. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Day excursions on the Savoir Vivre
Like any good barge cruise in France, the day trips form an essential part of the itinerary and break up the time spent on the barge. This is especially important on a smaller vessel. The day trips conducted on the Savoir Vivre are exceptional, with experienced tour guide Laura at the helm.
Laura, an ex-pat Brit has lived in this area for over 20 years and knows it like the back of her hand. She’s also very community-minded, representing the area and those who earn their living from it, very well. Laura arrives each day full of energy and ready to take the guests off to explore a new area.
Laura knows her history too so the running commentary is detailed and extensive. If you are up for more of a chat, sit up the front with her as she drives the guests to the location in an airconditioned van. She’s always prepared for a chat.
I particularly loved Laura’s approach to the daily tours and the manner in which she was flexible in allowing some personal freedoms. Whilst none of the day tours are compulsory, it’s easy once you are “on tour” to feel obliged or even stuck when something isn’t particularly of interest to a guest.
On several occasions, we opted out of a small tour, preferring to spend some time walking the streets of a town ourselves. We were very grateful to Laura for being so accommodating and in tune with us.
At Clos de Vougeot we wandered around a centuries-old building in the heart of the Bourgogne wine region and learned how the Cistercian monks made wine here in the 12th-century.
In Dijon, a city we had visited on several occasions previously, we took our leave from the main group who were doing a historical walking tour. Our place of preference was the fabulous Dijon covered market and its surrounding streets, heaving with amazing fresh food and produce.
We got our animal fix at the La Chèverie des Hautes-Côtes, where we visit the beautiful goats that are milked daily to make fresh goats’ cheese.
No visit to such a place would be complete without trying the cheese. Alongside some local Bourgogne wine, it’s a great start to the morning.
The hilltop town of Châteauneuf-en-Auxois adds to our growing list of the prettiest hilltop towns that we have had the good fortune of finding in France. Whilst the tour of the castle looks great, walking the tiny winding streets and lanes is a better choice for us.
The last time we were in the pretty town of Beaune, we cycled in, spent time in the markets and ate fresh roti chicken under the rotunda in the main part of town. This time around, we were given a tour of the famous Hospices de Beaune, something we weren’t able to do last time. With its intricate mosaic-tiled roof and incredible history, it’s a tour I highly recommend for anyone visiting Beaune.
The towpaths along the canal offer an excellent opportunity to ride the bicycles that are available for guests to use or to simply walk. When the barge is moored at night, the long summer evenings also allowed for plenty of time for a pre or even post-dinner jaunt. There are sweet little villages to visit and plenty of wonderful buildings and small communities along the way.
Coming soon >> My detailed article on all the activities we got up to in Burgundy
Itinerary Savoir Vivre
Regardless of the type of barge you travel on along the French waterways, there is one thing that will always remain the same. This is slow travel at its best. Life is sedentary on the barge. Slow and luxurious without a care in the world for time or even really knowing what day it is. Afterall someone will tell you at the end of the week that it is time to pack up and get ready for your departure.
The Savoir Vivre transports its guests into another world in southern Burgundy, along the Canal de Bourgogne. The canal is 242 kilometres in its entirety, with an unusual underground tunnel that stretches for three kilometres. It links the Saône and Yonne Valley. Once the lifeblood of commercial vessels, today it’s one of the busiest canals in France.
Along the way you will mostly see other barges, making their leisurely way in either direction. Our week of barge cruising was in the northerly direction on the southern reach of the canal.
We start the week at Fleury-sur-Ouche, having been transferred from our pickup point in Paris. It’s a 3.5-hour drive, but in the back of an airconditioned luxury van, and my headphones on watching Netflix, the time passes quickly. We will only travel around 34 kilometres (21 miles), the shortest distance we’ve ever traversed on the canals.
We will also pass through 41 locks, during which time our captain will jump off the vessel to assist local lockkeepers to open the heavy steel gates. No matter how many times I have seen this, it’s always fascinating to watch.
Everything is so close on the southern Burgundy canals, and the day trip locations don’t require huge distances to travel either, which is great. The barge holiday ends in Escommes. Final transfers are then made back to the nearby city of Dijon.
What is included in the price of the Savoir Vivre?
The price paid per person for the Savoir Vivre is fully inclusive of the following:
- Seven days/six nights in a private cabin with ensuite bathroom
- Private transfers to/from the pickup/dropoff location
- All meals including those taken in onshore restaurants
- All wines served with all meals, including those taken in onshore restaurants
- Open bar available 24/7 – all alcohol, soft drink, water
- Private transfers to all restaurants and all-day trips
- Daily trips including entrance fees
- Free wifi
- Use of bicycles
It basically means that you will never have to pay for anything else once you are on your barge holiday. The only exclusions are getting to and from Dijon, travel insurance, gratuities and any personal costs incurred.
Bookings cannot be made directly with the Savoir Vivre. Alternatively, use a booking agent like Barge Lady Cruises who are experts in the world of barge cruising. For the latest information, prices and availability, check their website.
How do I get there?
We stayed in Paris because we never need an excuse to do so. Paris is easily accessible via Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. This is the main international airport in Paris, serviced by all major airlines. Orly Airport is another international airport that is primarily used by low-cost airlines and is great for connecting from other European destinations.
Pickup for this barge holiday allow is from Dijon.
The best way to get to Dijon from Paris is via train. High-speed TGV trains depart from Paris Gare de Lyon for Dijon. The journey is approximately one and a half hours. Driving to Dijon is also straightforward with major highways connecting Paris to Dijon. Similarly, the road network from other French cities is also good. We use Auto Europe to hire rental cars in Europe.
Where to stay in Paris
There are many options for staying in Paris. We always recommend staying in the arrondissement where you are likely to spend most of your time, and near to public transport if you are going to use it to get around.
If you are flying directly into Paris to start your barge holiday, then it will make sense to stay at the hotel where the pickup/dropoff will take place. For this cruise, the hotel was the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile. There are many cafes and eateries located nearby also. It is located in the 17th arrondissement.
If you would like to be more central, the Marais (on the Right Bank) and St-Germain-des-Pres (on the Left Bank) are favourite areas of ours. We also love the small boutique Fertel Etoile Hotel, located a short walk from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees. It is in the 8th arrondissement.
Search on Trip Advisor for places to stay in Paris, prices and availability.
Looking to book a barge cruise in France but don’t know which barge to choose? We have now been on three barge holidays in France. Our articles below give a comprehensive review of a 5-star and 6-star barge. The Savoir Vivre is classified as a 3 star. Read these articles so you get a deeper understanding that what you will find on the booking portals and help this guide your decision so you choose the right kind of barge trip for you and your needs.
Beer and Croissants was a guest of Barge Lady Cruises. AS always all content, opinions, editorial and images are always our own.