I’ve had the pleasure of shoving off terra firma in a variety of vessels, from mammoth ocean-liners being swaddled by the Mediterranean to the Danube’s dancing river boats, and I would give a whole-hearted “Aye aye, captain!” to boarding a small boat to visit France’s beautiful Burgundy region. In June 2016, I floated through G Adventures’ Burgundy River Cruise Experience. Here are five reasons I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
1. River cruising has a certain je ne sais quoi
Here’s what really floats my boat while on a cruise: space, free wine, amazing food, quaint villages dotting the riverside, free wine, and even more space. Despite being a classified as a small ship, the Daniele managed to fit all of my favourite things into one package. Plus, wine!
Onboard, it felt like I was walking through the pages of Vogue, with décor that combined modern amenities with classic and cozy comfort. I experienced the art of slow travel as we floated down the Canal du Centre, the Saone River, and the Burgundy canal at the boat’s meandering pace –– maximum 5km (3 mi) per hour –– and I marvelled as the boat manoeuvred through the canal locks.
2. Eat like the French do
With a leisurely itinerary, meals take on the attention that French cuisine deserves. Lunch and dinners are not rushed affairs, they’re multi-course experiences, made even more delicious as thanks to the view as you pass by the idyllic French countryside. Often, conversations were stopped to point out a church steeple in the distance, or horses grazing on the river bank. The small European-style villages that dotted the landscape were fodder for passengers to chat about other travels within the continent.
The included cheese tastings were a surprising delight. Tastings of Sainte Maure de Touraine (goat milk cheese) from the Loire region, and Brillat Savarin (cow’s milk) from the Burgundian and Normandy regions pleased my palate. I’ve always had an amicable relationship with cheese, but I didn’t realize it was the love of my gastronomic life until I tasted these flavours. The day after I returned from France I went to my local bakery and ordered a baguette and cheese. I was chasing the experience, but it can’t be replicated.
3. In vino veritas
And about that wine. As, the saying goes, “the truth is in the wine.” But the truth is, French wine alone is worth a flight to Europe. With unlimited wine (and beer) throughout the river cruise, we were introduced to regional beverages, perfectly paired with the day’s menu.
Red and white wine are equally important in Burgundy, and I learned (through hard work and dedication of multiple tastings) that I prefer red wine grown in higher elevation, but also a glass of crisp rosé with a peach infusion will bring tears to my eyes, as it’s so uniquely good. Pro tip: order a glass of Kairos rosé at La Corbeau when in Auxonne.
Off-board winery tours and tastings introduced us to different methods and resulting flavours. We learned about terroir – a reference to a vineyard’s combination of natural factors like altitude, soil, orientation to the sun, and more. In Burgundy, the idea of terroir means that all their wines are unique and cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. I wholeheartedly agree.
4. This trip LOCKS!
Passing through more than 30 locks (itinerary depending) provided various opportunities for everyone onboard. Those interested in the mechanics of it all can watch at close range, and even lend a helping hand. Those who wish to step off the boat can walk right off at a lock and stroll canal-side, meeting the boat at the next stop.
While the weather wasn’t quite cooperating as the French countryside was being flooded with rain during my time there, I relished the opportunity to walk off my elevated caloric intake and wave to the locals working in their farms. A camera in one hand (and yes sometimes, an umbrella in the other), was all I needed since I knew I could hop back on the boat at any time. Walking by charming houses with laundry on clotheslines and chickens on the ground had me daydreaming about which one I would buy when I win the lottery. To make it easier on myself, I’ve decided I would purchase all of them.
5. Reinvent the wheels
For those looking to stay active on the trip, there are bicycles onboard available for use. We scooted into villages for a sneak peek at a church or coffee at a local shop before catching back up to the boat. With bridges punctuating the canals, you can hop to the other side for a different perspective, then watch from the bridge as your floating home approaches.
The wind in my hair as I passed locals carting their daily ingredients home in their bike baskets felt like camaraderie — there’s something about riding a bicycle in Europe that really makes me feel like a local. Shortly after returning, I purchased a brand new bike… with its very own basket, to try and keep the (bi)cycle going.
There are so many unique ways to travel the world. Ten days (and 10 pounds) in France aboard a river cruise is certainly one of them. I tend to research, plan, and execute my travels with annoying precision. But, learning, experiencing, and tasting while floating has turned me into a traveller who can really relax and just go with the flow.
G Adventures the Burgundy River Cruise Experience over a number of dates to choose from. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.