Diary of a French Barge Holiday:
Looking for a relaxing way to explore the waterways of France? A barge holiday is the perfect slow-travel solution. Unlike larger river cruises, a typical Great Rail Journeys barge cruise will have no more than 20 passengers, offering you an intimate and personal experience at a comfortable pace. Join me as I travel through the waterways of France and find out more.
Table of Contents
Day One – Travelling to France:
Travelling to France and the canal where the barge cruise starts is by train. The Great Rail Journeys office is conveniently located in Kings Cross St Pancras, at the top of the stairs on the first-floor mezzanine. There’s a “welcome desk” set up to greet each traveller and when I arrive, a small group has already formed, excitedly chatting and exchanging anticipatory notes. We meet with our personal Great Rail Journeys tour guide, Oliver, and after a brief introduction, are given our tickets and told we will meet again on the train, giving some free time to meander around the station, or in my case, get some breakfast.
For those who have never used the Eurostar before it can be a bit daunting, but the process of boarding your train is straightforward.
- 1 hour before your train departs, the departure area will flag that you are ready to join the queue. And queue you will. While it usually looks horrendous, everything flows smoothly, and you will usually be at the ticket check-in under 15 minutes.
- Scan your ticket and move through to security. It’s the same process as airport security, remove all metal, bags in trays and you are through. Unlike most airports, Eurostar seems to have enough scanners that there isn’t any security delay here.
- Then show your passport to UK immigration. No problems there.
- Walk on 10m and show your passport to French immigration. Pass here and you are (technically) already in France. There’s ample seating and a few eateries to grab a last bite before boarding the train.
- All the platforms are accessed from this area, and boarding information is shown on large screens throughout the area.
The train departs on time, and we are soon passing through the English Countryside, heading to the tunnel. Our tour guide, Oliver, checks up on us all when we are on the train, ready to answer any questions we may have and to explain the onward transfer process from Paris to Dijon. It’s normal practice for the Great Rail Journeys Guide to stays with you all the way to the canal barge which makes the whole process worry-free.
The trip to Paris takes 2.5 hours and passes very quickly. It’s only 20 minutes in the tunnel, so for most of the time you see rolling fields and villages as the train heads on to Paris at 280 km.
Travel from Paris to Dijon by TGV:
Arriving at Gare du Nord, our guide takes us out onto the street by a ‘secret’ shortcut to meet the tour bus that will take us across Paris to Gare du Lyon, and the TGV to Dijon. The bus is a modern air-conditioned coach and provides a welcome respite from the hot sun outside.
On my trip the traffic is bad and the normally 15-minute journey takes 45 minutes but it’s blissfully cool on the coach so no one complains. The connecting train at Gare de Lyon is scheduled to allow for such minor problems.
There are 3 main halls at Gare de Lyon, so if you leave the group you’ll need to watch out for your hall and platform. Access to the train itself is either via a ticket barrier, or by using a self-stamping validation machine (Great Rail Journeys have already validated your ticket so that’s OK). For those considering independent travel, all tickets must be validated (‘composte’) to prevent re-use and there is a 90 euro fine if you travel without a valid stamp.
The train looks clean and modern as you would expect of French Rail, with the carriage number displayed on an electronic display by each door. Once on the train, you can’t get lost. Although well air conditioned and insulated from noise, reflection in the thick train glass makes it difficult to take photos, but the scenery is lovely. Rolling fields of golden corn, separated by green forests and the occasional village. It’s all very relaxing that is hard to explain if you only have UK rail travel to compare with.
The TGV on this stage is a double-decker – and getting a seat on the upper deck gives you a much better view. You can see over the hedges and fences that seem to have been put there to frustrate those down below.
A guard comes to check tickets. You’ll be grateful if you remember to keep yours easily to hand, and validated. No penalty fine for me.
As the train heads further south into France the scenery changes from open fields to wooded hills and farmed valleys. Small villages sit in pockets next to the rail lines.
After an hour and a half of enjoying the countryside, we pull into Dijon Ville. From the station, it is a 5-minute walk to the river barge or 10 minutes in an air-conditioned bus with the luggage. It’s hot and everyone has bags so we take the bus, eager to start our barge holiday.
About a Barge – On Board MS Jeanine:
We are welcomed on-board by the crew, and shown to our cabins individually by the staff. Every detail of the room is explained to me. I also learn that the beds can be put together to make a proper double, so the romantic among us can still enjoy sleeping together.
An early briefing on boat security happens at 7 pm, explaining boating life, and that is followed by dinner at 7.30pm.
The dining area is set up with 2 tables of 6 and four tables of 4, which works well for both group bookings and couples travelling on this river barge cruise.
Our first dinner on the barge is superb and sets the standard for the rest of the holiday.
- Sliced Parma Ham from Bayonne with melon
- Half Supreme Guinea Fowl with lemon basil tomato sauce and vegetable spaghetti
- Eclair with custard and fresh fruits
There is a matched wine every evening. Tonight’s is a small production 2016 Rose from a local winery.
Dinner finishes at 9.30, giving everyone time to walk around the locality, stretch their legs, enjoy the sun going down and generally really get into the relaxed atmosphere of barge cruising.
I type my notes up for the day from the open front deck of MS Jeanine. It’s on the canal (obviously) but there are no midges to worry about. And I’m not being antisocial sitting here; a few couples are still up though many have headed to their cabins to get an early night in preparation for our first tour tomorrow morning.
(in case you are worried about how much walking there may be on this trip, some have decided to simply stay on the boat. It is a sensible decision as you have to balance activities against your abilities, and missing the occasional tour will certainly not lessen your holiday experience.)
There are no waves on the canal so there is no rocking movement, but even without the gentle swaying you might expect as a night lullaby, sleep comes easily.
Day Two – Introduction to Dijon and the start of our French Canal Cruise:
Waking up, I realise I have had a good night’s sleep. The bed is firm and comfortable, the cotton sheets feel good, and the whole room has a newness about it. Not surprising really as the barge had a major refit in 2017.
The shower is powerful, and has all the hot water you need, so a quick shower and shave and it’s up for coffee and breakfast in the restaurant. You can sit outside if you want, but at 7.30am you may want a cardigan.
Breakfast will be consistent every day, comprising of full continental with fresh fruit and muesli. The pastries are freshly brought onboard from the local bakery and have that unique ‘only in France’ taste. If you fancy a bit more, then you can have eggs cooked pretty much any way you want – even an omelette, by the onboard eager to please chef. Fresh coffee and fruit juices are on hand. But don’t fill up too much… a 3-course lunch is coming up at midday
The first tour of the trip starts at 8.30, and almost everyone joins in. It is a 2.5hour walking tour around Dijon, highlighting its history, its future, its culture and some great places along the way. Dijon is a very pretty town, steeped in history, but also has a bright future having been selected as a UNESCO Gastronomy city for France. A new cookery school and gastronomy training centre are being built in a 6-hectare plot that was previously an old hospital and church. Right between the station and the canal, it will be perfectly located for locals and visitors alike.
Dijon is known for its mustard, but it is also an important centre for spice and blueberries. We stop by ‘The’ gingerbread shop where a quick sniff is a real delight to the senses. Better still, a friendly assistant comes out and offering us all some gingerbread with lemon cream. It’s amazing – really tantalising and full of flavour. It’s on my list if I’m ever in the area again!
With such a quick tour you might feel that you haven’t got time to really explore the buildings; tour guides do love to give you more details than you would need to pass an ‘A’ level, so if you prefer you are free to wander around and enjoy Dijon or any of the other stops on your own. Just keep an eye on where the guide is so you don’t get lost.
Back on the boat, we head off for a day of cruising, passing through the first lock on our way to Longecourt-en-Plaine.
The canal is lined by trees, but they offer little shade except to the towpath. Historically this would have helped the men and horses towing barges (it’s where the name ‘Towpath’ comes from). Now it’s mainly cyclists and fishermen benefitting from the shade.
Fortunately, the canopies on the MS Jeanine deck offer shade to each table so we can all dine al-fresco.
Our first lunch arrives, setting the standard for the meals that follow.
- Greek cauliflower for starters
- Pork roti with spicy salt, creamed cabbage and fresh chips with Provencal herbs
- Cheese of the day. Chaource and Morbier
- Creme caramel with star anise and an orange physalis topping
Each day there is a nominated cheese pair, highlighting the diversity of French cheese. Each plate is presented and explained by our cruise manager who seems to have a real pride and passion for the selected cheese.
Fellow passengers all say how impressed they are with the food. One tells me the tour should have been marketed as a gastronomy tour as it is so much better than experienced on other cruises or even expected on this one.
Many decided to have a rest or snooze in their cabins this afternoon. The canal out of Dijon is sided by a lot of industrial looking farm plants for the first couple of hours, with wide car parks or train lines so those choosing to adjourn to their cabins won’t miss much for now, although we passed most of it while enjoying our 4-course lunch.
As we cruise down the canal and pass the Dijon – Bourgogne Airport we are entertained to a spectacular air display by the Breitling Team. 10 minutes of oohs and aahs as they practice and the Breitling team has gained a whole new group of followers.
With gaps between locks of about 1 km, it is easy to jump out and walk or cycle down the towpath and meet up with the boat at a further lock. With the time it takes the boat to get in and out of a lock, even though it can sail at 4km, even the slowest walker will always beat the boat from lock to lock. So it is easy to keep active if you want to. Today I decided to walk and enjoyed the tranquillity and calmness of being by the canal, away from roads and noise. It is perfectly safe to walk or cycle alone if you cannot find anyone to go with, but usually, there are others happy to join and walk if you prefer some company.
There are also plenty of bikes on the boat you can use, and you can use both sides of the canal’s towpath, crossing easily at any lock.
We moor up for the night at Longecourt en Plaine, at the side of the canal, with not a building in sight. It is peaceful in a way you just cannot describe.
A 7 pm briefing for the following day’s activities will be a regular event and is held every evening in the lounge. We get our schedule for the upcoming day and then we all move into the restaurant for dinner.
- An amuse bouche of tuna on mushroom
- Starter of boiled eggs in Russian dressing with a vegetable salad on a bed of local leafs
- Beef Bourguignon “Grandmother way” on a bed of tagliatelle
- Dessert of strawberry tiramisu dusted with chocolate
We finish dinner at 9 pm, and many of my companions decide to take a walk on land before bed. The next lock is within sight so a walk there and back is just the right distance for a good stretch before bedtime. By 10 pm Darkness descends and everyone is back, taking drinks in the bar or on the roof terrace before retiring for the night. Relaxing and unpressured, this is an easy pace of life.
Day Three – Vineyards, Châteaux and Castles
It’s totally refreshing this morning to be waking up to a view over the river with rain coming down. Just a passing drizzle that lasts a few minutes but a welcome sight after the long days of dry heat and drought. A quick shower and I’m dressed and out on deck to enjoy feeling the rain on my skin. It’s that long slow light warm summer rain that I could stand in all day. How fresh it smells, and it feels invigorating. Inside the canal boat, coffee is served. This is how to start a day.
A one-hour coach trip heads to Clos de Vougeot, through from the flatlands by the canal to the undulating hills and slopes of the Grand Crus Wine Circuit, which runs from Dijon to Santenay. The scenery changes from corn fields and cattle to vines, vines, and more vines. This is the heart of the Burgundy wine region, and the coach passes through picturesque and seemingly unsophisticated villages with names such as Nuits St George and other prestige wines which I normally associate with the world of fine dining.
The vineyards are laid out like a patchwork of plots, many enclosed by historic stone walls, wherever there is enough space to grow. Each of these is a defined area often owned by a different person. Numerous parcels of vines, especially the larger plots, have stone doorways still maintained even if the stone wall has long since disappeared. The doorways, often ornate and carved, indicate the name and owner of the vines and the wines they produce, reflecting the vineyards pride and heritage. The original walls were built to keep wild animals, like boar, out from eating the grapes or damaging the vines.
The area is known for such good wine because of the rolling hills down the length of the route, which support parcels of vines over their complete height, from about 200 to 550 meters. The wines on the middle of the slopes are where Premium Cru comes from, and the top of the hill is where you get the Grand Cru. (The word ‘Cru’ means ‘from the earth’).
Vines do not get watered like crops, but instead take their water from the land. The importance of the soil cannot be understated, and vines growing either side of a road can deliver completely different flavours. As such, each small parcel of vines can create a unique and magnificent wine, and the term used to describe this is ‘climat’. Most wine lovers know a little about terroir, but to the Burgundy winemakers that expression is just too broad.
Arriving for a tour of Château Clos de Vougeot, we are shown how the wine was made historically, and what life was like for the occupants. Massive oak wine presses can be seen in each corner of the pressing area, in exactly the location they would have been when they were operating. Each weighs 7 tonnes, and were operated by the village men turning a large screw; screw down to press the grapes, screw up to release the press and reload with more grapes.
Only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are grown in Burgundy, and Burgundy makes up about 8% of total French wine production. In this region, however, there are over 400 wineries that make Grand Cru wines. Labelling of bottles takes some knowledge to understand. For example, a white Burgundy may just have the name of the vineyard and its year; you are supposed to know that the vineyard is in Burgundy and that only Chardonnay is used in white wine. Elitist and quirky? Maybe, but it does taste good.
Clos de Vougeot had a wine store rather than a wine cellar, something I had not heard of before. Because the ground that Clos de Vougeot stands on is so firm and stony, it was deemed impossible, and financially unviable, to dig a large enough wine cellar underground. Instead, a large storeroom was built above ground, with thick stone walls. 16in of loose stone was dug out from the floor, which was then laid with solid stone tile slabs. The ceiling to the store was made up of thick oak beams supported by granite pillars. The stone that was removed from the floor was then placed on top of the oak beams, giving a total weight in the ceiling of 300 tonnes.
The resulting structure was therefore well insulated and acted like a natural cellar, maintaining a steady temperature of 16c. Today the storeroom is used as a function suite for events, the stone in the roof long since removed revealing the huge oak beams.
The water well is worth a quick look. It sits nicely within the castle walls, but originally was the centre of the older and open building. It has a knotted rope and hook wheel that would have had a small cup attached at each knott section. Although the well is deep, this allowed it to deliver a continuous extraction of water by turning the wheel, which also required less effort. It is said you could get 16 litres of water from a single turn of the wheel.
Finally, no tour of a historic winery would be complete without a regional wine tasting, and a few hundred yards down the hill from Clos de Vougeot we enter the winery and tasting rooms of La Grande Cave de Vougeot.
We a met by the owner who takes us down the to an underground cellar, where the tasting table is already set out with a glass for each of us and 4 bottles of wine to sample a mix of Burgundy sparkling, white and red wines.
Each wine is explained to us, not just its production, but also of where it sits in the range of Burgundy types, what it pairs with, and details of its history. Every wine is available to buy, but there is no pressure to do so.
A much quicker 15 minutes journey brings us back to the boat, which has moved on to a different location from when we left, just in time for lunch. People move around, meeting new friends and learning names still. If you want a regular table then grab it quickly. Much chatter is about the wine tasting and how good the presentation was.
Everyone on this trip is retired and my companions come from all walks of life, making meal times a socially enjoyable time. Most have done river cruises before with Great Rail Journeys, and enjoy sharing their experiences of different locations.
Our menu de jour:
- Starter of shredded carrot and orange
- Leg of Lamb, seasonal veg and potatoes
- Cheese of the day. Munster and Comte
- Floating Island on a bed of vanilla sauce
While we are at lunch the barge moves on to leave the Canal de Bourgogne and enter into the Saone river. An hour river cruising and we turn right onto the Petit Saone canal, a short stretch that takes us up the waterway, avoiding the weir. The canal here is the lowest point, so now the locks start rising.
We moor up at Auxonne, literally on the steps to the Castle of Auxonne. It is late afternoon, but still hours of light, so its a good opportunity to explore the town at your leisure. Auxonne was a frontier town for France in the 16th century and held a garrison there up until the French revolution.
This historic Castle was a major influence in the region for centuries, and its walls show an evolution of design as weaponry changed. For instance, the embrasures in the castle walls look like medieval arrow-slits. However, they were actually designed to take the 1842 issue musket, offering more security than a wider arrow-slit would offer. Other round embrasures can be seen that take a small and large cannon.
Some of my companions take out bikes, many just go for a walk to the town. You can walk around the vast Castle walls – there are regular places to sit and information signs (in French and English) explaining where you are and its history.
Dinner gets pushed back to 8 pm so we have more time to explore if we want to.
- Salad of Palm Hearts
- Cod in Cabbage Wraps with Rice
- Strawberry and Cream with ice cream
- Cheeses: Livarot and Brilliant Savarin
As night settles in, you can sit on the deck and look at the lights and the night sky. It’s relaxing and tranquil. I for one could spend the entire night under the stars.
Day Four – Cruising the Saône to Gray
It’s 7 am, I’m awake and look out the cabin window. It is all misty, but starting to lift. By 7.30am it has all gone, and a hidden secret for those that got up later. Breakfast is from 8 to 9 am, and as we depart from our mooring at 9 am promptly any last minute chance to stretch the legs before a days cruising needs to be taken early.
We pull out of the town and the change between the canals and the river is evident. Gone are the towpaths and regular lines of trees, now we have woodland, trees overhanging the water, giving shade. Occasional rickety pontoons can be seen, put up by local fishermen, and it probably their private (or secret) ideal spot. Rarely seeing another boat while we are cruising along the river, it certainly is a tranquil way to spend the day, even if the masses of lines and rods handled by a single fisherman looks somewhat chaotic against our relaxed state.
Lunch is served promptly at 12 am, although if like me, you are still full from breakfast you can skip it and relax on the sundeck whilst the others are inside.
- Mozzarella Salad
- Duck Breast, Brussels sprouts and polenta
- Red Fruit Soup, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on top
- Cheese of the day: Langre and St Maure de Touraine
As ever, the cheese course is introduced with passion and detail.
After the meal, some guest retire for a rest in their rooms but most stay on the front deck for sun, shade and a few open-air cocktails while we enjoy this quintessentially French river cruise. The attentive staff come out regularly to offer drinks, so we don’t have to move an inch. Perfect.
The locks here are further apart, but the rise is higher than the canal locks we have been on so far. It takes about 15 minutes from the approach to leaving the lock. Fortunately, we can just sit back and watch the work being done, although most of the river gates here are electrically powered.
We arrive at Gray, the last major town in Franche-Comté before the Saône flows into Burgundy at around 5 pm and moor up in the centre of town opposite the weir and by the main crossing into town.
With plenty of free time many decide to rest on the upper sundeck, opened now we have stopped travelling. The more intrepid decide to visit the town and explore on their own. I am, of course, one of those people.
It is only a 5-minute walk across the bridge to be on the main street in the town. Most of the interesting buildings are situated higher up in the town and require some steep walking to get to. Gray has a population of 5,500 but has been an important regional town which explains the size and grandeur of some of its buildings.
The three main places to visit on the map are the Basilica, the Chateau and Museum and the Town Hall. However, a few minutes off this little triangle also takes you to a historic hospital, theatre and school.
I followed the signposts to Musee Baron Martin and after climbing up so steep but romantic looking steps, I come out at the top of the Chateau ramparts overlooking the town. The climb was definitely worth it, as the view is far-reaching and really shows you how important the location of this Château-Castle was.
You reach the Château and museum through the Tower Gate. Once inside you are met with a semi-forested courtyard. To the left are ramparts and cannons, to the right stone sculptures and ornates wild bee houses. The entrance to the museum and Château are directly ahead but sadly it is closed in the evenings so I can do little more than peer in.
Opposite the Tower, towards the town centre is the Basilica of Notre-Dame, built between 1481 and 1560. It is a fine example of Gothic architecture. The pulpit dates back to the 17th century, and much of the wood and interior fittings are from that era. Everything about this church is grand and impressive.
One street along is the town hall is an impressive building, with a multi-column facade and a 17th Century roof style of painted tiles, like those we saw earlier in the week in Dijon. Looking to the left you can see the town school with a similar roof.
Dinner is served at 7.30 after the 7 pm briefing. The weather is so good we have a Barbeque with all the tables set up for al-fresco dining on the front deck.
- Starter of couscous
- BBQ rib-eye boneless steak, with tomatoes au gratin and a jacket potato with cream cheese
- Dessert of chocolate mousse and cherries
After dinner, some wander into town, though many stop at the bridge as the light is fading fast. By 10 pm it is dark, the sky is clear and the stars shine brightly – piercing the darkness as there is so little background light pollution here. It’s easy to stay on deck, chat and drink wine until the small hours.
Day Five – River Cruise from Gray to Savoyeux
Breakfast at 8 am, then off for a proper guided tour of Gray. Most of us join the tour, for both the exercise and to check we haven’t missed anything.
There is always bottled water available for anyone who wants to take it on a walk, kept cold but readily on hand by the door.
Similarly, if you are in a hurry and lock your key in your room it’s not a problem, the staff grab their keys and let you back in, without any complaints, always knowing who you are.
And, every room is given two coded card keys on arrival – a simple swipe of the card over the door handle lets you into your room. The card lock system is like most hotels these days, where you put your card into a slot on entering the room to turn the power on. If you want to leave electric devices charging whilst you are out, leave one card in the slot and take the spare.
At 11 am there is an onboard visit by a member of the local tourist board to let us sample a selection of local meats, vegetables, cheese and wine. Proud of the town of Gray, she enthuses about the region in a way that makes you want to come back and stay and stay a bit longer next time.
We depart at 12 pm, heading out through the lock and to cruise on the Saône again towards Savoyeux.
Lunch is served at 12.30 pm
- Fresh slaw salad
- Filet Mignon of pork with a shallot sauce, cauliflower au gratin and dauphinoise potatoes
- Chocolate mousse
- Cheese of the day. Epoisses and Roquefort
Cruising is gentle and unhurried, many of the guests play board games, choosing from the fully stocked games cupboard on board. Others, like me, just sit in the sun watching the scenery go by, occasionally giving a wave to a lone fisherman on the bank.
This part of the river starts to meander through hills, and we divert to the canal and come to our first tunnel. This is basically a canal shortcut to help navigate the river. The barge goes through the tunnel with only inches to spare each side, but like most of the boats here, they have done it many times.
We moor by a boat marina, outside of the town of Savoyeux. Some go for a cycle or walk around to explore a bit, but it is a tranquil spot, so relaxing on the boat is very much the best thing to do.
- Palm Heart Salad
- Blanquette of veal with old white rice and broccoli
- Icy Mouse with Grand Marnier
Most spend the evening on deck chatting or just watching the world go by.
Day Six – Château de Champlitte and a Gala Dinner:
After another good nights sleep, I’m obviously relaxing as it’s my alarm that wakes me up.
A 30-minute coach ride and we start the guided tour of the Château de Champlitte, and the Musée d’Arts. Champlitte is built in the neoclassical style, and has a typical Renaissance facade fronting a back rotunda dating back to the 18th century. A formally laid out garden creates the front courtyard and entrance, whilst windows at the rear have views across the valley.
In 1952 Albert and Felice Demard founded the Museum of Arts and Traditions and started to populate and catalogue furniture and everyday life items of the earlier workers of the region. The museum is laid out in rooms, with each room displaying a typical part of the day in a life of an earlier community.
It is interesting to see the tools used by both workers and homeowners, and how life looked before electricity and modern technology.
The rooms also show scenes from school, funfairs and other social gatherings. Many of the toys and games played over 100 years ago are still popular now. The inside of the house has two amazing staircases and areas decorated in wallpaper coverings. The ground floor is also host to a wallpaper museum explaining the region’s history in producing fine handcrafted papers.
The Château de Champlitte is in the small village of Champlitte-et-le-Prélot, a small town with much history, and well worth exploring in its own right. Around the large church in the village centre, there are a maze of small streets with gargoyles and relics to surprise the casual visitor.
15 minutes on the coach and we are back on the boat in time for lunch.
- Green Salad with avocado, crispy bacon drizzled in parmesan
- Salmon Papillote with vegetables and tomato sauce, and chateau potatoes
- Panna Cotta
Sailing on to Port sur Saône takes us along the winding river that meanders through the gently rolling hills. The river twists and turns make it unsuitable for larger boats, so there are canals that cut through the hills in tunnels to shorten the journey considerably.
The Ovanches tunnel is 750 meters long, and as we enter it, the coolness of the underground is appreciated. There is a gentle natural breeze that runs through the tunnel, enhanced by the boat moving along, with the tunnel lit by gently amber lighting. It is quite a surreal experience.
Another gentle hour of cruising and we pull in to moor at our final destination on this Burgundy River tour, the town of Port sur Saône.
Tonight is our last night on the boat and is the Gala Dinner. The staff have all put on their formal uniforms, and the guests have their best shirts and dresses. It’s a dress smart meal, not a formal setting, which maintains the friendly atmosphere of the boat. And with the summer heat, there is thankfully no need to wear a tie!
Once again, everyone seems to be sitting in a different place talking to different people. No couple is left out.
The dinner is:
- Foie gras
- Filet Steak,
- Dessert of fruit, meringue, cream and macarons
We have arrived at Port sur Saône on the day of their annual Terre de Saône music and fireworks festival, where rival dancing groups from around the world compete. It’s big and colourful, full of energy and seems to bring the tranquillity of our trip more into focus. I decide to buy a 2 euro ticket and wander around.
The sound of the performers fills the air, and walking around the site shows groups of performers practising right up to the last minute. Countries represented here include Cuba, Bolivia, Peru, Uzbekistan and many more, each in a national costume with traditional instruments.
The fireworks display starts at 11 pm and goes on for nearly half an hour. It is pretty amazing, matching the fireworks to music, and our position on the water, so close to them, makes this an experience to remember.
As the noise dies down, and the revellers on land slowly head home we sit on deck at the of the barge and just enjoy the moment.
Day Seven – Heading Home with TGV and Eurostar
Up at 7 am I pack quickly. Breakfast is at 8 am, my last chance to enjoy another of those amazing croissants. The morning view of the Port sur Saône canal is perfect.
The coach is waiting just by the boat, and our cases are carried out by the boat staff.
It’s a 2-hour drive back to Dijon Station, but the scenery makes the time fly by. Initially travelling through rolling hills and valleys, with fruit trees and yellow fields of sunflowers, it gradually returns to the flat arable land, with endless cornfields occasionally dotted with cattle. The cattle are usually either white or light tan, being a regional breed.
Arriving at Dijon Station, we are met by Oliver, the same GRJ tour guide who took us out. This obviously made it so simple to get our tickets and find our train to Paris.
I am travelling back business class, which gives you a lot more leg room and has a table service trolley to keep you in coffee, juices and snacks. However as it’s France, the snacks are freshly made croissant, pain au raisin and monster sized cookies. Nothing in a plastic wrapper here.
One thing to note is that there is are electronic notice boards along the platform that tell you where to stand to get into the carriage that is on your ticket. This helps encourage passengers to spread out along the platform so that getting on and off the train is so much less hassle.
After 1.40hrs we pull into Paris Gare de Lyon.
Oliver, our Great Railways Journeys tour guide ushers us across the station and into a waiting coach. It is exactly the reverse of the route we took on arrival, so no surprises.
It takes 45 minutes to cross town to Gare du Nord as the traffic is a nightmare, at least consistent with what it was like when we arrived 7 days earlier.
Check in at Gare du Nord for the international terminal is a straightforward process, with very little queuing, but it’s never that busy at lunchtime. A simple walk through French passport control, then onto UK control. There are a lot of biometric passport scanners here so you can pass through in seconds. Finally, the security scan just as you would at an airport. A quick note here that I should probably add to my ‘what not to do on a river trip’ post. Don’t think that because it’s just a train there will be any less security – removing belts, watches, phones etc is required and you can expect to be kept waiting on one side for more checks if you try to.
On this leg of the trip, I am in Eurostar Leisure Premium, which is the only way you really want to finish your holiday. There’s a nice meal choice from a varied menu, and good quality wine with unlimited coffee all included in the price. The carriage is much more spacious, with power sockets and USB charging points. It seems a fitting way to enjoy the luxury of a Great Rail Journey, whilst still basking in the fond memories of a great river cruise and barge holiday.
The train stops briefly at Ebbsfleet International in the UK before terminating at Kings Cross St. Pancras. It always makes me smile that the tannoy announcer always speaks the name as ‘Ipswich’.
The first class is at the front of the train, in coaches 1 and 2, and as you have already cleared immigration and customs whilst at Gare du Nord, you can get off the train and walk to the tube in under 5 minutes.
Many hang back to exchange contact details with others from the tour so they can keep in touch and perhaps meet up again probably on another Great Rail Journeys holiday.
Great Rail Journeys (greatrail.com / 01904 527180) offer a 7-day The Waterways of Burgundy cruise departing from London St Pancras the holiday includes 6 nights aboard the Jeanine, 17 meals, all-inclusive selection of drinks, and excursions.
Prices start from £2,095 pp twin share cabin for 6 Sep 2018, 30 May, 13 Jun, 8 Aug & 3 Oct 2019.
Thinking of trying a River Cruise in France or a Barge Cruise in France? Why not pin this post for later
Disclosure: I travelled as a guest of Great Rail Journeys