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The Burgundy is well known for its gastronomy, history and excellent wines. It is old France – a land of culture with historic castles, Roman roads and magnificent Romanesque churches. As you slowly cruise along the prettiest canals in France you pass peaceful hamlets, pastures with the famous white Charolais cattle grazing, and herders caring for their ducks. Thousands of acres of perfectly maintained vineyards are seen along the way-Canal de Bourgogne is very picturesque indeed.
Construction of the canals began in 1727 and was completed in 1832 as a means to transport goods. The trading routes and crossroads provided economic importance for the region. The canal provides North to South access through France via the Yonne and Seine to the Saône and Rhône (Burgundy, Centre and Niverais). In Burgundy alone there are more than 1000 kilometers of navigable waterways on the three major canals with 209 canal locks.
Houseboats and barges are available for rent with limited engine sizes so that no “pilot’s” license is required. A short explanation of how to operate the boat is given and you’re on your way. You often come upon people fishing along the canal and it takes some care to keep from coming in contact with fishing lines as we found out very early in our trip. However, with a little practice we managed to keep from taking out fishing poles. The locks can sometimes be a little tricky until you get the hang of tying up the bow and stern of the boat. Some locks have attendants but the smaller ones do not and here it is up to you to open and close them. At first this is an interesting experience as one person has to jump out and tie up the boat, open the lock, untie the boat and again once the boat has passed through, close the lock and jump back on board. It is important to follow the operating procedures exactly as a boat in front of us neglected to loosen the line as the water went down in a large lock. As we began to descend, their boat swung around and caught onto the lip of the lock wall so that both the front and the back was suspended in mid air. We were speechless as we were looking up at the hull of their boat and watching this dramatic event helplessly as the people screamed for help. The attendant immediately flooded the canal and the boat detached as the water floated it again. Cleaning the filter each morning is about the only other thing to do except stirring the boat.
This is a slow easy vacation. Stopping whenever you want to nap or read a book. Mooring at small medieval villages, viewing vineyards surrounded by miles of stonewalls and enjoying the ambiance of the towns is the part I loved. You can rent bikes with your boat and bike through some of the most famous vineyards in the world tasting and buying wine for the evening’s dinner. Mooring along the canal covered with weeping willows, enjoying a bottle of wine with the cheese you bought at the local market and maybe a long evening walk alone the canal ends a beautiful day. In the morning we visit the local boulangerie filled with the aroma of fresh bread and buy a baguette and croissants for breakfast.
The Burgundy is known for its fine restaurants and the Michelin guide has awarded stars to 27 restaurants. Culinary arts are considered the best in the world and we were not about to miss enjoying at least a few of these restaurants along the way. Lameloise in Chagny is quite easy to visit as it is next to the canal. Trois Gros, in Roanne on the southern boarder of the Burgundy, (we took a taxi) were food experiences we will not forget. Reservations are usually required long in advance but we found that in August we were able to just call ahead and we took our chances. There are many small wonderful charming restaurants in every village and sampling some of the specialties of the Burgundy such as Escargots à la Bourgogne, Boeuf Bourguignon, and Coq au Vin should be part of your meal plan. There are many varieties of mushrooms, such as chanterelles, and cèpes and many others can be purchased at the markets and are very easy to prepare just by sautéing them in butter and tossing them with some fresh herbs from the region. Try stuffing morels with goat cheese and sautéing with butter-so easy to prepare on a boat, wonderful!
One cannot talk about France without mentioning cheese. What would France be like without cheese? Well of course there is wine and desserts, but the cheese – no other country can boast the variety and range of cheese.
Epoisses is one of my favorites and I am a lover of goat cheeses. The variety is awesome and it is difficult to choose especially after having a meal. They can be bought at cheese shops in every village and are so easy to prepare on a boat. France has such wonderful desserts enjoy them at the restaurants and choose cheese for meals on the board. There are also many prepared foods in the markets that can be easy meals on a boat trip and also gives you the opportunity to experience the local food specialties.
Cruising down the canals of France is a wonderful experience and can be fun for kids as well. Handling the boat is so easy that children can join in safely. They might find the slow pace a little difficult, but taking some games and books along can solve this. It is a great trip for a group of friends to enjoy together or maybe you have a gourmet club to experience a trip down the Canal de Bourgogne.