For the wine lover, visiting wineries and tasting new wines is a passionate adventure. Can you really plan a wine tasting vacation for more than a couple of days? How many tastings can you do before you cannot remember what you taste? With the guidance of European Waterways and their luxury barge cruising adventures, the answer is 24 tastings in six days.
European Waterways operates a fleet of 18 barges, traveling the canals and rivers of France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland, Italy, Scotland, England and Ireland. Not all itineraries are available every week, as the various barges meander along the waterways. The six-day cruises vary, depending on the week. If you have your heart set on visiting French vineyards and wineries, then look for those itineraries. Do you still want to enjoy tasting 24 great French wines, but you’ve traveled to France before, then go see the tulips in Holland or explore Great Britain and add whisky tastings, while still enjoying French wines.
This all-inclusive style of luxury European travel creates an intimate atmosphere combining relaxation, history, culture and outstanding gastronomy with exquisite wine pairings. We chose to walk in the footsteps on the Impressionists aboard Panache, marrying art with our wine tastings. Excursions on our tour included Auvers-sur-Oise, the last home and final resting place of Vincent Van Gogh, Giverny, the home of Claude Monet’s house and garden, and several Impressionism museums. Our captain and guide also took us to the Armistice Clearing in the forest of Compiegne, and the elegant Chateau de Chantilly.
The daily excursions, which usually last a half day, include castles, chateaus, wineries, local markets, art studios and museums. Bicycles on board encourage cycling along the canals and rivers or in the countryside when the barge is moored, giving balance to the gastronomy. The slow pace of the barge, usually 3-10 MPH, allows for peaceful tranquility, as the barge cruises between small towns and villages. The barge only travels during the day, making nights peaceful and still for sleeping.
Three gourmet meals are served each day to the 6-20 passengers on board. A white and red French wine, many from the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions, are selected to compliment each lunch and dinner. The hostess on board gives a brief but thorough wine presentation, describing each wine before serving. In addition to the wines, there is a cheese course at every dinner after dessert, where an equally interesting presentation describes the three cheeses chosen for the evening meal.
The on board chef, with the assistance of other crew members, shops locally for the freshly prepared cuisine. Guests are welcome to accompany the crew early each morning to the local bakery to pick up fresh pastries and bread for the day. A visit to a local market can also be a guest excursion. Encouraging guests to choose items at the market for the chef to prepare on the barge is part of the fun. Fresh flowers from the local markets add to the beauty and ambiance on the barge.
Think of a barge cruise as a relaxed, country house party. It is possible to charter the entire barge for a group of family or friends, or just book a cabin, and enjoy making new friends who share similar interests. European Waterways caters to an English-speaking audience. Most of the crew speaks English and French. With the guidance of our Captain and tour guide, our French skills of “bon jour” and “merci” were all we needed to enjoy our week. The crew was very willing to help with our French, so I suppose a week of language lessons is an additional bonus of this trip.
European Waterways offers the perfect all-inclusive vacation for wine lovers wishing to explore wine regions in other parts of the world. Perhaps it is the small group atmosphere, as compared to a larger cruise ship. Perhaps it is the 24 wine tastings and open bar that kept us in happy mode for the week, or the fabulous meals, or the tea and cakes waiting for us when we returned from our excursions, or the plush towels and high thread count sheets in our cabin. Actually, it is the combination of all these thoughtful amenities that enhance the wine tasting experience and make traveling along the canals of Europe, life in the slow lane, the perfect way to taste the grapes of France. Bon Vivant!