Published on June 24th, 2017 | by Ann Rickard0
Barging In France
On board Panache, one of European Waterways’ luxury barges that ply the many waterways of Europe, it’s all about choices.
Should I sit in the elegant lounge with its timber floors, leather sofas and floral displays and just gaze out at the French countryside from the large surrounding windows? Sounds good – this is a slow-moving cruise in France and doing absolutely nothing is encouraged. But there is much going on outside.
As Panache glides along the Canal du Nord towards Picardy and Chantilly to moor at towns with names thrilling to us – Pont Ste-Maxence, Auvers-sur-Oise, Chatou – we know we should be out on the deck watching the gentle action on the riverbanks.
So out we go as we pass small towns and charming villages in between stretches of verdant forest where the trees bend and skim their leafy skirts on the water.
Then there are the locks to go through, nobody wants to miss out on that as the long, sleek barge slowly enters the lock and Judith, our expert deckhand, jumps off the barge as nimble as a mountain goat, to do all sorts of boaty things with ropes and bollards.
All this, and it’s only 11 in the morning and there is much promise for the afternoon. We have slept deeply in our spacious cabin with its big bed and gleaming bathroom stocked with L’Occitane products)
At around 11.30am when someone suggests it might not be too early to take a modest libation from the open bar, a few encouraging nods give the answer.
European Waterways’ barges have a 24-hour open bar policy. A discreet prowl through Panache’s liquor shelves proves they do not hold back on giving you the good stuff.
Just as a small G&T is making its way to the lips, out comes Chef Oli to tell us he will be making a duck salad for lunch, and we all look to the dining table with its gleaming glassware, and probably think the same thing: this is the life we deserve.
Panache can take 12 guests and has six crew to look after them. Pleasing indeed.
All the crew seem to have mistaken us for visiting royalty.
“Can I get you anything?” is a constant cry from stewards Daisy or Caroline and we all respond with “no, we’re fine, but…..maybe a coffee or another G&T”…and it is delivered within minutes.
Daisy and Caroline have extraordinary wine knowledge and they impart it with modest grace at each meal as they present exquisite local wines, carefully matched to Chef Oli’s food. The cheese, an important component of every French meal is given as much detailed consideration as the wine. We have eaten a pungent Langres, a Sainte-Maue-de-Touraine and ash-washed goat cheese, and been given their regional stories in interesting narrative all of which I’m having difficulty recalling now – another G&T had been offered.
Panache is just one of many luxury barges in European Waterways’ fleet, others include the grand Renaissance and Anjodi (made famous by Rick Stein in his French Odyssey series.)
These hotel barges all have a long history of working barges, and have now been lavishly refurbished to ensure comfort and indulgence as they cruise some of France’s most desirable regions: Gascony, Bordeaux, Canal du Midi, Champagne, Burgundy, Loire Valley, Bordeaux, Alsace. Other barges in the fleet cruise the waterways of Scotland, Ireland, Holland and Italy.
Our Panache cruise has taken us to Picardy where the shore excursions have included visits to Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, to Auvers where we walked in the footsteps of Van Gogh during his last days of life, and then to Chateau de Malmaison, the chateau Napoleon bought for Josephine, and finally to cruise along in the Seine in Paris for dinner on board beneath the Eiffel Tower.