Skip to main content

Lockdown Holiday: By Luxury Barge

A trip down a rural canal in a renovated cargo barge, proves the ultimate luxury 'safecation'.

Finesse is a luxurious, double-decker hotel barge that cruises the scenic River Saône and Bourgogne canal

In this COVID era most of us are dreaming of a holiday in idyllic, uncrowded countryside, in luxury and total relaxation. And one of the most under-rated, most rewarding, not to mention eco-friendly holidays, must be a few days aboard a barge.

For this particular trip we are barging through Burgundy on a voluminous 38m cargo vessel called Finesse. These vessels, according to European Waterways, a UK-based luxury barging company with 17 boats in UK and Europe, have proved highly suitable for conversion into luxurious accommodation. 

Colourful fine dining

A crew of five operates the barge and offers a high standard of service to the guests, from excursions to fine dining, with a constant flow of exquisite wines and other drinks in between.The chef's experience includes cooking at two of the most expensive ski chalets in Courchevel 1850 and lunch was usually based on French dishes with innovative European Michelin-style dinners.

Before our six-night cruise, we stayed in Dijon in the Grand Hotel La Cloche, before joining the barge. The staff were personable and welcoming; the top floor featured an eclectic mix of suites; we chose the heavily beamed Chambertin suite. 

The Jacuzzi on board Finesse

We were collected from Dijon for European Waterway's Classic Cruise — Southern Burgundy, which usually runs from St-Julien-sur-Dheune through to St-Jean-de-Losne.

There is plenty of room on board to mix with your party or to find a quiet niche. On deck, there is a hot tub and areas of shade and sun in which to sit. Inside, there is a large multi-purpose sitting and dining area with an open kitchen. Below are spacious four twin/double cabins with large, opening portholes providing plenty of light. 

No one need be concerned about sea sickness as the motion of the barge is hardly noticeable while the ever-changing countryside slips quietly by; the occasional locks are like chapters in books. Guests can walk along the tow path or take bicycles to explore further afield. I found it very rewarding to get deep into the countryside where tiny hamlets were nestled into the folds of the land. The less energetic would appreciate e-bikes to get the best, long vistas.  

A day trip to the prestigious Château de Chamirey

Each day we were offered the opportunity to ride in the accompanying minibus to visit places of interest throughout the cruise. The choices were varied.

One visit that was quite thought provoking was to the 14th century Château de Germolles, formerly owned by the Dukes of Burgundy. The owner, an architectural historian whose family had lived there for some 150 years showed us over the rambling buildings.

Breakfast is served

If ever there was a wine lovers’ ultimate view, surely the vineyards of the Château de Chamirey would take some beating. We enjoyed tasting a selection of the wine and later drank its Mercurey 2015 at dinner that night.  

The prestige is enhanced by the majestic and imposing château, which dates from the 12th century. The grape presses are a sight to behold; in ancient times, they would have been as impressive as space rockets. The whole experience immerses you in a colourful history, while the central courtyard is a feast for the eyes.

Sampling wines at Dom Devillard

Burgundy’s capital Beaune is the sort of place where thoughts of buying a pied-a-terre come to mind. The market has an amazing range of organic cheeses and truffles, and a few antique shops alongside a couple of galleries with brocantes selling rustic items from farms and other sources.  Even in very narrow, historic back streets, there are vignerons proudly proclaiming their names’ heritage on their premises. On each trip, our tour guide Dylan was a mine of information about each place we visited. 

The holiday offers a balance of total relaxation and any level of activity, both mentally and physically; it opens a romantic world where there are no pressures.

The whole vessel charter is £40,000 (eight people) and a cabin is £10,900.