Raising a glass to the birthplace of champagne with CroisiEurope
Sipping a glass of bubbly on a floating barge while kicking back and watching the world go by with my wife is my idea of ultimate peace and tranquillity.
But doing it while sailing along France’s majestic Marne Canal through the area where those bubbles were lovingly created brings that feeling to a whole new level.
Joining a small group of 14 passengers on board MS Raymonde, we began our journey through the beautiful Champagne region in its capital Epernay, about two hours’ drive from Paris.
The Eiffel Tower is where we were heading, but I was happy for the big city and its famous monuments to wait as this sedate and intimate trip with CroisiEurope was not for rushing.
Six days and a 160km-stretch of water would give us time to discover more about this charming region with visits to Dormans, Chateau Thierry, Saint-Jean-Les-Deux-Jumeaux, Meaux and Lagny-Sur-Marne, before dropping anchor for the final time in Paris.
With 11 en-suite cabins, MS Raymonde can hold up to 22 guests in comfortable and stylish surroundings, which include a cosy living area, well-stocked bar and small, but spacious dining room.
Outside there are lounge chairs with parasols, a hot tub for those who like a soak and bicycles for the more adventurous. On top is a spacious sun deck, which is the best spot to sit and enjoy the beautiful landscapes – weather permitting of course!
There are 18 of the Marne’s locks to negotiate and it’s quite an experience, not witnessed on regular cruises, when all of a sudden you’re surrounded by concrete as the barge is lowered to another level.
We were well-looked-after by the eight-strong crew – which included a housekeeper, waitress, chef, three captains and two pursers – and no- one went hungry at mealtimes thanks to a variety of delicious French dishes and the inevitable daily indulgence of bread and cheese with matching wines.
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The first planned excursion was an interesting tour of Reims, a small city bursting with art and history, and home to many World Heritage sites including the spectacular Cathedrale de Notre-Dame, sister to its Parisian namesake.
Next day, from Dormans, we took a coach to the birthplace of bubbles Hautvillers, immersing ourselves within the 75,000 acres of stunning surrounding vineyards en route.
This journey took us back through Epernay and the incredibly wealthy L’Avenue de Champagne, home to many of the leading champagne producers including Moet et Chandon, Mercier and Laurent-Perrier. But no trip to the home of champagne would be complete without a tasting and, after a stop at the church where great Benedictine monk Dom Perignon lies, it was time to quench our thirst.
Champagne producer Jack Demiere was happy to show us around his impressive cellars, passionately talking us through the process of champagne-making which, predictably for us, led to the purchase of a bottle of Grand Reserve to take home. In Chateau Thierry, we were treated to an impressive medieval falconry display and at Meaux in the Brie region we discovered the town’s rich gastronomic heritage with a tasting of the world-famous Brie de Meaux cheese, which was delicious.
Finally, after leaving the Marne and joining the Seine, the landscape dramatically changed as Paris appeared, with enough time to explore some of the city’s famous attractions before returning on-board for the final-night gala dinner – a fitting way to end a truly lovely barge experience.
CroisiEurope offers a selection of hotel barge cruises on the French canals through Burgundy, Alsace, Provence, the Champagne region and Paris. 2020 prices for the cruise from Epernay to Paris start from £2,126 per person for departures on May 7, May 21 and July 16. Price includes all meals and drinks onboard, excursions, transfer from Paris to Epernay and port fees. Call CroisiEurope on 020 8328 1281 or visit www.croisieurope.co.uk