French Country Waterways Introduces Guests to France’s Upper Loire Valley
French Country Waterways Horizon II
French Country Waterways introduces guests to the beauty and cuisine of France’s Upper Loire Valley
A journey through France’s Upper Loire Valley aboard French Country Waterways ’ Horizon II luxury barge gives guests a glimpse into the region dubbed “the Garden of France” thanks to its mild climate and expansive countryside. This part of France is the gateway from the bustle of Paris to the more relaxed pace of chateau country, which was known in past centuries for being the playground of kings. Even today, its landscape is peppered with the chateaux that offered royalty a welcome respite from their busier lives in the city. This year French Country Waterways has lengthened the route on this itinerary, extending it from Chatillon-sur-Loire to Saint-Satur and adding visits to two chateaux – Chateau de Sully-sur-Loire and Chateau Guedelon – along the way. Pricing for these all-inclusive journeys, which operate from April through October, begins at $6,095 per person, based on double occupancy.
The Upper Loire Valley is home to some of France’s earliest canals, some of which date to 1604 and continue to be in service today. The waterways plied by this American-owned company are a web of nearly 5,000 miles of rivers and canals that once served as a lifeline of communication and commerce in 17th-century France. Over the years these waterways became a way of linking smaller provinces with the country’s trade centers, and eventually early passenger vessels – “water carriages” – used the routes to transport fashionable travelers around the country via water rather than on primitive highways. The French Navigation Authority continues to maintain these canals because of their historic significance and popularity among modern-day travelers.
A six-day cruise along two canals of the Upper Loire Valley gives guests countless opportunities to visit medieval towns, castles, gardens and churches … as well as a winery or two. Highlights of this trip include a visit to Pouilly-sur-Loire for a wine sampling; a cruise over the Loire River on an aqueduct designed by Gustave Eiffel (better known for creating Paris’ landmark tower); a visit to Chateau Guedelon, which is in the midst of a 25-year renovation completed by craftspeople using only medieval tools and techniques; and a stop in the town of Montargis, nicknamed “Little Venice.”
But the stops at historic landmarks, fascinating towns and award-winning wineries constitute just half the formula of what makes a French Country Waterways journey especially memorable. The other half comes in the form of culinary offerings, with the barge’s chef preparing two full meals a day to be enjoyed in the comfort of the dining room – or occasionally on the Horizon II ’s cheery sundeck. Meals on the barge include an array of local wines and cheeses, and guests receive lists of all the delicacies they enjoy during their journey. Buffet breakfasts include fresh breads and pastries picked up in the villages along the way, allowing guests to feel truly immersed in the small-town charms of the French countryside. On one night the hard-working chef gets an evening off, and guests visit the Michelin-starred Auberge des Templiers in the town of Les Bezards for an on-shore dining experience that reminds them that nobody understands food quite like the French.
The Horizon II is a 128-foot barge that is home to up to eight guests in four king suites, plus six crew members. It boasts cherry interiors, traditional furnishings and antique brass accents in its unique split-level design. When not participating in the daily excursions, all of which are included in the price of the trip, guests can hop off the barge and walk or cycle along the canal towpaths. Because the Horizon II moves at a leisurely pace, there’s no chance of guests being left behind. In fact, they often get to the next town before the barge, leaving time to explore, take photos and get to know the locals. Another highlight offered on all French Country Waterways – weather conditions permitting and if enough guests want to participate – is an optional hot air balloon excursion (which comes at an additional price). In short, this trip gives guests the chance to see the beauty of the Upper Loire Valley by land, water and air.
Each of French Country Waterways’ barges is available for individual bookings and for charter groups. Special room rates are offered at designated meeting point hotels in Paris and/or Strasbourg for guests wishing to extend their stay. Information, reservations and the company’s 2015 brochure can be obtained from French Country Waterways, Ltd., P.O. Box 2195, Duxbury, MA 02331; calling 800-222-1236 in the U.S. and Canada and 781-934-2454 in Massachusetts; or visiting the website .