A cultural barge cruise along the Burgundy Canal

A kingfisher caught my eye. Squeezing my bike brakes, I stopped on the towpath to watch it fly, wings skimming the water. From its next perch, it pointed its long beak downwards and plunged into the water, surfacing with a juicy minnow.

In theory, I could have saddled up again and pedalled to the Atlantic coast of France in one direction and all the way to the Black Sea in the other, on the Euro Velo cycle route. But I had to be back on board for lunch at 12.30 sharp.

So I rode to the next lock and heard the friendly, gentle chug-chug of Jeanine, the barge that was my moving hotel for six days on the River Doubs and the Burgundy Canal, pottering between Besancon and Dijon.

Caroline Hendrie toured France's River Doubs and Burgunday canal aboard the MS Jeanine barge, picturedCaroline Hendrie toured France's River Doubs and Burgunday canal aboard the MS Jeanine barge, pictured

Caroline Hendrie toured France’s River Doubs and Burgunday canal aboard the MS Jeanine barge, pictured

The 11-cabin MS Jeanine had been chartered by Back-Roads Touring, specialists in small-group minibus tours in the UK and Europe.

Our British guide and coach-driver were there to meet us at a hotel in Paris after breakfast one August morning and soon we were whizzing towards Fontainebleau, to visit the magnificent palace in gardens.

By late afternoon we were welcomed on board Jeanine in Besancon by the French crew of six, and shown to our compact, twin-bedded cabins with a window just above the waterline: swans and ducks were swimming towards me, not to say hello but to admire their own reflections in the glass.

The fine dinner with wine at tables for four set the pattern for our sociable cruise.

The following morning we took a bus to Besancon’s citadel, a masterpiece of 17th Century military architecture above a bend in the river.

After lunch we boarded our coach to visit the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans, commissioned by Louis XV. Plans to extend the neo-Classical salt factory with a Utopian village were abandoned when the French Revolution swept the country.

The cruise kicks off in Besancon (pictured) a city in eastern France nestled alongside a horseshoe bend on the Doubs RiverThe cruise kicks off in Besancon (pictured) a city in eastern France nestled alongside a horseshoe bend on the Doubs River

The cruise kicks off in Besancon (pictured) a city in eastern France nestled alongside a horseshoe bend on the Doubs River

The next morning Jeanine went at walking pace, giving me a chance to stretch my legs along the banks, and we joined the Saone before arriving at St-Jean-de-Losne on a crossroads of waterways.

Here the Maison des Mariners museum celebrates 200 years of barging. Sepia photographs of old women and children pulling heavily laden barges along the towpath with ropes illustrate what a hard existence it was.

For us, though, barge life went on with one treat after another, a glass of kir made with white burgundy wine in the sunny courtyard of the town hall, followed by the regional speciality of boeuf bourguignon in a local restaurant for dinner.

Pausing for us to take a trip by coach to Beaune, surrounded by vineyards, Jeanine joined the arrow-straight Burgundy Canal bound for Dijon, where we left the crew.

In Dijon, on our guided walk past medieval half-timbered houses, we saw the spot where Gerard Depardieu was filmed playing Cyrano de Bergerac.

After admiring the splendid tombs of the dukes of Burgundy who held great power in the late Middle Ages, there was time to raid the mustard shops for local souvenirs.

The drive back to Paris was broken in Vezalay in northern Burgundy, where the steep walk to the top of the town rewarded us with the imposing Abbey Church of St Mary Magdalene (her relics are inside).

It has a famous doorway carved with curious creatures, and it was from here that Richard the Lionheart set forth in the Third Crusade in 1190.

A fascinating end to a fun-filled week of sightseeing, scenic cruising and easy walking and cycling.

TRAVEL FACTS

Cruises starts from £1,962pp and includes six nights on MS Jeanine on a bed-and-breakfast basis, coach transportation, tour leader, meals and drinks during the cruise, wine-tasting and entrance to Fontainebleau, Arc-et-Senans Royal Saltworks and Besancon Citadel.

Visit Back-Roads Touring or call 0208 987 0990.

Posted on; DailyMail>>

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