Barge Lady Ellen recently enjoyed a major dose of style and sophistication during a cruise in Southern Burgundy on the 5-star, 8 guest barge Finesse.
Appropriately named, the Finesse exemplifies modern luxury on the French canals, welcoming lucky guests with contemporary comforts, winning crew, cultural enrichment, and, best of all, impeccable cuisine crafted in the vessel’s inviting open galley.
Ellen says: “In other words, finesse by the boatload!”
Stepping aboard the barge, the Finesse immediately allures with an exceptionally spacious salon and dining area, both enlivened by happy splashes of colorful decor, wonderfully comfortable furnishings, and plenty of spaces for socializing. An open bar ensures the fine French wines and small batch spirits are flowing, while the picture windows fully reveal the scenery and greenery of Burgundy’s abundant natural beauty. Guests are encouraged to linger here during the day with a good book and a cup of coffee, or gather in the evening for cocktails, and convivial conversation.
Gracious living is furthered in the Finesse’s four identical cabins, located on the vessel’s lower level. At 265 square feet each, these beautifully appointed staterooms rate among the largest and most luxurious on the French canals. Attention to detail is everywhere from the ample storage to the adorable loveseat placed at the foot of a King-size bed. Bathrooms are kitted out with double sinks and a walk-in shower, augmenting the glamorous ambiance.
The swanky amenities found on the Finesse extend to outdoor areas as well, which are amplified by the vessel’s sleek deck. As the only 5-star barge in Southern Burgundy with a hot tub, the Finesse’s pampered passengers are immersed in a sybaritic sailing experience unlike any other; be sure to bring your bathing suits to enjoy this indulgence! Bicycles are stored onboard and are available for leisurely rides on the Canal de Centre’s towpath, while moorings along the Saone River provide the perfect place to disembark for sunset strolls.
Of course, a vessel of this elevated nature attracts an equally cosmopolitan crew. Ellen says: “My crew took great pride in working well together: Captain Elie, an elegant gent born on the French island of Guadeloupe, expertly pilots the barge; charismatic Tour Guide Dylan hails from Wales; Hostess Sophie crafts a great mixed drink; and Hostess Sajani skillfully assisted Finesse through the route’s many locks.”
However, it is Chef Mike Crowson who is undoubtedly the star crew member aboard Finesse. It is within Chef Mike’s capable hands that Burgundy’s great traditions of food and wine are brought to delicious life. Trained in the kitchens of Michelin-star restaurants, these days Chef Mike is most often found in the barge’s state-of-the-art open galley, crafting gourmet meals entirely in front of the guests. “I like talking about food as well as cooking it,” he says. “A chef working in a restaurant never sees the guests.”
Menu planning, ingredient provisioning, and meal preparation are just some of Chef Mike’s jobs. Fresh produce, artisan breads, and handmade cheeses are sourced several times a week from the local markets lining the cruise route. Back onboard, guests are invited to join Chef Mike in his galley for casual culinary demonstrations. Seeing the secrets behind classic dishes such as twice-cooked cheese souffles is all part of the Francophile foodie fun, while a modern “sous vide” circulator produces tender cuts of meat and perfectly braised fowl.
Speaking of cheeses, guests aboard Finesse will taste a total of eighteen cheeses during the cruise, always introduced by the Hostesses. Cheeses of the region included the region’s signature Epoisse (smelly, yes, but considered the most delicious cheese in France by Barge Lady Ellen) and the intensely creamy Delice de Bourgogne.
Ellen describes her favorite sightseeing: “No barge cruise in Southern Burgundy is complete without a visit to Beaune, Burgundy’s wine capital. I have toured the Hospice de Beaune, an immaculately preserved hospital built in the 15th century many times, but always find something new to appreciate. An excursion both new to me and exclusive on Finesse is the Chateau de Germolles, the last extant chateau occupied by the Dukes of Burgundy. The current owners are devoted to restoring the chateau and also personally conduct the tours. This is just the kind of bespoke experience for which the barge industry is noted.”
As “The Barge Lady”, herself, I love to take responsibility for recommending “that perfect barge cruise” as the best reason to explore the inland waterways of Europe. A true Francophile, since 1985 I have been to France over fifty times to meet the barge crews, experience the sightseeing, and, of course sample the divine food and wonderful wine. Cruising on the beautiful barge Finesse, scenic cruising, superlative service, exceptional accommodations, and splendid cuisine aligned perfectly both professionally and personally. Many thanks to the Finesse for a fabulous week of floating in La Belle France!