Stephanie Sack, Communications Manager, might be the newest Barge Lady, but her embrace of the barging lifestyle has been nothing short of enthusiastic! Her second barge cruise in May of 2015 took her to the world-famous wineries and placid Canal de Bourgogne of Southern Burgundy, where she enjoyed her time aboard a Barge Lady favorite, the Boutique Class, 8 passenger, “Savoir Vivre”.
While on the Savoir Vivre I enjoyed a relaxing vacation filled with exciting excursions, wonderfully presented breakfasts and lunches, and leisurely bike rides alongside the canal. As I have personal interests in European history and cooking, I was especially intrigued by the Savoir Vivre’s unique dining and drinking offerings. A perfect choice for foodies and Francophiles, the vessel’s exclusive “Cuisine and Culture” program ensures that all dinners are eaten onshore at independently-owned and charming bistros, where my fellow passengers and I dined with the locals, like a local! Our Captain made all dinner arrangements, helped us order, and then collected us after dinner. This unique peek into the food and wine of Southern Burgundy was a gastronomic delight!
These memorable meals represent the best of the area’s entrepreneurial efforts, and there is no better example of this vibrant hospitality than the vision of General Manager Clive Cummings of the Abbaye de la Bussiere, as seen with moi in the above picture. This charming auberge features a sampling of the area’s best food and wine, enjoyed in a cathedral-like setting with top notch service. Offerings change monthly to best reflect the season’s flavors. Menu highlights in May included a starter of escargot in a buttery pearl barley risotto with a Charolais cheese froth, a thyme and lemon crusted salmon pave with French style green been stew, and a chocolate fondant with mascarpone ice cream. Of course, the bread and cheese was also sublime, and the hand selected wines perfect pairings. This experience was easily one of the most marvelous dinners on the Savior Vivre’s itinerary, and such a privilege and pleasure to meet Clive and share his enthusiasm for the best in French food, wine, and lifestyle!
Another aspect to the Savoir Vivre’s “Cuisine and Culture” menus are the breakfasts and lunches, which are catered in daily from a locally-owned cafe. The morning meal’s selections of cereals, pastries, breads, cheeses, meats, and freshly pressed juices proved a deceptively simple yet incredibly delicious way to start the day. The freshness of the ingredients was evident in the crusty breads, decadent croissants, rich cheeses, and snappy juices. Lunches proved yet another highlight of the dining experience, with an array of hearty salads, vegetable-based side dishes, and a scrumptious entree to enjoy. The real star of each lunch was the tart or quiche, laden with creamy cheeses and locally-sourced vegetables for what tasted like the region’s bounty on a plate! Lunch was finished with an alternating choice of either dessert or another cheese platter, while the wines, both a red and a white, were of course selected to complement the meal’s flavors and aromas. Plating and presentation of these lunches was also a pleasure, as the cheerful table settings and lovely glassware added an element of Continental elegance, or perhaps even a “je ne sais quois!”
In addition to these special meals, our days were augmented with visits to culturally significant attractions of the area, accompanied by our private tour guide/crew member, Laura, pictured below with Captain Richard on her left and Hostess Marie on the right. As a cornerstone of the “Cuisine and Culture” activities, a visit to Chateauneuf proved one of the most intriguing tours within the Savoir Vivre’s daily excursions. This preserved chateau speaks to the complex Burgundian history of royal feuds, international wars, and family betrayals. A private tour of this imposing structure revealed the private areas in which the ruling families resided, with clues and insight into how these people lived, worked, and worshiped hundreds of years ago. Actual relics and architectural details from these distant times spoke to the deprivations and the decadence so prevalent in France’s history. Now a protected historical monument by the French government, history buffs, culture vultures, and Francophiles will thrill to this fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into Europe’s storied past!
Laura’s contribution as the Tour Guide to the Savoir Vivre’s “Cuisine and Culture” offerings cannot be underestimated! British by birth and raising a family in France, her bubbly personality was surpassed only by her encyclopedic knowledge of the region’s complex history, which was evident during her lively tours of area vineyards, attractions, and landmarks. While giving a tour of Dijon, her recall of dates and wars was astonishing, and her insider’s knowledge of the methods, both ancient and modern, of making and selling wine was absolutely fascinating. Her passion for Southern Burgundy’s culture and its many fascinating people and places makes the area come alive with her effortless expertise! Equally as charming is Laura’s devotion to wearing as much leopard print as possible, as seen in the picture with me below, which only added to her adorable and approachable appeal.
Relaxation and recreation aboard the Savior Vivre is another pleasurable aspect to the daily schedule. As the boat cruises along the canals of Southern Burgundy, guests have hours to unwind in the salon with a good book, or just lounge on the deck and watch the stunning scenery of lock-houses and land float by. Peaceful stretches of canal cruising encouraged wonderful conversations among the guests, and as my fellow passengers were well traveled and interesting people, we chatted for hours about all sorts of trends and topics. At one point we all passed around pictures of kids/nieces/nephews/grand kids/dogs! Best of all, the Savior Vivre has eight bicycles perfect for leisurely rides along the canal, and every day I jumped on a bike for a hour or so, pedaling between locks, reveling in the quietude of clear skies and expanses of land. This is truly the France I love — untouched and authentic, with miles and miles of towpaths along the country’s most beautiful inland waterways.
My cruise aboard the Savoir Vivre was full of fresh food, the world’s best wine, and a glimpse into a genuinely French lifestyle — the best “Cuisine and Culture” the area has to offer! I would recommend this barge cruise to travelers for whom experience trumps amenities, and especially to those with special interests in food and wine, European history, and local lifestyles. Many thanks to the Savior Vivre for a “Cuisine and Culture” experience I’ll cherish forever!