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LLindaC's Burgundy Canal and Paris trip report is finished!

LLindaC's Burgundy Canal and Paris trip report is finished!

Jun 14th, 2008, 01:25 PM
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LLindaC's Burgundy Canal and Paris trip report is finished!

Greetings friends. First, I apologize for smarting off to anyone the week before I left. I was sleep deprived and stressed..but no longer!
Great trip with family, despite some ups and downs.

Our photo album for the trip is here: http://llindac.myphotoalbum.com/view...umName=album03
I recommend that you view it as a slide show. The titles are small and are at the left corner of the pictures.

We charted a Nicols 1000 houseboat, the Avillon, from www.hotelsafloat.com for a trip on the Burgundy Canal the first week of June 2008. My husband and I were treating my two teenage daughters (14 and 18) to a taste of the "real" France for a week before heading to Paris. This was a graduation gift for both and a last time to do a memorable trip before my oldest daughter began college. The canals were once a source of transporting goods throughout France, but are now used solely for pleasure boating. It seemed a safe and fun way to travel!

After considering many options, we decided on a one way trip from Veneray-les-Laumes to Brienon. There were 56 locks to pass. There were several important historical sites to see as well as many tiny villages; which my husband and I adore. We knew we'd enjoy lots of delicious food and wine in the Burgundy region and the northern part of the canal seemed easier to navigate than any river sections in the area.

The trip started with a 3 hour delayed flight from our SDF airport to the Newark connection. Our only hope of getting to France on time was to drive an hour and a half to the Cincinnati airport where we caught a direct flight to CDG on Delta/Air France. Nice flight. We took a taxi from CDG to Gare de Lyon to make the TGV connection. On return, we flew Continental to Cincinnati where we picked up the car and drove home. We were delayed an hour in Paris, but made connections well. Others were not so fortunate that day! Also, I insisted that everyone pack carryon luggage. If we had checked it, we never would have gotten it in France!

We took the TGV train from Gare de Lyon to Montbard, where we hailed a taxi to Brienon. We met with the Nicols staff, rented four very basic bikes, went over the safety features and operations of the boat and were on our way at about five in the afternoon. Most of the staff spoke very little English, but my French was sufficient and there was little to understand about the boat! It went forward and in reverse, and very slowly. Of course, there is no current on the canal, and the boat is protected on all sides in case you run into a lock, shore or other boats. We also bought the Bourgogne waterways canal guide ( Editions du Breil) to help us find moorings, locks, amenities as well as local restaurants and sites. It was crucial to our trip, but it also contained many mistakes such as the wrong opening times at restaurants, misinformation about electricity at moorings, etc. Best to be prepared by buying food staples at the market in case you don't reach a destination, or find all places closed. The locks open at 9, close every day from 12 to 13 h. and close down at 7. Often, the lock keepers must assist a boat at another lock and you must wait. You also will wait for other boats reaching the lock before you, but if your boats are small enough and going the same way, they can put you in the lock together. We enjoyed the lock experience. The people were very friendly and were anxious to hear about our home town and experience. Most live or stay in the little ecluse houses which are decorated in flowers and sometimes have dogs to greet you. Most people spoke little or no English, but we got along well with my ever-improving French! My husband often got out of the boat to assist with one side of the gates before getting back into the boat before the water receded. Due to the nature of the lock experience, we were unable to always be exact about the arrival times in certain moorings. This was disappointing in some ways, because we would have enjoyed stopping more often, but this was a very slow boat and we had to make a deadline. For this trip, I think a little faster boat would be advisable.

M Day 1: We arrived in Montbard and had a delicious buffet lunch at the Hotel de Gare by the train station. The kind lady at the tourism office next door called a taxi which took us hastily to our port in Veneray. We got a late start and knew we couldn't reach Montbard, our planned destination, so we docked on the right bank close to Fain de Montbard a and rode our bikes to a restaurant suggested by a pair of British sailors we had met. We were tired from a long flight, underdressed in travel/hiking clothes and disheveled and were amazed to discover the Chateau de Malaisy- a XVII century chateau set in the woods in a pastoral setting. The dining room was elegant and we were welcomed despite our appearance. The meal and service were outstanding. Our waiter spoke perfect English and had an English menu as well; the last time we would see this on the canal! This was also our most expensive meal, but it was well worth it.

After dinner, we biked across the Pont de Nogent and rode into the little village past the chateau and through the quaint narrow streets. We slept well in the cramped quarters and bundled up in blankets in the cool air. We were actually happy that is was cool instead of hot, because there is no air movement on the boat, only a tiny skylight in the bedroom and windows to open. Some of the fancier boats have generators to power air conditioners and fans.

1st note: The bathrooms are also your showers; the handle comes from the sink. Your water is heated by the engines, so is hot after about 15 min. of driving. We topped off water when possible and never ran out of hot water. However, two of us took morning showers and two in the evening. The bathrooms are VERY small. A person who is overweight or very tall would have a real problem in this boat. The girls' rooms were merely shelves and a bed with very low overhang except for the headspace. I called them "tombs" but the girls did fine. Pretty rustic! Our double room had plenty space on the sides for clothes and such, but we packed little. There is space under the bed to put suitcases. The toilets are operated manually and work on a hand pump. If you use one during the night, you will probably wake everyone on the boat.

T Day 2: We moored in Montbard- a lovely town with several nice restaurants and a good supermarket near port (Casino). We had great pizza at Le Calypso and a jovial waiter wearing a Superman shirt; many locals here. It was overcast, but we rode our bikes to the lovely Abbey de Fontenay. It was about a six mile trek on all good roads except one half mile busy stretch. The tiny village of Marmagne was on the way; very pretty. The Abbey was gorgeous and we were in awe of the austere church, manicured grounds and the forge. Plan at least an hour here to appreciate the beauty of the grounds and read about life here. This is the oldest Cistercian monastery, built in 1130.

We decided to shop in the market and stay in Montbard again. In retrospect, this might have been a bad decision, for we underestimated how long it would take us to get to destinations. However, we wanted to visit the Forges de Buffon and it was closed on Tuesday. We had pasta again at Le Calypso, a place with a good menu and i reasonably priced. Rick and I walked to the park de Buffon- a park, chapel and workshop high on a ridge behind his original home. Sadly, the chapel was closed, but the views from there were amazing and the spot is not to be missed. Tonight, it began raining and stayed overcast and rainy for the rest of the week!

2nd note: I guess the weather could ruin the trip for some. We looked forward to biking and hiking on the path beside the canal, sunning on the upper deck, washing out our clothes on occasion and eating lunch on the back table. We did none of that. Things were wet the entire time. However, we ate well, played lots of card games, crosswords, sudoku, etc and my girls entertained each other. You can't avoid getting wet going through the locks- someone has to throw the rope to moor the boat. Rent a boat with both indoor and outdoor steering. Rick found it easier to steer through locks from above, but stayed drier on the long stretches below. We saw some of the luxury boats along the canal where people paid $5,000 per week. They had linen tablecloths, chefs, private quarters and chartered shore trips. We were about as basic as can be, but having a kitchen and indoor plumbing was better than camping this week!

W Day 3: We had croissants and made coffee before heading to the Forges de Buffon. Check the times well. In France and other countries, many places close an hour or two for lunch! My girls weren't hungry, so my husband and I went to Le Maronnier for an outstanding lunch. This was a lovely inn on the canal and the second best meal we had in France. A real gem!

We moored by the Forges and enjoyed an hour exploring the eighteenth century forge, mill and gardens/home of the great naturalist. He is Montbard's most famous and celebrated citizen. After the hour visit, we skipped the villages of Cry and Rougemont in favor of making it a bit further up the canal. We arrived in Ravieres where we filled our water tank. There was a small shower here-in fact the only one we found open on the whole trip- but showering on the boat was warmer! We walked into the village and were happy to find the chapel open and a lovely lady gave us a guided history of it. We are falling in love with the kind, helpful French people. Tonight, we made pasta and had bread and cheese on the boat.

Th Day 4: We had a few delays getting through the locks, so we moored in front of lock 78 and rode our bikes to the Hotel de L'Ecluse 79. We had a bit of a break from the rain and really enjoyed a reasonable and delicious lunch. The girls went exploring and Rick and I biked to the 12th century chapel sitting on the outskirts of town in fields of wheat. There was a man inside doing restoration painting, but we were welcomed inside. There were baroque paintings on the ceiling and nave. Rick and I both had very strange sensations there...we both had goose bumps on our arms and felt something eerie. The girls didn't want to go in, yet they made fun of us quite a bit! We puttered on to tiny Ancy-le-Franc where we moored for the night and filled up the water. No electric available, alas. There was a group of people playing boules and a pizza stand turning out tempting pies. We ordered two pizzas, a sausage and a "trois fromage", or three cheese pizza. An hour later, Rick comes to the boat carrying FOUR pizzas, a sausage and three cheese pizzas. Trois fromage! We all got a laugh from this, but we ended up needing food later so it was a blessing..

3rd note: The wine and cheese of Burgundy is amazing (duh) and it's fun to try all the regional specialties, such as the pungent Epoisses cheese. It's also possible to sip wine and eat cheese while piloting the very slow penichette! I don't know if I'll ever enjoy a California Chardonnay again; the French ones are smooth and earthy. Bring extra ziplock bags to keep bread and croissants fresh. Do try the escargots swimming in garlic, butter and fresh herbs! Be sure to bring binoculars to observe the beautiful chalets in the distance as well as the varied birds, flowers and wildlife. You will also see many river rats swimming quickly along the sides, often dragging weeds.

F Day 5: It is raining buckets today and we skip the village of Tanlay, sadly, because we aren't making good time. Today, a swan begins to follow us and starts attacking the buoys at the back of the boat. We throw him a few scraps of bread and he insists on following us through the lock. He stays with us for quite a while, but eventually surrenders to the next lock. My youngest daughter is trying to trick my husband who is steering from the top and begins steering from the bottom. He finally gets the joke and gives in. About 5 seconds later, we are headed straight for a group of three fishermen who are looking stunned and panicked! We barely got the boat on track, but muffled the laughter. Although slow, the boat must be steered constantly, and the outer side of the canal can be shallow and filled with weeds. We finally pull in to the port of Tonnerre, a nice village with many amenities. We strolled into town for dinner, but couldn't find a restaurant that appealed to us. I saw two well-dressed gentleman and approached them with my query. They were lovely- one was a teacher and talked at length about schools, the area, etc. He walked us to restaurant Le Saint Pere which was perfect. Not only was the food and atmosphere wonderful, a bachelorette party arrived later to liven the atmosphere.

S Day 6 We have no clean clothes and nothing will dry in this weather, so we found a laundromat in town. It was a bit of a hike, but worth it. The girls and I enjoyed seeing the aqua waters of the Fosse Dionne, an old wash basin in the center of old town. We walked up to the gorgeous St Pierre church, but it was closed. There are many wine caveaux around town and this is the growing area called Epineuil which produces some yummy white (Chard) and red (Pinot) Burgundies. Rick and I went to visit one which was open on Saturdays, but found it to be closed for lunch on one day. Today. We ended our 3 mile walk at the boat and I was not happy. We got a late start but ended in Percey where the L'Auberge de Pecheurs was touted by our guide book and said to be open 7/7. Not. There was nothing else here and it was raining, so we went back to boat, drank a lot of wine and finished pizza and frozen lasagna.

S Day 7 I admit, I am not in a great mood. Tired of being wet, cold and "over pizzaed", the kids dub me "Debbie Downer". However, my mood improved as the rain stopped and we approached the lovely village of St. Florentin. We had a nice stroll into town and asked a local where we could get some food. He said the only place open was too expensive and suggested a pizza/sandwich place. Nay! We found Hotel de L'Est where Sylvie and Jany Warburton create great dishes and warmly welcome guests. The atmosphere is lovely and the place is full of well dressed after-church guests plus a large party. It was a bit pricey, but they have omelettes on the menu for 8 euro, which my girls enjoyed. Great meal.

After lunch, we headed for the port where the boat must be returned, Brienon-sur-Armancon. There are several boats in port that evening. The showers and toilets are closed. The tourist info is locked inside the building as well, so we spend the evening packing, cleaning, recycling , etc. There is a cute place across from the port, but it's closed. The market is closed as well and it's really a ghost town here! However, we did find a tiny pizza place (again) so we had a good snack for the evening.

M Day 8 We are up early and must hose off the boat and clean floors and bikes. The Nicols building is new and has nice bathrooms and a shower, but they are not working. However, the nice man let my girls use the electricity in his office to straighten their hair for the first time that week. They were happy to get to Paris with "good hair". This morning, it is bright and blue outside and there is a swan beside our boat. Is it our friend? We paid our friend at Nicols to drive us to Laroche-Migennes where we have tickets for the 11:00 TGV to Paris

Paris: I am not writing the trip report to highlight everything in Paris! It was a short visit and we just did all the touristy things that we could cram in. My girls wanted a taste of rural France and they had plenty. They loved Paris and would have preferred to be there a couple more days, as we only had had two and a half full days. For that reason, I would suggest maybe a shorter cruise with teenagers.

In Paris, we stayed at the charming Hotel Londres Eiffel, a small family run place close to the Eiffel Tower on a quiet residential street. The hotel is surrounded by many bistros, patisseries, wine shops, two supermarkets a laundromat across the street and the popular Rue Cler a couple streets away. We stayed in their "Poet rooms" on the second floor. Our room, #22 faced the street and had working windows, air conditioning, a shower/tub combo, refrigerator and flat screen TV. The rooms were small, but comfortable. Rooms on the top floor have a view of the tower, but we rarely were in our rooms. Breakfast was extra, and too steep ($18) for basic French fare, we thought. Staff here was very nice and there is free internet in the lobby.

We took the Metro to the Ecole Militaire station and walked the few blocks to the hotel. We got a book of passes on the second day. We had purchased the two day L'Open tour bus tickets where you hop on and off at leisure. The Montmartre part of the trip was good, but the Latin Quarter section moved at a snail's pace and we were bored. I suggest taking metro to the area and walking. Traffic is very congested there.
The girls enjoyed walking the Champs Elysees, visiting Notre Dame, going to the top of the Eiffel Tower and watching its' light show at night. We spent almost an entire day in the Louvre- a favorite for all. We ate at small cafes and bistros except for one lunch at the cafeteria in the Louvre which was surprisingly good. I had been to Paris before, and while I found it to be quite different than in 1972, I thought it was well served by police, clean (except for dog droppings) and had less graffiti than many European cities. We were treated warmly everywhere. Personally, I am tired of hearing people say that French people are rude to or don't like Americans. That is an insult to both groups. I've been there twice and have found them to be lovely in every way. We have nothing but warm and happy memories of every French person we met and even in busy Paris, people stopped to help us when we were in need.

Final comments: I loved the canal trip, but I wouldn't enjoy it at all in the heat! If you speak no French, you will likely have difficulty with this trip. You have to be pretty laid back and flexible to enjoy this type of journey, but it was very relaxing and we had lots of great quality family time together with no distractions such as Ipods, phones and television. I made sure that my daughters were fitted with good walking shoes before the trip, despite their objections. Walking is the best way to appreciate Europe and the more equipped you are physically the better. Paris is very expensive, but there are bargains to be found. Some of our favorite things to do were to walk the streets and enjoy the sights and sounds. We got our bus and Louvre tickets online to avoid lines, but there really were not that many crowds the first week of June. I'm glad we went early. J'aime la France!
LLindaC is offline  
Jun 14th, 2008, 02:07 PM
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Thanks, Linda. Burgundy is next on my France list and has been for quite a while. Don't think I'll barge though. I love Romanesque architecture, cheese and wine wine wine. Problem is I also have a strong urge to return to the Perigord. And of course Paris. La belle France.

Just started peeking at your photos--can't believe either of those girls is 18!!! Warning to you, though, my mother still takes my sister and me on "last trips" and we are in our 30s.
Leely2 is offline  
Jun 14th, 2008, 05:31 PM
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Great pictures, thanks for the trip report, I really enjoyed it.
Nikki is offline  
Jun 14th, 2008, 05:35 PM
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wonderful trip! Planning to a similar thing...thanks for the great report!
RosieinOz is offline  
Jun 14th, 2008, 08:59 PM
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Linda - your girls are truly lovely Thank you for sharing your trip!
MomDDTravel is offline  
Jun 15th, 2008, 03:04 AM
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Thanks for the comments! I didn't mention that my husband's beard was the first time he's ever done that! I loved it, the girls called him a "homeless bum"

It came off when he arrived home, lol....
LLindaC is offline  
Jun 15th, 2008, 03:30 AM
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Thanks for the trip report. Since a canal trip was on my original list I was interested to read about it. We have decided not to do it this time but maybe in the future. Not to ask too benal a question but you mention a taxi from CDG to Gare Lyon to catch the TGV. When I leave I have tickets from Strausbourg to CDG T2 on the TGV. Does it not bring you right to the airport as I did not allow time for a long connect. Allyson
Ashjen is offline  
Jun 15th, 2008, 04:00 AM
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Hi LLindaC

I'm most interested in hearing about your canal boat experience after another poster here related how working the locks almost did them in. (Perhaps the secret for your success was that there were four of you whereas they were but two?)
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Jun 15th, 2008, 04:18 AM
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Allyson, the TGV that we took is the Paris to Dijon line which goes southeast from Paris. We were going to take the AirFrance shuttle bus from CDG to Gare de Lyon, but our original flight got changed and we were a little pressed for time since I already had train tickets.

Hi Sue! The section we were doing requires that a lockkeeper be present. They will do all the work if you want. However, Rick soon discovered that it was quicker for him to jump out and close one of the back gates than for the lockkeeper to have to run to the other side. Most of those have a long stick where you press with your body weight. Some of the lock keepers were small women and they did fine. The really hard one was the one which had a wheel on it and Rick said it took strength. Luckily, we only saw 2 of those. Some locks are automatic and the lock keeper just pushes buttons. They are slower to drain, however. I'm sure the locks are different in every country. One person was telling us about a multi level lock system they had seen somewhere. We always gave the workers a little tip when they helped us at several locks. We bought some wine from one of them..didn't see much of that going on, but I hear they sell produce and jam, etc.
LLindaC is offline  
Jun 15th, 2008, 04:20 AM
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Oh, and btw....I threw the rope around mooring (and never improved on it, sorry John Wayne) but the "other two" were off in their own world, trust me. Help is a four letter word!
LLindaC is offline  
Jun 15th, 2008, 02:42 PM
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We are trying to pick a hotel for our trip to Paris later this year. It sounds like you enjoyed the Hotel Londres Eiffel. Would you recommend it to a first-time Paris visitor?
debrad149 is offline  
Jun 15th, 2008, 02:50 PM
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This was my second trip to Paris, my husband's first and he loved the hotel. I know everyone has his/her favorite areas or reasons for choosing places, but this was a perfect fit for us. I am not seeking luxury in a place, just cleanliness,location and consistency. I chose the Hotel Valadon initially, but they didn't have two rooms. I suggest you also read the reviews on this hotel at www.tripadvisor.com
It cinched the decision for us.
LLindaC is offline  
Jun 15th, 2008, 04:10 PM
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Denise is offline  
Jun 15th, 2008, 06:08 PM
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Linda, sounds like the same canal trip my family did though we were on a river (I think) in Burgundy. We also did one of those hotel barges with the table cloths etc. Both are a great way to see a different part of France. We went to the Abbey de Fontenay. Seeing that made me understand the appeal of a life of seclusion. Thanks for a great trip report.
AGM_Cape_Cod is online now  
Jun 16th, 2008, 03:54 AM
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Linda, doing a canal trip has been a dream of mine for a long time!
marigross is offline  
Jun 16th, 2008, 05:44 AM
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We met quite a few people who owned their boats....mostly retired Brits at this time of year..who spent an entire summer navigating canals all over. It is a stress free way to travel for sure. I absolutely hate driving in a foreign country.
LLindaC is offline  
Jun 16th, 2008, 06:56 AM
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Linda, just wanted to add a word of thanks for writing this up. A great report, and I loved the photos.

AnselmAdorne is offline  
Jun 16th, 2008, 07:25 AM
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I loved your report. It gave a good idea of what the rhythm of the days is like while barging. We will be going in Brittany later this summer. Thanks for writing!
travelgirl2 is offline  
Jun 16th, 2008, 07:57 AM
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lilaki is offline  
Jun 16th, 2008, 06:24 PM
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Great report, Linda. I really enjoyed your photo album. The barge route looked so tranquil and scenic, despite the weather. Because of your mention of Soglio in a previous report, I have included that village in my itinerary for next month. I'll be going to the Alsace region of France, then on to the Engadine (also going to Guarda). Thanks to you and others, I think I'll have a very scenic and enjoyable journey ahead.
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