France is among the oldest countries in the world and the largest in Western Europe. Its profound influence can be seen in almost all aspects of modern culture, from cuisine and fine wine to music, art, fashion, literature, and sports. With its rich history, flavorful foods, and iconic landmarks, many of us have placed France on our travel bucket list. Who hasn't wanted to experience the glimmering lights of the 134-year-old Eiffel Tower?
While many pinpoint Paris as their desired destination, there is far more to see in France than the hustle and bustle of the Parisian streets. In fact, traveling outside of Paris and into the countryside, "la campagne," as the French say, might have more to offer than one could imagine. While you will find other large cities outside of Paris, such as Lyon, Marseille, Lille, Bordeaux, and Toulouse, you will also find a world of intrigue among the historic villages and towns in la campagne. Imagine picturesque, fairy-tale-like villages and castles, medieval architecture, sprawling vineyards and pastures, lavender fields, and dense forests. Now imagine yourself traveling along a gentle river, a glass of fine French wine in your hand, taking in this serene storybook setting with your friends and family.
With Les Bateaux Belmond's River Cruises, you can soak up the splendor of rural France from the comfort of your private barge as you traverse the rivers and canals of la campagne. Les Bateaux Belmond operates seven stunning barges, accommodating between four and 12 guests, and offers a variety of journeys that take you from the vineyards of Burgundy to the olive mills of Le Somail and the medieval chateaus of Grignan. Each of their barges is uniquely designed with pleasure in mind, from the glamourous cabins to the opulent dining and lounge spaces. Some even have heated, panoramic pools and sunbeds on lovely sundecks. The elegant interiors of each boat focus on luxury and comfort, with rich details that honor the history and heritage of each locality, and each barge is equipped with bicycles allowing you to hop out and ride along the various canals in which your barge is moored. Onboard you will be tended to by their seasoned staff, many of whom are fluent in both English and French. In addition to your own guide, who will highlight the history and importance of the region, the barge's private Chef will serve delicious pairings of fresh and seasonal regional cuisine, perfectly paired with local wines and cheeses.
"The essence of travel with Les Bateaux Belmond is that your time is relaxed, and any excursions will be tailored to your personal tastes and requirements," Belmond says. These excursions depend on the region in which you are traveling but include visits to local attractions such as stately châteaux, vineyards, abbeys, cathedrals, and lively markets. Additional excursions like hot air ballooning can also be added on to enhance your experience. During the cruise, your boat will even be accompanied by an air-conditioned vehicle which will take you and your private guide on any chosen tours.
All Aboard Champagne
Step aboard Belmond's newest addition to their luxury fleet, Coquelicot, where you are invited to savor the Champagne region from the water, home to some of the most famous sparkling wines in the world. This intimate floating sanctuary houses six guests and features two lounges, an open kitchen, and a shaded top-deck dining area. The barge was designed by Humbert and Poyet, with each design choice channeling the essence of Champagne. From the neutral, earthy-toned linens and raw materials to the contemporary furnishings, antique touches, and local flourishes, Coquelicot pays homage to the culture and architectural heritage of the region. Coquelicot features three guest cabins with en-suite bathrooms and an indoor salon with a champagne bar stocked to the tee per your tastes. With exceptional outdoor space, you can relax with a cup of coffee and pastries while catching a vibrant sunrise from the top deck or gather your friends and family to dine alfresco as you take in the passing landscape.
One of the itineraries you may choose on Coquelicot will take you on a journey through Champagne, beginning in Épernay, the "jewel" of the region, and ending in Sillery. Board your barge and receive a warm welcome from the dedicated captain and crew with a delightful champagne reception, followed by your first gourmet meal of the week prepared by the Chef. As you continue your journey deeper into the region, you will have opportunities to visit historic vineyards and producers who have cultivated the world of sparkling champagne. Experience the wonders of Hautvillers Abbey, where the monk Dom Pérignon accidentally discovered how to make champagne. Visit Ruinart, the oldest established champagne house in the world, dating back to 1729. This exclusive partnership between Belmond and the famed producer presents a rare opportunity to explore the Ruinart vineyards and sample some of their finest champagnes. After your tour, you'll return to the barge for a five-course lunch crafted by Ruinart's private Chef and paired with select vintages. Enjoy an elegant lunch at the renowned Brasserie Le Jardin, where all of the cuisine is seasonally and regionally crafted by Chef Phillipe Mille. Once in Sillery, you will have a thrilling visit to Veuve Clicquot, a supremely celebrated champagne house where you will have the unique opportunity to explore their vast underground cellars. At the end of your trip, the Chef prepares an extravagant farewell gala dinner.
The region of Burgundy offers some of the best river tourism in France with its vast network of inland waterways connecting historic towns and villages. With four cabins and room for eight guests, Lilas, one of Belmond's Burgundy barges, allows you a peaceful journey along the river Rhône and into the heart of the region's spectacular landscape. Lilas showcases a contemporary twist on classic French style, paired with inspiration drawn from nature, making for an elegant and intimate atmosphere. Onboard, you will lounge and enjoy gourmet cuisine in the sophisticated dining room or in the airy lounge with doors that open to allow for exquisite alfresco dining. Soak up the sunshine, passing vineyard landscapes and Chateaux from the deck while you take a dip in the barges heated pool and watch the countryside float by.
One of the itineraries you may embark on with Lilas will take you from Avignon, the gateway of the Province region, to Lyon, considered by many to be the gastronomy capital of France. Board Lilas in Avignon and settle in with a champagne reception to begin your journey along the Rhône. Pass the famous Pont Saint-Bénezet and Villeneuve les Avignon to Roquemaure, where you will enjoy your first gourmet meal skillfully created by the Chef while you prepare for your next adventure. A guided tour through the walled city of Avignon will take you to the Palace of the Popes, giving you time to shop and sample the local cafés. At your next stop, a scenic drive through the countryside will take you to the Provençal village of Grignan, famous for its wild roses and 12th-century chateau. Explore the narrow, cobbled streets and dine at a local restaurant before heading to a truffle farm to learn about the world-renowned black diamond. Once back on the barge, you will continue your journey to Tain L'Hermitage, where you will visit a local winery, explore Côtes du Rhône and visit the famous Valrhona chocolate shop. Cruising the Vallée du Rhône is sure to delight as magnificent views of the vineyards of Côtes Rôties and Côtes du Rhône seemingly stretch right to the water's edge. Find inspiration with a walking tour of the riverside town of Vienne led by your guide, where you will learn about its Roman history. Once in Lyon, you will marvel at the sights as you take a guided walking tour through the city, which is rich in culture and gastronomy. Visit the ornate Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière and stop into the chic boutiques before heading back to the barge for your farewell gala dinner.
Primary Bedroom of Coquelicot
Les Bateaux Belmond's fleet of luxury barges offers a first-class opportunity to explore the charming and romantic French countryside from the water with all the comforts one needs. Included in each person's fare is transport from Paris to the boat (if applicable); all table d'hôte meals with each week's menu, a special curation of regional and seasonal delicacies unique to the region you are cruising through; complimentary beverages; accommodations on the barge; and all excursions stated in the itinerary, fully escorted by the experienced onboard guide. To peruse their available journeys and begin planning your perfect cruise with Belmond, visit their website at Belmond.com/boats.