French Canal Barge Q&A
Barge cruises are an excellent way to indulge in fine French wines, cheeses and cuisine while moving at a snail’s pace through historic and beautiful regions of France. Like floating boutique hotels, French barge cruises offer an intimate and personal connection to the culinary and cultural riches of France.
To find out more about this small-ship niche, QuirkyCruise.com’s Heidi Sarna had an e-chat with Edward Anderson, owner-operator of the luxury canal barge, the Grand Victoria “The Queen of Burgundy.”
Q: What makes the Grand Victoria special?
Edward: While it offers the same luxurious amenities and features of other 5-star canal barges in France, the Grand Victoria isn’t technically a barge. It is a purpose-built one-of-a-kind private river yacht commissioned in 1986 by the famous Belgian liqueur family “De Kuyper.”
Madam De Kuyper had the yacht built for her and her family to cruise the rivers and waterways of Europe. It was later repurposed as a cruising hotel, very similar to the canal cruise barge boats seen in France and other parts of Europe.
Q: Why should a traveler consider a French barge cruise?
Edward: It is a magical way to experience a carefree vacation with friends and family
Everything is taken care of so you can just sit back and relax, while learning about the food, wine and culture of a region in France.
Further, a barge cruise allows you to unpack once and spend a week visiting different regions of Burgundy. It sure beats packing and unpacking as you go from one hotel to another.
Q: Why did you choose to be based in Burgundy?
Edward: Having travelled extensively in France before, Cindy and I knew that the wines and food of Burgundy would be very attractive to visitors. The region is well known for its famous Burgundy wines, delicious food and rich culture and history, from the gorgeous château and medieval towns, to verdant vineyards and vibrant village markets.
Q: What is your most popular Burgundy itinerary?
Edward: Our cruises on the Burgundy canal used to be our most sought after cruise, but over the past few years, we have seen an increase in interest to cruise the Saône and Petit Saône rivers. I think the growing interest is because they offer a combination of small canals and twisty river sections as well as the ability to cover some distance and see more of Burgundy than one would normally see on a canal only cruise.
Q: Where do your French canal barge cruises start and end?
Edward: Our most popular itinerary between Pontailler-sur-Saône and Tournus covers approximately 130 kilometers.
This allows guests to cruise the magical and scenic Petit Saône with its narrow waterways and locks (much like a canal) and then gradually enter the Saône River to visit places like Chalon-sur-Saône (the birthplace of photography) and Tournus with its impressive Abbey St. Philibert dating back 1,000 years.
Meanwhile, another route passenger enjoy is the 100-km journey between Chagny and Auxonne. [You can read more about this itinerary in a recent QuirkyCruise article by Christina Colon.]
Q: How do guests get to the Grand Victoria?
Edward: We pick our guests up in Paris by chauffeured vehicle or from the Dijon train station, for those who prefer to cut down the journey time in the car and travel on the comfortable high-speed TGV train.
Q: Describe your typical guests.
Edward: The Grand Victoria tends to attract a slightly younger barge customer than most barges. Perhaps it’s our chíc décor or our cruise itinerary, we’re unsure exactly why.
We’ve had customers from all walks of life, from Hollywood producers to farmers, New York attorneys, Californian thrill seekers, Louisiana oil industry and Montana ranchers.
Most of our guests come for the culture, the food and the wine, combined with a little bicycle riding and walking, visiting new and interesting locations and experiences. Of course our guests’ over-riding goal is to have a relaxing time with family and friends on a luxury French barge cruise.
Q: What is a typical dinner on board like?
Edward: To really whet your appetite, I’ll share two sample menus with you:
Sample Menu #1
Seared scallops with truffled potato purée and sweet ginger chili, served with a Chablis 2013 Blanc.
Roasted duck breast with prosciutto, roasted vegetables, fennel purée, parsnip crisps, and veal demi-glace, accompanied with a glass or two of Santenay 1er Cru “La Comme” 2014.
Neufchatel cœur fermier AOP, Morbier AOP lait cru and Fourme d’Ambert AOC.
Lemon tart with Italian merengue.
Sample Menu #2
Spiced duck wontons in a lime and chili broth with cashews and cilantro, accompanied by a bottle of Rully 1er Cru “La Pucelle” 2015 Blanc.
Fillet of charolais beef with wild mushroom ragout, baby carrots and parsnip gratin, served with Chambolle Mussigny 1er Cru “Le Charmes” 2010.
Saint Agur, Tom Tomme de Savoie fermière, and Mimolette extra vielle.
Summer fruit Millefeuilles.
Q: Are most of your cruises full charters?
Edward: Yes, most of our cruises are full charter as we accommodate just 6 guests. However we do offer open cruises during the low season, in July and August, when we require a minimum of 4 passengers to set sail.
Q: What is your role during a cruise? Are you and Cindy present on every cruise?
Edward: One of the nice things about the Grand Victoria is we are owner-operated. This means Cindy and I are on board with you as your hosts, and are always there for you when you need us.
I captain the vessel and serve as the tour guide and wine steward.
Cindy does an amazing job of keeping the operational and logistical side of the operation running, from managing the interior, to provisioning the vessel. She also manages the chefs and hostess’s daily duties, and handles bookings and guest inquiries.
As owners and operators, it allows us to tweak or customize an itinerary at a moment’s notice. We don’t have to ask permission or check in with corporate offices. We take care of our customers first-hand and are on site always to do so.
Q: Where are you from and how did get into the canal cruise business?
Edward: Cindy is originally from Rochester, New York, and I am originally from southern Africa. I was born in Livingstone, Zambia, famous for the “Victoria Falls.” I then lived in Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe) and South Africa, before immigrating to the US. Today we live in Tampa, Florida, where we spend our winters.
The catalyst for our starting on this adventure was when our son Alex was involved in a serious car accident whilst riding his bicycle, suffering a traumatic brain injury. We decided to change our careers, and create a new life that allowed us all to work together operating a beautiful boat in a beautiful part of the world.
And so, we operate the Grand Victoria as a family venture with our son Alex as the deck hand adding to the team. Alex has recovered, going from strength to strength, and Cindy and I have fallen in love with our life aboard the Grand Victoria in Burgundy.
Q: Do you have special offers to share with QuirkyCruise readers?
Edward: In fact we do! We’re offering QuirkyCruise readers an exclusive 20% off full-boat French barge canal charters when booked before Jan 2, 2020. Mention code QC2020. Here are more details.
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