CategorySightseeing and History | Blog

History of Reims Cathedral and the Kings of France

March 22nd, 2016

For over 800 years, a magnificent Gothic art masterpiece stands in the heart of the Champagne region of France – Notre Dame de Reims. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the city of Reims annually to see the cathedral and take in the splendid art and architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and immerse themselves in French history.

The massive flying buttresses of the majestic Reims Catherdal

The massive flying buttresses of the majestic Reims Cathedral

Some historical facts about Reims cathedral and the kings of France

In the 5th century, a basilica was first built on this site. Later, it was replaced by a cathedral until fire destroyed it in 1210. The present cathedral began construction in 1211 and completed in 1296. Renovations, expansions and embellishments to the cathedral have continued throughout the centuries to modern day. World War I shelling took a heavy toll on the cathedral, necessitating a massive restoration project. Several stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall were installed in the 1970s. For the 800th anniversary of the cathedral in 2011, some new stained glass windows designed by a German artist were revealed to the public. In its own unique way, this massive cathedral has accommodated various artistic and architectural influences.

The beautiful stained glass rose window in the Reims Cathedral

The beautiful stained glass rose window in the Reims Cathedral

The coronation of the kings of France

In 496, King Clovis of the Franks was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims. From this act sprang the tradition of having the king legitimized by the Church and swearing to defend it and uphold its principles. In the early 11th century, Reims became established as the city of coronations, with 25 coronations of French kings taking place in the cathedral from early 13th century to early 19th century. One of the coronations was of Charles VII, facilitated and attended by Joan of Arc.

Stained glass windows by the renowned artist Chagall

Stained glass windows by the renowned artist Chagall

Would you like to be awed by the cathedral in the city of Reims with its wondrous architecture and stained glass windows? Barge cruises on La Nouvelle Etoile, Saroche and Johanna include excursions to this important historic site. It is well worth the visit.

The smiling angel adorns the entrance to the cathedral

The smiling angel adorns the cathedral’s entrance

Thank you for letting us help you select and book your barge cruise.

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Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988



Nivernais Barge Cruises Include the Fascinating Château de Bazoches

January 18th, 2016

Home to One of the Great Military Engineers of All Time

Built in the 1700s, the 175-kilometer long Canal du Nivernais is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful French canals for Northern Burgundy barge cruises. Just a short drive from the canal is the fascinating Château de Bazoches tucked on a hill with expansive views of the surrounding fields and villages. It is a beautiful, 12th Century residence that once housed the lords of the land including one of the best military architects of all time, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, named a Maréchal of France.

Born in Burgundy during the early 1600s, Vauban started out as a minor noble but eventually became a poverty-stricken orphan and then a soldier in the Condé regiment. During his time with the regiment, he was taken prisoner and met Cardinal Jules Raymond Mazarin who became the Chief Minister of France in 1642. It was through his relationship with Mazarin that Vauban’s military career began to flourish and he became a loyal servant to King Louis XIV.

Outlining the Borders of France, the Fortifications of Vauban are UNESCO World Heritage Sites

As Vauban progressed through his career, he became well-known for his engineering talents and such inventions as the bayonet and iron barreled cannon. He used his engineering skills to help the French rulers build critical fortifications throughout the region which outlined the borders of France. Among them are the Fortifications of Vauban, a dozen buildings designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

With the funds earned in appreciation of his immense contributions to the defense of France, he purchased the Château de Bazoches and used the residence as a place to perfect his military strategies and subsequently write about them.

Today, the home has returned to the original de Sigalas family who have restored this stately home and opened it to the public to enjoy the rich period furnishings and fascinating history. It includes memorabilia connected to Maréchal de Vauban as well as items associated with other owners, such as Jean de Bazoches. To visit the Château de Bazoches and partake of a cruise on the Canal du Nivernais aboard the Luciole, L’Art de Vivre or Randle, please contact us for more information.

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Discover the Taste of Chablis Wine in Northern Burgundy
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Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988

Discover the Taste of Chablis Wine on Northern Burgundy Canal Cruises

November 30th, 2014

Nestled in Northern Burgundy’s Valley of the River Serein (the French word for “serene”) is the town of Chablis, a favorite excursion on French canal cruises. It is part of France’s Yonne Department and is known for its monastic history and viticulture. Legend has it that the monks of the Abbey of Pontigny, a Cistercian monastery on one of the pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela, were the first inhabitants to make a conscientious effort to grow grapes for wine making. The abbey is the largest standing abbey of its kind in Europe and celebrated its 900th birthday in 2014.

The wine town and vineyards of Chablis

The wine town of Chablis nestled in the vineyards

The origin of Chablis wine

The Chardonnay grapes planted on the abbey’s pastoral grounds are well suited to the micro-climate and soil of the Chablis wine region. They thrived and soon the monk’s highly acidic, flinty wines were quite popular with the local populations. Consequently, centuries later, Chablis wines produced in the area now hold four appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) designations.

PIcking grapes in Chablis. Photo by Barge Randle

Grapes are mostly picked by hand in Chablis

The Chablis, Grand Cru, Petit Chablis and Premier Cru appellations

Wine tasting in Chablis

A private wine tasting is included on all Northern Burgundy barge cruises

Interestingly enough, each appellation has its own levels of classification as well. They are traditionally based on two key factors. The first factor has to do with the soil composition and the second focuses on the slope where the grapevines are located. Passions run high as to which one is best and whether one should consume a bottle of Chablis from a vineyard that’s rife with Kimmeridgean soil and located close to the mouth of the Yonne River or one that’s tucked away in the outlying areas, where Portlandian soil is prominent. Personally, we think that most travelers aboard French canal cruises will find something nice to say about them all.

Barges such as the ultra-deluxe C’est La Vie, the deluxe La Belle Epoque and the first class Elisabeth include visits to Chablis and the surrounding vineyards.

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To learn more about Northern Burgundy canal cruises, please contact us today.

A votre sante,

Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988


Celebrate Champagne’s Sparkling Wine and History on Barge Trips in France

October 24th, 2014

Barge trips in Champagne celebrate the only sparkling wine that can officially be called Champagne, as it was here that Champagne was born. The 514 kilometer long River Marne passes right though this wine growing region rich with history and refined culture.

The Village of Hautvillers

Wrought iron signs grace the buildings in HautvillersThe village of Hautvillers is a well loved excursion on Champagne barge cruises. Long considered by many to be the birthplace of Champagne, the village of Hautvillers is a centuries old site perched high on a hill with expansive views of the Marne Valley and vineyards. Many of the houses and buildings have wrought iron signs depicting the profession or activity of its inhabitants. It is a photographer’s dream to wander the streets and alleys to capture artistic photos.


The Abbey d’Hautvillers

The restored Abbey d’ Hautvillers dates back to 650 and includes a church, circa 1600s arcade entrance, gardens and two tombs. The church, affectionately known as Saint Sindulphe, boasts a great deal of handcrafted, artistic detailing and historical items. Among them is a 17th century gallery pipe organ that includes a trio of keyboards and more than 400 pipes. There are also outdoor sculptures onsite too but that’s not what draws foodies to this site.

The restored Abbey d'Hautvillers
At one time, it was home to Dom Perignon, the monk who gave the world its first taste of what would go on to be  one of the most beloved champagnes. He was born in the 1600s to family with strong ties to Champagne’s viticulture and died during the fall of 1715. Thus, it should come as no surprise that he had so much to contribute towards the perfection of both 18th century wine and champagne making techniques.

The abbey and gardens are private and can be visited by invitation only. The church is always open to the public.

Moet & Chandon Champagne House

Dom Perignon champagne is owned by Moet and Chandon in EpernayThe 270 year old house of Moet & Chandon located in Epernay now owns the Abbey d’Hautvillers. It is a perfect place to stop before or after a trip to the famed abbey. Barge passengers are typically invited to sample champagne flights and explore the site’s 28-kilometer long cellars with a guide. During the guided tour, you will learn about the adult beverage’s connection to the infamous Marquise de Pompadour, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and the brand’s founders.

To find out more about the barges which cruise the Champagne region such as C’est la Vie and La Nouvelle Etoile, please contact us today.

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Here to help you from booking to boarding. Happy travels,

Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988


Explore the Hospices de Beaune on a French Canal Cruise

July 8th, 2014

Europe is full of buildings steeped in history, and France is no exception. The spectacular wine country of Burgundy is home to the world’s most famous charity wine sale, which takes place each November in the Hospices de Beaune. When you come along on one of our southern Burgundy French canal cruises such as Apres Tout, you have the opportunity to visit this famous site and savor the delicious wines of the region.

History of the Hospices

Also called the Hotel-Dieu, the oldest of this extraordinary collection of buildings dates back to 1443, when Duke Philip the Good built a hospital and refuge for the people of Beaune, who were suffering from famine and marauders in the wake of the Hundred Years War. For over five hundred years, this “charity almshouse” has welcomed and treated anyone who came through their doors. Today that first building, with its beautiful tile roof, is a spectacular museum, and modern patients are treated in newer facilities.

Hospices de Beaune, France

Hospices de Beaune, France (Photo courtesy of Hospice du Beaune)

The Hotel-Dieu museum provides an unusual window into healthcare in the 1400s. Patients were housed in a large room like a dormitory, and typically slept two to a bed. The chapel was located nearby, as spiritual care was considered just as important as the primitive medical care available at the time. In fact, visitors can see an amazing 15-panel oak polyptych of The Last Judgment that was commissioned for the chapel by a Flemish artist, Rogier van der Weyden.

Hospices de Beaune polyptych of The Last Judgment

Polyptych of The Last Judgment, Hospice de Beaune, France

The goal of this artwork was to both comfort the patients and warn them of the importance of getting their spiritual lives in order in case they didn’t survive the medical treatment. The museum also hosts treasures such as a medieval automatic rotisserie in the kitchen and a pharmacy stocked with the pewter and pottery vessels used for compounding prescriptions.

Wines of the Hospices

You might ask how the Hospices de Beaune can afford to give away all this free care. Well, over the centuries, Hospices de Beaune has received donations of everything from farms and woodlands to works of art from generous benefactors and grateful families. They have also received a number of vineyards, and it is the sale of the wine produced in those vineyards that has made the charity auction so famous. In addition to the wine auction itself, which is held on the third Sunday of November, there are a number of concerts, gala dinners, and wine tastings which take place during this time.

Hospices de Beaune wine cave

Wine cave of the Hospices de Beaune, France (Photo courtesy of Hospice de Beaune)

If you are intrigued by this type of history, or the chance to sample wines from the region, contact us today to reserve your stateroom on one of our Southern Burgundy barges.

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Whenever you’re ready to go barging, we’re ready to help. Happy travels!

Beth Hanson
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France During Easter: Six Traditions to Enjoy

April 20th, 2014

If you go barge cruising in France during Easter (called Pâques in French), you may experience some of the country’s unique Easter traditions.  Along with Christmas, Easter is a major holiday for many French people, who imbue it with their own customs and festivities.  What are you likely to encounter when visiting France during Easter time?

Take part in French Easter traditions

Easter in France and Europe during a barge vacation

Chocolate Easter eggs originated in Europe back in the 16th century

1) Church bells bearing chocolates from Rome. Typically from Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) to Easter morning, church bells are silent in France.  The fanciful explanation given is that the bells have departed from each steeple and have gone to Rome. When they return on Easter morning, they’ll bring chocolates with them and drop them around for children to find. Then they’ll start ringing again.

2) Easter processions.  Many towns will have processions in the week leading up to Easter Day. These processions may take place by torchlight. They often involve singing and dancing in costume or church garb. In some places, particularly Alsace, you may also see passion plays.

3) Raw egg games.  People, usually children, will toss raw eggs in the air and try to catch them without letting them break. In another version, eggs are rolled down a hill or a slope, and the winners are the ones whose eggs don’t break. These games can be played to earn more chocolate and other candies.

4) Easter feasting.  On Easter Day, the main meal usually has lamb and lots of fresh vegetables; dishes that make heavy use of eggs, such as omelets or quiches, are also popular. A rich, cake-like bread (called La Gâche de Pâques) is also served. Being France, the sweet foods of the season can’t be missed. These include Easter chocolates, formed as eggs or other shapes; the fine chocolatiers around the country will craft eggs that look like works of art. If you love chocolate, Easter in France will expose you to irresistible selections.

5) Celebration of the Giant Omelette.  On Easter Monday, omelets are especially popular fare, and one town – Bessières, in Southern France – is famous for its tradition of making an enormous omelet publicly in a giant pan; the omelet is then handed out to townspeople. Known as La Fête de l’Omelette Géante, this tradition has also been replicated in some other places.

6) Easter decorations.  Decorations are popular in France, most notably in Alsace.  Flowers, painted eggs, and figurines displayed in windows are common.  Children may also construct nests to lay out in their gardens in the hopes that they will be filled with chocolate eggs.

France is gorgeous in the springtime, and if you come during Easter (which in 2014 falls on April 20th), you’ll get to experience an extra-festive atmosphere.

Happy Easter!

Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988


Float Gently Through Turbulent Cathar History on Barge Trips in France

February 17th, 2014

Languedoc: Rich History of a Beautiful Destination

The peaceful vineyard clad countryside of Languedoc hides a turbulent history. In the thirteenth century, a bloody crusade was launched by the Catholic Church over a Christian heresy called Catharism. Castles that are now viewed as scenic were once the last defense of a minority that didn’t even speak French. At that time, southern France was a patchwork of smaller kingdoms and duchies with borders that shifted on a regular basis. One of them encompassing much of southern France was Occitania. The language of the area was known as “les langues d’oc”—which is the origin of the name for the region of Languedoc. Thus, the Cathars, in what is now France, were fighting not just for their religious freedom, but also for their independence as a cultural minority.

Visit Historical Treasures on Barge Cruise Excursions

Today you can explore this fascinating and disputed territory on the guided excursions included on our barge trips on the Canal du Midi. You will take an excursion to Minerve, the ancient hilltop village overlooking the confluence of two rivers where the peaceful Cathars were besieged by Simon de Montfort in 1210. A local museum re-creates the Cathar seige with a miniature diorama.

La Candela of Minerve

La Candela of Minerve is all that remains of the fort beseiged by Simon de Monfort in 1210.
140 Cathars perished by fire when they refused to renounce their faith.
Photograph by Beth Hanson,

Whether you make your home aboard a charter barge with your own private party or join other passengers on a hotel barge, you will visit the city of Carcassonne, which is hailed as the most complete medieval fortified city remaining in Europe today.

Cite de Carcassonne in Languedoc

Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the most well preserved walled city in Europe.
Photograph by Beth Hanson,

From the deck of Anjodi or Athos as it passes through Beziers, you will have the opportunity to glimpse the hilltop city where all the townspeople were massacred when they refused to renounce their faith as demanded by Pope Innocent III and the French king Philippe II Augustus.

The modern day city of Beziers

Beziers, where Simon de Montfort sacked the city and killed all the residents to eliminate the Cathars. Photo courtesy of European Waterways.

Aboard any of our Canal du Midi barges, you will have the opportunity to trace the footsteps of the Cathars as they peacefully and valiantly struggled to retain their independence.

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If you’re ready to float through history, contact us today to book a barge trip on the Canal du Midi.

Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988


Carcassonne – The Jewel of Languedoc and the Canal du Midi

December 19th, 2013

Daily excursions are a highlight of a canal or river barge cruise. When cruising in the south of France on the Canal du Midi, you are immersed in a region which offers natural beauty, a rich history, and many lovely villages and small towns to explore on foot or by bike.

Carcassonne - a medieval city nestled in the Languedoc vineyards

Carcassonne- a medieval city nestled in Languedoc vineyards

Carcassonne – a Canal du Midi Barge Cruise Attraction

Carcassonne, a stunning fortified town that’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a highlight of the Canal du Midi barge trips. Though people have been living on this site for millennia, since before Roman times, Carcassonne is mainly known as a prime example of a European medieval fortified town – maybe the best of its kind in all of Europe. It is amazingly well-preserved and is yours to explore with all of its ramparts and towers.


St. Nazaire Basilica is known for its extraordinary stained glass

Carcassonne Sightseeing

What is there to see and do in Carcassonne?

  • Transport yourself to medieval times as you explore the amazing fortifications with its double walls and winding streets.
  • Find the bust of Madame Carcas at the Narbonne gate and learn about the legend of how she saved Carcassonne from a siege ending in the joyous ringing of bells (“Carcas sona”)
  • Step into the ancient and majestic Basilica of St. Nazaire. The grand organ and colorful windows can’t be missed. Simon de Montfort, leader of the crusade against the Cathars of Languedoc, was buried in the basilica before being moved by one of his sons.
  • Visit Chateau Comtal and walk the ramparts for beautiful views of the countryside.
  • Brave a visit to the Torture Museum, which displays a variety of medieval instruments of torture.
  • Try some of the local dishes, including cassoulet, which combines sausage, duck, and beans.

Be sure to bring a camera with you and take lots of photos of the architectural details. Soak in the atmosphere and get transported to another era. Your tour guide with the barge will give your visit more meaning, as you’ll better understand the historical significance of this very strategic site.


Ancient Carcassonne overlooks the new city and the Canal du Midi

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Contact us for more details about our barge trips on the Canal du Midi. We will take you to unforgettable locales.

Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988

Cruise an Engineering Marvel on the Canal du Midi

December 11th, 2013

There are almost a thousand UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and most of the cultural sites in France are buildings. However, deep in southern France is a UNESCO Heritage Site that you can enjoy in leisurely comfort from the deck of a canals of France barge – the Canal du Midi, an engineering marvel of the seventeenth century.

Canal du Midi: A Work of Art

The Canal du Midi was first envisioned by Leonardo da Vinci when he visited France in the early sixteenth century. The idea was to connect the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea via a link between the Garonne and Aude Rivers. The project, which was spearheaded by a Frenchman named Pierre-Paul Riquet, began in 1654 and ultimately completed in 1694, 13 years after his death. The total length of the waterway, including the river portions, is 360 kilometers.


Map courtesy of Wikipedia

Thousands of workers were employed (12,000 at the peak of the project), including 600 women when there were not enough men available! Together this workforce constructed 328 elements in this industrial work of art, including locks, aqueducts, bridges, spillways, and tunnels. The total cost of the project was over 15 million livres, and the result was a functional communications and transportation waterway that symbolized the power of seventeenth-century France. Its impact extended to the development of a number of canals across Great Britain and even America, where George Washington was involved in a number of canal development projects.


8 passenger barge Anjodi cruises on the Canal du Midi. Photo courtesy of

Canal du Midi Barging: The Languedoc Wine Region

The designers of the Canal du Midi were very aware of the impact of this project on the local landscape, creating designs that were both monumental and elegantly simple. Today it traverses the Languedoc wine region, providing a scenic and historic backdrop for ten of our luxurious barges. While no longer used for communications or commerce, you can still enjoy the beauty of this transportation marvel. From the intimate Emma to the ultimate Enchante, you can appreciate the charm of the Canal du Midi while also sampling the delights of local winery tours, regional cuisine and stupendous sightseeing opportunities in medieval abbeys and hilltop towns.


The 6 passenger ultra deluxe Roi Soleil s-l-o-w-l-y passes under a Canal du Midi bridge. Photo courtesy of Roi Soleil.

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For more information and to arrange your own experience of this engineering marvel, contact us today.

Happy travels,

Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988

Float Through Burgundian History on an all-inclusive Barge Cruise

July 30th, 2013

Did you ever think about the history of the canals that meander through the French countryside? Created by human labor, these channels were produced through human perseverance and ingenuity in days when traversing wilder countryside was possible only by rugged pathways or old Roman roads. A good day’s travel was measured in tens of miles, not hundreds, as it is today. The waterways we view from the decks of a Burgundy canal barge, with the eyes of a tourist or pleasure cruiser, were historically created for the critical purposes of commerce and communication.

L'Art de Vivre on the Nivernais Canal

The Nivernais Canal in Northern Burgundy, Photo courtesy L’Art de Vivre

Take, for example, the Canal du Nivernais, or Nivernais Canal, in northern Burgundy. It was begun in 1784 in order to aid in the floating of lumber from the Morvan National Park to Paris. There are 110 locks and three tunnels along its 180 kilometer (110 mile) route – which makes it a fascinating waterway to traverse from a touristic perspective, but must have been extremely difficult to design and build with the limited technologies available more than two centuries ago. Over the years, the Nivernais Canal contributed significantly to the economic development of the valleys of the Yonne River through which it flows.

Light plays on the Nivernais Canal

Thank you to Luciole passenger, Evan Cohen, for this gorgeous photo of the Nivernais Canal

Today, you can enjoy both the fascinating history and scenic beauty of this area from the upper deck of two barges, the Luciole or L’Art de Vivre.

L'Art de Vivre, an 8 passenger first class barge

The inviting deck and hot tub of the 8 passenger first class barge, L’Art de Vivre

Between Auxerre and Clamecy, you float through lush countryside, with daily excursions to northern Burgundy’s highlights including:

Luciole, a 14 passenger barge cruising on the Nivernais Canal

The popular 14 passenger barge Luciole has been cruising on the Nivernais Canal for over 30 years.

From your vantage point on the barge or when walking and biking the towpaths, you will see curved stone bridges, vineyard vistas and bucolic pastures. Pretty villages dot the landscape inviting you to explore.

The important mercantile history of the Nivernais Canal with its heritage and beauty adds to the charm of a barge cruise along this remarkable canal. Ready for an historic adventure?

Contact us today to book your cruise on the Nivernais Canal.

Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988