ABOARD RENAISSANCE- Rain dampened the deck, streets and roads but not our memories as we hugged the crew and piled into our trusty van with deck man, driver, guide and captain-in-training Arnald Poussin for the three hour-drive to Paris.
More hugs as he dropped us of at European Waterways’ Paris meeting center, Hotel Westminster. Just enough time for lunch, to tour the Eastern Antiquities collection at the Louvre (a weak but heart-felt gesture of scorn for the Isis-idiots destroying their cultural heritage) and a fun dinner at Le Grand Café Capucines before returning to reality.
Notes on Renaissance:
The refitted Renaissance is the longest and widest barge on the canal, giving her eight passengers the most spacious surroundings available. Our stern cabin, Moliere, featured a large bath and more room than any other cruise cabin I have ever inhabited.
The Briare canal is France’s oldest, opening in1642, and travels through both natural and finely sculpted landscapes, quaint villages and nearby attractions. For long stretches the only sound to be heard on the foredeck is that of birdsong and the soft hum of the engine.
Although the distance between Montargis and Chatillon-Sur-Loire can be driven in mere hours, Renaissance’s leisurely pace allows a getaway that is both relaxing and culturally deep. Nothing other than breakfast, which starts at 8 a.m., begins before 9 a.m.
The culinary experience is extraordinary. Chef Luke offers a daily special in addition to the standing buffet of charcuterie, cheeses, fresh and dried fruits, cereals and warm from the bakery breads and rolls.
Lunches may be buffet style or prepared and always include a salad or main course, cheese, dessert and both red and white wines. Dinner consists of starter, main course with vegetables, mild and “aromatic” cheeses plus dessert, again with a white wine starter followed by a red, both exceptional.
Each day diners are met with fresh floral centerpieces, fine faience porcelain and bright touches from creatively folded napkins to a tablecloth sprigged with wild daisies and buttercups.
The lounge is comfortable and inviting, enhanced by flowers as well as a platter of macaroons.
Passengers can be as active, riding along on bicycles or walking the towpaths, or as indolent as they choose. Outings alternate with cruising so one can be both relaxed and active. Game, cards, reading and listening material are on hand for inclement days if conversations with fellow passengers aren’t enough to pass the time.
Between the glistening barge, the scenic surroundings and the ever-helpful crew, one would have to work very hard not to be delighted.