A weeklong bareboat charter through Burgundy provides feasts for the eyes and the palate.
Story and Photos by Alan Harper - October 2003
If Paris is the head of France and Champagne is its soul, then Burgundy is its stomach. Even the French regard the ancient duchy of Bourgogne with special esteem. It is the land of the long lunch and four-hour dinner, of rich, succulent dishes and creamy sauces, the home of what the world regards as traditional French cuisine.
Crossed with canals and the expansive, lazy River Saône, Burgundy is also a cruising paradise, though perhaps not an obvious one. The waters are far from turquoise, and the beaches are few, but the scenery is extraordinarily pretty, and slipping by gently at 4 knots, it takes ahold of you. By day three you can no longer remember your office phone number, and nothing seems more important than tying up to that tree and breaking out some chilled Alsace beer, fresh bread, and about 12 different kinds of cheese.
St. Jean de Losne is the local boating center. Waterway routes from Paris and the north, as well as from the Rhine, the Loire, and the Mediterranean all converge within a few miles of the town. For years it was the commercial-barge capital of central France, but now its huge timber ponds have been converted into a giant marina, and the péniches (cargo craft) have mostly given way to pleasureboats. British sailboats pass through on their way south, in retreat from high prices and low weather, their masts struck down on deck to clear the low bridges. Swiss and German ensigns fly proudly from trim, Dutch-built, steel cruisers. Huge, comfortable converted barges ply back and forth, completely at home, their immaculate paint and varnish contrasting with the scuffed topsides of their working cousins. And there are traditional charter boats, lots of them, mostly British-built, some rather tired but others, like ours, nearly new.
Then there is the wine. Burgundy is one of the world’s great wine regions, stretching from Chablis in the north some 150 miles down to Beaujolais. At its heart, centered on the city of Beaune, is the great vineyard of the Côte d’Or. There are a few great chateaus but no vast plantations, just a patchwork of vineyards spread out on the slopes to face the sun and place names guaranteed to get the connoisseur’s attention. Montrachet, Meursault, Pommard, Nuits-St-Georges, Volnay—some of the greatest names in winemaking turn out to be unassuming little towns and villages dotted along this scenic range of hills, close to the Saône and the pretty Canal du Centre, their south- and east-facing slopes covered with vines.
This article originally appeared in the September 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.