“La bonne cuisine est la base du véritable bonheur,” wrote the 19th-century culinary trailblazer Auguste Escoffier. Translated as “good food is the foundation of real happiness”, Escoffier perfectly captures the spirit of French pleasure, and the ethos of our luxury barges. Step aboard as we explore some of the country’s finest flavours.
BARGE HOTELS FIRST became popular in the 1960s. It's little surprise that over half a century later they're still in vogue; boats are a passport for the senses. One can, of course, learn about French history in books and glean a tip or two from a cookery programmes. But France is an experience, not an idea. Its gastronomic heritage must be seen and sampled to be truly appreciated.
This understanding is at the heart of Les Bateaux Belmond. Its seven beautiful boats glide through some of France’s most famed culinary regions. You can discover the character, stories and specialities of each area in a personal and authentic way. There is nothing like tasting wine while standing next to the very vines which produced its grapes, chatting and laughing with the owners of the château in the late afternoon sun.
Burgundy offers just such experiences. Though it is celebrated for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the delicate truffles are also world-class. A truffle-hunting adventure here will have you unearthing your own treasures in private woodlands. You’ll be assisted by our expert guides (and a rather naughty Italian truffle-dog named Julio). Back at the farm, you can sample such delicacies as truffle cream-cheeses, goujères and even truffle ice-cream.
In Provence, go olive oil tasting in Avignon. The farmer will take you for a drive on his tractor. Together you’ll find a cool, shady spot in the fields where you can learn all about the olives. The tapenade you’ll taste is rich, divinely salty and perfectly piquant. By contrast, Provence in lavender season offers elegant, floral flavours. Taste the delicious local lavender biscuits—or just take a deep breath of the sweet evening air.
The pretty town of Pommard is renowned for two things—its Côte de Beaune and its smooth, bold chocolate. After tasting this most robust red wine, head to the unutterably charming Appellation Chocolat. Its owners Michel and Beatrice Dessolins will guide you through the chocolate-making process.You will,of course, get to sample their confections.
As playful and sensual as the French can be about their cuisine, food can be a very serious matter, too. Most of us are familiar with Dijon mustard. Fewer, perhaps, know that this region has been a mustard-making hub since the middle ages. Dijon was granted exclusive production rights in France in the 17th century, when Jean Naigeon of Dijon changed the ingredient of vinegar for the juice of unripe grapes (verjuice). The Grey Poupon mustard brand, now popular worldwide, here in 1866.The famous Maille brand is also based here. Visit both establishments, armed with cornichons and breadsticks, and be sure to pick up a perfectly-packaged souvenir.
Besides touring the famous Champagne vineyards, one can also sample the exquisite bubbly that comes from Crémant. The experience of sipping this crisp sparkling wine in the beautiful vineyard is nothing short of euphoric.
Besides the regions, every day can be an adventure in itself. Rise early and head to a local village market with your onboard chef. Soak up the gorgeous aromas of fresh fruit and vegetables and feast your eyes on the produce. Choose the ingredients for the evening banquet your chef will prepare. Your péniche hôtel trip means you can eat completely seasonally and regionally.
France is a country to be savoured, and a holiday like this is a chance to be unhurried. Picture yourself, then, in Pont du Gare in the South of France. You’re swimming in the beautiful blue river in the warm summer sunshine, looking up at the ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the water. After your swim, you’ll eat fresh ice-cream on the bridge, admiring the sweeping views over Avignon and Provence. History, food and pleasure converge into one timeless moment. Bon appétit!