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New Canal Cruises through France

New Canal Cruises through France

Two new Belmond Afloat in France barges are poised to explore the magical hidden waterways of northeast France.

Imagine drifting along a sun-drenched canal through France’s Champagne vineyards, glass of bubbly in hand. Or cruising past the picturesque villages of Alsace while dining on coq au Riesling out on deck.

These are just some of the delights that await aboard two new luxury barges about to be launched in northeast France. Belmond Pivoine (Peony) and Belmond Lilas (Lilac) are set to join the Belmond Afloat in France fleet in summer 2017, taking the total number of craft to seven—and opening up two stunning new routes.

Belmond Pivoine

Belmond Pivoine

Belmond Lilas

Belmond Lilas

The two barges’ six-night itineraries will weave along quiet canals and grand rivers, stopping at spectacular locations from family-owned artisan breweries to spectacular châteaux. There can be no more inspiring and relaxing way to escape from the everyday, a chance to slow down and savour each moment as it unfolds.

Belmond Pivoine will ply the River Marne, cruising between Meaux and Châlons-en-Champagne. Passing hills terraced with vines and dramatic open landscapes, it will glide through history, mooring close to cultural landmarks from the cathedral of Reims to the celebrated gardens of Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. A highlight is the visit to Hautvillers Abbey where the monk Dom Pérignon is said to have created the first effervescent wine. A picnic reception overlooking the river valley completes the Champagne pilgrimage.

Belmond Lilas will cruise the Canal de la Marne au Rhin in the heart of the Alsace region, passing pine forests and castles with a backdrop of the Vosges Mountains. Its route leads past tiny villages and postcard-pretty farmsteads, contrasting with the cultural magnificence of the regional capital, Strasbourg and Michelin-starred dining at Villa René Lalique. Plus there’s the excitement of experiencing the famous Arzviller Boat Lift—the engineering marvel that replaced a flight of 17 locks.

Both barges are styled to reflect the flowers from which they take their names and to create the effect of bringing nature on board. Interior designer Inge Moore explains: “The designs embrace a love of life and all pure living forms”. Open decks with swimming pools surrounded by lush plants evoke the feel of secret, floating gardens. Each barge accommodates eight guests in four en-suite cabins.

The existing fleet of five Belmond Afloat in France barges currently offers destinations including Burgundy, Provence and the Canal du Midi in the Languedoc. The two newcomers extend the reach into distinctively different cultures—each with its own heritage, gourmet specialities and world-famous wines.

General manager Nigel Bealing picks his personal highlights of each of the two new barges’ routes:

Belmond Lilas – Alsace region

Lutzelbourg

Lutzelbourg

  • The region’s wealth of cultural treasures include Strasbourg’s Petite France and 142-metre-high Gothic cathedral
  • Lesser-known Alsatian wines are a real hidden delight. The current generation of winegrowers combine traditional family methods and modern technology—with superb results. Guests can explore grape varieties including Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir
  • Walking or cycling along the towpath through the pristine scenery along the Canal de la Marne au Rhin and around the pretty village of Lutzelbourg
  • A private dinner at the Michelin-starred Villa René Lalique, former country home of the visionary art deco jeweller and glassmaker, among a display of hundreds of Lalique pieces
  • A tasting of local craft beers at family-owned Météor brewery
  • A stroll around the small town of Saverne, where the barge moors opposite the majestic Château des Rohan

Belmond Pivoine – Champagne region

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

  • Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, built by Louis XIV’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, offers a wonderful insight into France’s past glories
  • Where better to taste Champagne than in Champagne? Top quality tasting experiences are offered at small family-owned domaines such as Ployez-Jacquemart and Billecart-Salmon and famous Champagne houses such as Laurent-Perrier
  • Smaller towns of Chateau Thierry and Châlons-en-Champagne are ideal for local shopping or an after-dinner stroll
  • A visit to the Reims cathedral, where 34 French sovereigns were crowned

Discover more about the world of wines with Belmond. Tour the ancient wineries of the Venetian lagoon by private boat from Belmond Hotel Cipriani, follow the Cape Town Wineland trails from Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel and, for the true connoisseur, join Belmond Afloat in France's La Semaine des Grands Crus—and savour wines from France's 33 most celebrated domains as you drift through the vineyards that bear their names.