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One of the problems about living in France is that one forgets to take time off to enjoy the country, the people and the reasons for living here. It is so easy to become rooted in daily routines that leave no time for sojourns into the neighbouring departments to discover again why this is such an interesting and multilayered country.

One of the problems about living in France is that one forgets to take time off to enjoy the country, the people and the reasons for living here. It is so easy to become rooted in daily routines that leave no time for sojourns into the neighbouring departments to discover again why this is such an interesting and multilayered country.

It is usually when we have visitors that we are compelled to set forth into the countryside to discover, once again, why we are here.

That is why we looked forward so much to a visit from some old Rhodesian friends who are now living in Australia, for obvious reasons.

This was an excuse to embark on a special journey that was both a holiday and also a celebration of the end of my friend’s long working life and the beginning of a well earned retirement.
But our exploration of Burgundy was to be an adventure as well as a break, on a luxury barge.

Paul and Annie, our hosts, bought a barge a few years ago and in eighteen months converted it from a hulk into a spectacularly beautiful barge which has two en-suite bedrooms, a central lounge and a top deck that glides through the fields of France at walking pace, while we sip delicious wines of the region punctuated with a nibble of fresh strawberries.

Bicycles on the TowpathBicycles on the Towpath

As we glide along we see urgent people on bicycles who pass us in order to get to their overnight destinations.
I envy their fitness but revel in my languor.

We are living on our mobile accommodation as we meander past pastures of contented cows while we follow the central canal that will descend us into the Saone River for our final leg.

But first we pause at villages to visit a restaurant or to browse through the market stalls and then tour a wine cellar to decide which of the wines on offer will go best with turkey and Christmas pudding, later in the year.

I have spent months crossing oceans in a sailing boat, so I am used to the pace of life where there is constant movement and motion but nothing changes. There is a peace of mind that descends on you during these periods at sea that allows you examine your memories and digest thoughts that have lurked below consciousness levels, because you have been too busy to “chew the cud of recall”.

On the barge we find that we are in constant gentle change but it is so slow and smooth that the result is that we relax into a panorama of nature punctuated by picturesque lock houses or a family of swans or a field of curious donkeys.

It is like being in a 360 degree moving kaleidoscope of France viewed from a comfortable deckchair with reality smoothed gently away by a glass of Premier Cru from Pommard.
For my friend, what a contrast it is for him from deadlines, boardroom meetings, airport lounges and overnight flights to different time zone destinations.

We discover a restaurant which is owned by local wine producers where their vintages are at wholesale prices, served with food courses to compliment their art. Afterwards we wander in the warm evening air back to our mobile home moored at the side of the canal where Annie meets us with a nightcap before we retire.

In the morning we indulge in a fresh fruit breakfast with warm croissants and pastries from the local baker. We plan our afternoon trip to Beaune to visit the renowned Hospice de Beaune, which is of special interest to our wives with their nursing backgrounds.

A wine growers ChateauA wine growers Chateau

Tomorrow we shall visit a chateau where the wine grower traditionally dunks one of the family’s children in the wine each year for that special continuation of spiritual ambiance.
His father did it, and does he.
What would the guardians of our so-called health in Brussels think about that!

At last we enter the Saone and Paul drives the barge upstream past towns, villages and farms while we loll on deck and wonder if we will really bother to shed the few kilos that we have gained while on board.

We angle towards the river bank and we are home, delivered to the bottom of our garden. Our cats are all to keen to meet the onboard cats, as they are also used to life on board boats on the river.

We have a last dinner with our hosts and resolve to keep this wonderful form of travel and relaxation a secret.

After all, it wouldn’t be so wonderful if everybody was doing it!