WESTBOUND: CHALONS-EN-CHAMPAGNE TO COURCELLES

€2,950 per person

Optional extras

Pick up and drop off in Paris – €100 per person

Bicycle – €40 per person

Electric bicycle – €100 per person

Hot air balloon flight over the vineyards – from €200 per person

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So you’ll choose the daily excursion option! You’ll see on each afternoon we have a recommended excursion and several alternative excursions.

What’s the difference between recommended and alternative? Nothing! – it is simply that so many people have asked us ‘what do you recommend?’ So the recommended excursions are selected to offer a balance of excursion types across the week, appeal to a broad range of folks and be within anyone’s physical ability range (eg. the E-bike tours are alternatives).

We’ll ask you to choose the excursion for each day when you book, so that we can put a finalised itinerary on the website for your shipmates to book.

WEDNESDAY

Afternoon - Pick up at Chalons-en-Champagne train station and welcome aboard

We’ll meet you on the platform at Chalons-en-Champagne train station, which is just 5 minutes drive from the barge. The direct train from central Paris takes 1 hour 40 minutes (which is quicker than if you drive).   We’ll provide all the information you need, including where to go and how to buy your tickets in advance. Typically the fare from Paris to Chalons-en-Champagne is around €25 – €40 per person, each way.

Or if you prefer we can pick you up from central Paris, at the Gare du Nord train station (see optional extras above).

When you arrive at the barge you’ll be welcomed aboard by the rest of the crew with champagne and canapes.   There’s then time to take a stroll to explore the medieval buildings in the centre of Chalons or just relax onboard and unpack. 

Evening - Michelin starred dining

We’re kicking off your cruise in style tonight with dinner at a Michelin stared restaurant.  Holder of a Michelin Star since 2018, we love this restaurant for the interesting flavour combinations, beautiful presentation and excellent service to match and it’s just 10 minutes walk from the barge (or we can hop in the car if you prefer).

THURSDAY

Morning - Cruise from Chalons-en-Champagne to Vraux

About 10am we’ll be taking off the mooring ropes to start our cruise along the canal. Here the canal takes us through peaceful countryside, past occasional grain silos that are the canal’s original raison d’être.

Afternoon - recommended excursion: Historic city of Reims (40 minute drive from the barge)

We start our visit at the magnificent gothic cathedral. Every king of France since Clovis in 1130 has been crowned in this cathedral. Today it is an UNESCO World Heritage site in recognition of this history, it’s architecture significance and the impressive beauty of the external sculpture work.

You can then choose from the following options:
– Option A – Walking tour of Reims city-centre – Settled since Roman times, Reims is awash with history. On our walking tour you’ll get to discover of it’s hidden gems and beautiful art deco buildings. With this option there is also time for souvenir shopping and a stop at a patisserie.
NB. We can combine this with options B or C to make a longer excursion if you would like.
– Option B – Musée de la Reddition – The school which served as the Headquarters of General Eisenhower, and where he received the German surrender that ended combat in WW2 (24 hours before it was re-signed in Berlin) is now a museum dedicated to this historic event and the city’s role in the closing stages of the war.
– Option C – San Remi Basilica and Musée San Remi – Built in the 11th century the beautiful romanesque San Remi basilica is even older than then main cathedral. Next door we will also visit the 17th century abbey which now houses a museum telling the history of the city through the ages.

Alternative excursion options

E-bike adventure through the vineyards (0 minutes drive from the barge).- You’ll have seen the vineyards from the barge and from the car but today we head out to explore them on electric bikes. Our ride takes us up through the vineyards to the villages of Bouzy and Ambonnay. This is Pinot Noir territory and with both villages being designated Grand Cru, the highest quality, here you’ll find vineyards belonging to famous names like Krug, Bollinger and Veuve Clicquot. As well as stopping for a couple of tastings we’ll visit the charming village church which dates from the 1850s and a panoramic viewpoint. And with electric bikes even going uphill is easy! 

The villages of the Montagne de Reims (25 minutes drive from the barge) – Head out to explore the vineyards and villages of the Montagne de Reims. This north east facing hillsides here are famous for their Pinot Noir grapes, with many villages designated as ‘Grand Cru’ ie. the highest of quality. Our explorations take us to the pretty villages of Verzy, Verzenay and Mailly with a stop at the picturesque ‘Lighthouse in the vines’ and a tasting at a small producer.

Visit the chalk cellars of a Grande Maison (40 minutes drive from the barge) – Originally dug by the Romans, today there are millions of bottles of champagne sleeping in the kilometres of interconnected caverns.  During your tour you’ll learn about the history of the house and taste two or three of their premium cuvees.  You can choose to visit Ruinart, Tattinger, Veuve Cliquot or Pommery (please note this may be a public group tour). 

Cook a meal with a French Chef (40 minutes drive from the barge) – Join Chef Eric for a fun and educational evening in the kitchen – learn pro tips and techniques as you help prepare a starter, main and dessert. Then sit down to dinner and enjoy the fruits of your labour! Example menu: turbot with kaffir lime and ginger, duck cooked at low temperature with foie gras two ways and chestnut macaroon.

Evening - BBQ dinner aboard

Graeme’s manning the grill tonight for a BBQ dinner aboard. As we’re moored in the countryside tonight, it’s a great opportunity to really enjoy the peace and nature before ending the evening with a beautiful sunset over the hills. Dinner is accompanied by your choice of champagne or wine – how about trying the Bouzy Rouge, a full bodied Pinot Noir just like this region produced for the Kings of France before Champagne was invented.

FRIDAY

Morning - Cruise from Vraux to Mareuil-sur-Ay

We will spend around 6 to 7 hours cruising today so the barge may already be moving as you sit down to breakfast. Serenity will be descending downhill through a chain 6 locks, before passing through the pretty villages of Tours sur Marne and Bisseuil. With the towpath alongside and several nearby villages this is the perfect opportunity to take a stroll as there are lots of chances to get on/off the barge as we stop in each lock.

Afternoon - recommended excursion: Cellar tour at Champagne Guy Charbaut and stroll in the village of Hautvilliers (15 minutes drive from the barge)

Established in 1936, this family owned champagne house focus on bio-dynamic work in the vineyards and is experimenting with aging in oak barrels for their cuvees. On your tour, Marion will explain the complete process of making champagne as she shows you around the vat house and century old cellars dug into the chalk cliff above. Your visit ends with a generous tasting of their range of vintage and non-vintage champagnes.

We will then drive to Hautvilliers, considered one of the prettiest villages in the region. Famous as the home of Dom Perignon, who is often credited with discovering how to make champagne, today this village is home to around 800 people and more than 30 champagne houses! On our guided walk around the village you’ll visit the abbey and enjoy another champagne tasting at one of the villages small producers.

Alternative excursion options

Chocolate workshop (15 minutes drive from the barge) – Get hands on and learn how to make filled chocolate champagne corks with Xavier at his artisan chocolate shop. 

A stroll in historic Ay (15 minutes drive from the barge) – Join Claire for a walking tour of this charming village, with its 14th century half timbered houses, winding lanes and gothic church. After a ‘re-fueling’ stop at the patisserie we visit Champagne Collet, with its Art Deco villa and museum of champagne production.

Tour the Art Deco Villa Demoiselle (35 minutes drive from the barge) – Originally built for the directors of Pommery Champagne, in the last five years this Art Deco house has been lovingly restored before being opened to the public. The result is a real architectural jewel with floral paintings climbing the walls, stained glass windows, period furniture throughout, sweeping central staircase and superb Baccarat chandeliers.  If you’d like we can also make a short visit to Reims cathedral before heading back to the barge.

Evening

Tonight we are moored in one of our favourite spots, on the edge of the village of Mareuil-sur-Ay. Right underneath the vineyards we always get beautiful sunsets over the canal here. You’ll have dinner at Les Avizes, a small restaurant housed in a chateau dating from the 1820’s.  Run by a champagne family who were among the early leaders of the high quality grower movement the food is gourmet and the wine list divine.

SATURDAY

Morning - Market visit and cruise from Mareuil-sur-Ay to Dizy

It’s an early morning start today if you want to join Claire for a visit to the bustling Saturday morning covered market in Epernay. The stalls are laden with fresh produce from across the region and you can choose the cheeses and charcuterie to enjoy as a platter style lunch today.

When we return to the barge we’ll enjoy the short cruise along the canal to Dizy, from where there is a great view of the village of Hautvilliers perched above us. 

Afternoon - recommended excursion: Explore the vineyards at Champagne Le Gallais (15 minutes drive from the barge)

At this winery not only are their vineyards blessed with beautiful views down the Marne valley but the grapes also go right up to the turreted Chateau Boursault, built in 1843 by Madame Clicquot. Join the lovely Florie for a walk in the vineyard and learn how they care for the vines throughout the year. And whilst tasting the estates champagnes, one of the group will be taught how to open a bottle using a sword! Called ‘Sabrage’ this technique dates back to the Napoleonic troop’s who liked to celebrate victory with champagne. 

Alternative excursion options

A stroll in historic Ay (5 minutes drive from the barge) – Join Claire for a walking tour of this charming village, with its 14th century half timbered houses, winding lanes and gothic church. After a ‘re-fueling’ stop at the patisserie we visit Champagne Collet, with its Art Deco villa and museum of champagne production.

Tour the Art Deco Villa Demoiselle (35 minutes drive from the barge) – Originally built for the directors of Pommery Champagne, in the last five years this Art Deco house has been lovingly restored before being opened to the public. The result is a real architectural jewel with floral paintings climbing the walls, stained glass windows, period furniture throughout, sweeping central staircase and superb Baccarat chandeliers.  If you’d like we can also make a short visit to Reims cathedral before heading back to the barge.

Cook a meal with a French Chef (35 minutes drive from the barge) – Join Chef Eric for a fun and educational evening in the kitchen – learn pro tips and techniques as you help prepare a starter, main and dessert. Then sit down to dinner and enjoy the fruits of your labour! Example menu: turbot with kaffir lime and ginger, duck cooked at low temperature with foie gras two ways and chestnut macaroon.

Candlelight evening at Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte (1hr 45mins drive from the barge) – Enjoy  a night to remember at this picture perfect 17th century chateau. Upon arrival we’ll visit the interior of the chateau with it’s magnificent state apartments. There is then time to wander in the formal gardens designed by Le Notre (who also did the gardens at the Palace of Versailles) before enjoying dinner al-fresco overlooking the gardens. Then as darkness falls over 2000 candles are lit in the gardens and chateau, a beautiful spectacle and a glimpse of how the chateau would have felt in the time of Louis XIV.    IMPORTANT: The chateau is around a 1 hour 45 minute drive from the barge (each way) which is much further than we normally travel for excursions and we won’t be back until around midnight.   But if you don’t mind a long car trip, previous guests who’ve chosen this option have really enjoyed this unique experience.

Evening

It’s about 5 minutes in the car to reach our restaurant for this evening, the Henri IV restaurant in Ay.  This place is so popular with locals and visitors that they moved to a larger location a few years ago – guests often come home raving about the 12 hour lamb dish. 

SUNDAY

Morning - Cruise from Dizy to Damery

Today we continue to cruise west on the Marne. This tree lined winding river has for centuries been an important trade route to Paris and even today we will likely pass some cargo barges on our journey. Otherwise the river is a peaceful place with wildlife, fishermen patiently waiting for their catch, pleasure boaters and canoeists.

Afternoon/Evening - recommended excursion: Epernay and the Avenue of Champagne (20 minutes drive from the barge)

This afternoon we’re heading to Epernay, the so called ‘Capital of Champagne’.  You’ll discover the stories of some of champagne’s most iconic names on a walking tour along the Avenue of Champagne, home to Moet & Chandon, Pol Roger, Perrier Jouet and Mercier to name a few.  We’ll start with a tasting flight at Boizel and there are many options for additional tasting stops if you wish.  We’ll finish our walk with a flight on a tethered balloon, offering fantastic views over the city and vineyards (weather permitting). There is also time for some shopping if you wish.  

Alternative excursion options

E-bike adventure through the vineyards (0 minutes drive from the barge) – You’ll have seen the vineyards from the barge and from the car but today we head out to explore them on electric bikes. Our ride takes us up through the vineyards to the village of Châtillon-sur-Marne, which has a commanding hilltop position with great views. As well as stopping for a couple of tastings we’ll visit the pretty village church which dates to the 1500’s from the 1850s. And with electric bikes even going uphill is easy! 

Tour at Champagne Dom Caudron (25 minutes drive from the barge) – A visit to this village co-operative makes an ideal introduction to how champagne is produced. We start our tour at the historic wine presses in the museum, before moving onto the modern cuverie. And your visit ends with a tasting of three champagnes, each paired with a different handmade chocolate. 

Evening

As it’s Sunday and many restaurants are closed it’s a relaxed evening of dining aboard tonight.

MONDAY

Morning - Cruise from Damery to Courcelles

Our final morning cruising takes us through the more tree-lined winding section of the Marne river past the town of Dormans.  

Afternoon/Evening - recommended excursion: Discover Champagne history at Champagne Meteyer et Fils (10 minutes drive from the barge)

In the 18th century vaulted cellars at their winery Anna and Frank have created a museum to the lost traditions of champagne with a fascinating collection of the tools and machinery used by their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.  After a personal tour of the museum we’ll enjoy a tasting of three of Frank’s champagnes, including an 100% Pinot Meunier, a more unusual style you don’t often find outside France.

Alternative excursion options

WW1 history (40 minutes drive from the barge) – This area was a key strategic location during the Aisne Marne Offensive in the closing stages of World War 1. We start our tour at the statuesque Franco-American Memorial atop Hill 204, with its sweeping views over the champagne hillsides of the Marne valley. We’ll then drive a short way to Belleau Wood where the trench lines and shell holes remain as scars of the fierce fighting that took place here, famous as the first significant engagement of the newly created US Marine Corps – who earned the nickname ‘The Devil Dogs’ from the assaulting German troops. We will also visit the adjoining American and German cemeteries.

E-bike ride to Dormans and it’s memorial chapel  (0 minutes drive from the barge) – We’ll ride back along the river and through farmland to reach the village of Dormans with it’s beautiful white memorial.  As well as exploring there’s time for a bit of shopping and a well earned drink at a cafe on the square.

Ride a Segway through the vineyards (10 minutes drive from the barge) – On this fun excursion we’ll explore the vineyards above the Marne valley in the company of Bruno, the wine maker at Jacques Copin Champagne. Segways are easy to ride and mean we can cover a greater distance than walking. And of course your visit ends with a tasting of Bruno’s champagne. 

Explore the vineyards at Champagne Le Gallais (30 miniute drive from the barge) – At this winery not only are their vineyards blessed with beautiful views down the Marne valley but the grapes also go right up to the turreted Chateau Boursault, built in 1843 by Madame Clicquot. Join the lovely Florie for a walk in the vineyard and learn how they care for the vines throughout the year. And whilst tasting the estates champagnes, one of the group will be taught how to open a bottle using a sword! Called ‘Sabrage’ this technique dates back to the Napoleonic troop’s who liked to celebrate victory with champagne. 

Evening

The final dinner of your cruise is at the Auberge Le Relais, a Michelin recommended restaurant, which offers classic french flavours with a modern presentation.   At this elegant country inn you can choose to sit on the  terrace looking out over the vineyards  or in the tastefully decorated dining room.  Conveniently located in the next village it’s just a quick 10 minute drive in the car to the restaurant.

TUESDAY

Morning - Au revoir!

After a relaxed breakfast it’s time to say goodbye to Serenity. You’ll leave the boat at around 10am and we will drop you off at the train station in Dormans to meet your train back to Paris.

Alternatively if you choose the Paris pick-up & drop-off option you’ll be dropped off at Paris Gare du Nord train station around midday, depending on traffic.