To celebrate her 40th birthday Sam decided to organise a barge cruise with both her children (9 years and 11 years old) and her parents. A five night cruise best suited the rest of their European trip and our challenge was to combine a champagne-filled trip for the birthday girl, with activities to keep the kids entertained.
Having enjoyed a few days in Paris we will meet you at your hotel in the Montparnasse quarter at 3pm. We’ll then drive to where Serenity is moored in the countryside, near the village of Billy-le-Grand (typically a 1.5-2 hours drive, depending on traffic).
Upon arrival at the barge you’ll be welcomed by the rest of the crew with champagne and canapes. There’s then time to relax and unpack before enjoying dinner at a local restaurant.
We’ll 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 8 locks, before passing through the pretty villages of Conde-sur-Marne and Tours sur Marne and mooring in the opposite the town hall in the village of Bisseuil. With the towpath alongside this is the perfect opportunity to hop on one of the bikes or take a stroll as there are lots of opportunities to get on/off the barge as we stop in each lock. Lunch will be served onboard as we are cruising.
Once the barge is moored you’ll be driven to Chocolate Thibault, where you’ll learn to make praline filled chocolate champagne corks with Xavier. It’s hands-on fun and yes finger licking is allowed! After your workshop we’ll take a stroll down the Avenue of Champagne in Epernay, the home of many iconic brands including Moet & Chandon, Pol Roger and Perrier Jouet. As we walk Claire will tell you the secret histories of these houses and we can pop into the boutiques or stop for a tasting.
Tonight you’ll enjoy dinner at Chez Max, a traditional restaurant popular with locals in Epernay – make sure you leave room for the cheese trolley!
During our cruise today we leave the manmade canal and join the winding Marne river. 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.
After lunch the barge will moor and we’ll head to Reims in the car to visit the cellars of your favourite champagne. With it’s instantly recognisable yellow label Veuve Clicquot is famous worldwide, but every single bottle is aged right here in the cellars at Reims. On our private tour we’ll visit these famous ‘crayeres’ originally carved out of the chalk hillside by the Romans and learn about how Madame Clicquot took over the business after her husbands untimely death and made it flourish with her innovations and daring. And your tour ends with a tasting of their Brut, Rose and the truly special 2008 Grande Dame vintage.
If you’d like we can also visit the magnificant gothic cathedral in the centre of Reims before heading back to the barge.
You’ll have dinner in the neighbouring village of Ay, at a restaurant popular with locals and visitors alike – we can drive you there, or if anyone is feeling energetic its an easy 15 minute cycle along the canal.
We start the morning with a visit to the Saturday morning food market in nearby Epernay. This art deco style covered market hall is filled with stalls of fresh produce and delicacies from across the region. And you will get to choose the items for your seafood lunch onboard.
Once we return to the barge we’ll continue our cruise west along the Marne river. 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.
At around 5pm we will depart for our evening at the Chateau. Upon arrival we will visit the interior of this picture perfect 17th century chateau, with it’s magnificent state apartments. There’s then time to explore the huge grounds by golf cart, including the formal gardens by Le Notre (who also designed the gardens at Versailles). You’ll be dining al-fresco overlooking the chateau and as darkness falls over 2,000 candles are lit throughout the gardens and chateau. It’s a beautiful spectacle and a glimpse of how the chateau would have been felt in the time of Louis XIV. If you want you can stay for the fireworks display at 11pm.
Our final morning cruising takes us along the winding Marne river to Chateau Thierry. There’s been a settlement here since Roman times because it combines a strategic river crossing point and hilltop with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.
We get the adrenalin pumping with an afternoon climbing through the trees. Located in woodland a short drive from the barge, this high ropes adventure offers 7 courses with heights varying from 2.5m off the ground to 16m up! Climb ladders, scrabble across rope nets and swoop down zip lines if you’re brave enough…(all while attached to a saftey harness!)
After all that excitement, we’ll stop for a tasting visit at a small champagne producer where you’ll try an 100% Pinot Meunier champagne – not something you’ll find in Austalian wine stores.
On the way back to the barge we will explore Chateau Thierry’s ruined hill-top castle before walking back down through this historic town.
It’s a relaxed BBQ on the barge’s sundeck for your final evening – and for those with energy to burn take a walk up to the ruined hill-top castle for great views back down to the river valley below.
It’s an early morning start as we will need to leave the barge at 8am, but don’t worry there will be a packed breakfast for the car if you’d like. You’ll be driven back to Paris and dropped off at the Montparnasse Station to catch your onward train to the south of France.
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