Medieval style Chateau Pierrefonds - an excursion option on 14 night barge cruise

10 quintessentially French experiences

Some of these might seem a bit cliché at first glance but bear with me – as a visitor each of these experiences offers an insight to French culture, history and way of life.


And best of all you can tick off all of these on your cruise with us.


1. Visit a Market
Of course we have supermarkets here but for most French people visiting the weekly market is still part of their food shopping routine. They come for the beautiful fresh produce, straight from the farmers and also for the social side, greeting friends and chatting with the regular stallholders.

Find out more about our excursion to the Saturday morning food market

2. Explore a chateau
There are beautiful palaces and castles throughout Europe, but France’s chateaux, particularly those from 17th and 18th centuries, really are something else.

But no matter how amazing the environment if you’re sharing it with crowds of people its just no fun. That’s why we’ll take you to lesser known beauties like Vaux-le-Vicomte or Pierrefonds (which receive around 300,000 people per year as opposed to the 10m+ who flock to Versailles).

They tick all the boxes for a quintessential chateau: imposing architecture, sumptuous interiors and a rich history, but we have the space to enjoy the experience and you won’t get random strangers in all of your photos!

Discover why everyone loves the candlelight evening at Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte

But France’s chateaux are not just tourist attractions, many are still family homes and if you know the right people the opportunity for a private tour from the owner is really special. That’s why we offer visits to the privately owned Chateau Pierry or Chateau Vitry-la-Ville as excursion options on our cruises.


3. Sample the huge variety of cheese
There are more than 1,200 varieties of cheese here so you might need a lifetime to try them all. On a week’s cruise we’ll typically serve 15+ cheeses as part of the lunch platters, which is a good start.

High on the ‘don’t miss’ list are tangy Chévre goat cheese, fruity Morbier, earthy (and not for the faint of heart) Époisses, nutty 15 month aged Comté, ultra creamy Delice de Bourgogne, gooey Brie de Meaux as well as the local Chaource and Langres cheeses. And we’ll take requests if there is something you particularly want to try.

Did you know that France has over 1200 varieties of cheese?

4. Eat classic french cuisine…..
Eating out is a cornerstone of French culture and meals are events to be savoured. During your cruise you’ll enjoy a range of dining experiences, including a classic Bistro. Here there’s a bustling convivial atmosphere and a menu filled with classic dishes like steak tartare, sole meunière, ris de veau or magret de Canard.

And don’t worry about the language, your friendly Maitre d’ can explain any menu items in English.

 

5. …And inventive modern fine dining
But France is also the home of fine dining, after all the Michelin Guide has been ranking restaurants for 100 years and today a Michelin Star remains the benchmark all chefs aspire to.

One evening on your cruise you’ll be dining at a Michelin star restaurant in Reims, enjoying inventive flavour combinations, carefully executed and beautifully presented food that you’d expect from a chef of this calibre.

With it's timber-frame houses Ay is one of my favourite villages to wander in

6. Stroll in a historic village
Although Champagne has been a battle ground many times of the centuries there are still many villages with historic houses and churches. We’ll drive through countless pretty villages whilst exploring but it’s well worth including a guided walking tour excursion to either:

  • Hautvilliers – where according to legend monk Dom Perignon discovered the Champagne Method and today is packed with charming wrought iron signs and house decorations;
  • Ay – whose half timbered houses date back to when King Henri IV had his wine press in the 1600’s and the Champagne riots erupted in 1911; or
  • Vertus – which has a 13th century defensive gate still standing and a photogenic 14th century church built above a natural spring

As we take an afternoon stroll through the charmingly pretty and narrow streets, Claire will tell you stories of the village’s past and point out the hidden details you might otherwise miss.

And as the itinerary is up to you, maybe we’ll stop at the antiques store, take a champagne tasting or grab a drink at the bar on the square whilst indulging in a bit of people watching.


7. Eat crêpes
I’m sure you’ve had crêpes or pancakes at home, or maybe a flaming crêpe suzette desert at a restaurant. But have you tried a savoury crêpe or galette?

Originating from Brittany they come with a huge variety of tasty and creative fillings. And because they’re made with buckwheat flour they’re gluten free too.

Classic and delicious

8. Discover the vineyards
France is the world’s second largest wine producer and also the second largest consumer of wine! (If you’re interested Italy is the largest producer and the USA the largest consumer).

Whether you’re a wine fan or not, vistas of green vineyards sprawling over the slopes of rolling hills are very typical French landscapes. One of the things I love about Champagne is that there are no fences demarking parcels of land, just stone markers, almost like mini tombstones, to designate who owns which rows of vines – spotting one for your favourite name from the car is the Champagne version of Eye-Spy!…and of course a photo stop is de-rigour.

9. Gorge on breakfast pastries
Croissants for breakfast are, of course, an essential on any French holiday, but visit any good artisan bakery and you’ll find there is so much more to discover:

  • pain au chocolate in a variety of flavours (how about nutella, chocolate and banana or white chocolate and raspberry), 
  • pain au raisin
  • sugar crusted Galette Ardenais (a regional specialty),
  • fluffy chouquettes
  • heart shaped Palmiers
  • brioche
  • …..the list goes on.

And as variety is the spice of life, you’ll get to try different pastries at breakfast each morning of your cruise.


10. Play pétanque
Like me, you might think that these days pétanque is only played by old men in town squares, but you’d be wrong…..this most gallic of sports is positively thriving.

We can check out the local “pros” at the court, but why not get hands on with a friendly game just by the barge with your fellow cruisers, maybe with a pre-dinner aperatif?


And a bonus extra – Visiting Paris
Ok so you won’t see Paris during your cruise, but as we pick you up and drop you off in the city it’s the perfect opportunity to spend an extra few days exploring the city. Whether it’s your first visit or your tenth, there is always something new to discover.

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