Cruising the Waterways of Northern France
We have teamed up with Backwaters Tours to offer this special cruise on the peaceful waterways of Northern France. You will travel on board the Natalia, a 38-metre-long purpose-built barge launched in 2018. Natalia carries 40 passengers at a gentle pace in style and comfort. She is very environmentally friendly, cruising for up to six hours on her electric motors. Natalia is a comfortable floating lounge with panoramic windows, and has a single passenger deck with an outside viewing area, ideal for photography. There are two toilets. A complimentary bar service is included and a light lunch, with the emphasis on local dishes, is served during the cruise.
Taxi pick-up from your home to the coach. As soon as everyone is on board, we will drive to Folkestone then take a train through the Channel Tunnel. Calais to Reims is a journey of approximately 4 hours, and on arrival at our centrally located hotel, you may like to take a stroll to the cathedral before dinner (included).D
Cruising Reims to Vaudemanges
After breakfast the coach will take you to join the all-electric barge Natalia. Today you will be cruising the summit canal which links the valleys of the great rivers Aisne and Marne. As the journey begins you will pass through pleasant parkland, ascending three locks in quick succession before the canal emerges into the countryside. The cruise continues through the villages of Sillery and Beaumont-sur-Vesle, with a lunch served as you cruise and a complimentary bar in operation throughout your time on board. Late morning, we will pause in Beaumont-sur-Vesle where you will be invited to a champagne tasting with the local producer Paul Sadi. This is a very much a family champagne house offering the charm and insight of a local producer, in contrast to the more commercial flavour of the grand scale champagne houses in Reims and Epernay. This afternoon a final lock takes us up on to the long 11km summit pound, a wooded and quite remote part of the waterway where there are always good prospects of wildlife sightings. Passing the village of Sept-Saulx we soon pass through the tunnel of the Mont-de-Billy. This is one of the great wonders of the French canal network having taken 15 years to dig before coming into service in 1866. Once cable-hauled by traction engine, boats these days pass through the tunnel under their own power. It will take us about half an hour to navigate, and we moor for the day soon after leaving the tunnel near the small village of Vaudemanges. We will have cruised 28km on the day with 7 locks. The coach will be waiting to return you to the Hotel. Dinner is not included tonight, enabling you to dine at leisure - there is a good selection of restaurants within easy reach of our hotel.
Cruising Vaudemanges to Ay-sur-Marne (Epernay)
This morning you are returned to Vaudemanges to resume cruising as we begin our descent through a series of eight locks to reach the canal's junction with the Marne's Lateral Canal at Condé-sur-Marne. There are good opportunities to stroll the towpath between some of the locks along this morning's route. After lunch on board, we turn westwards on to the Marne Lateral, passing the villages of Tours-sur-Marne and Mareuil-sur-Ay before concluding in Ay-sur-Marne, on the opposite side of the river from the great Champagne capital of Epernay. Ay is of historic interest both for its Roman settlement and more recently as the birthplace of Champagne! In all we will have cruised 19km, with 10 locks and a swing bridge as we pass through the village of Bisseuil. Dinner is included at our Hotel this evening.
We will load the luggage and drive to Laon, capital of the Aisne department. The medieval town, much admired by the writer Victor Hugo, is flanked by 7km of ramparts and has over eighty listed historical monuments including a splendid Gothic Cathedral, dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. There will be time to explore, find lunch and pick up some of Laon's trademark sweets, Pavés de Laon, before we return to Calais and home via the Eurotunnel.B
B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner
This modern hotel is centrally located in Reims, about a fifteen-minute stroll from the main square and cathedral. Bedrooms are accessed by lift and the large restaurant and cosy bar are on the first floor with large windows and bright décor. There is a good choice of hot and cold items for breakfast. Dinner is included on two nights and comprises a three-course choice menu plus tea or coffee.
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