When E.Y. “Yip” Harburg wrote the words to “April in Paris” he had never even been there. Poor “Yip” didn’t know what he was missing. Well, I was there in early May. The chestnuts were still in blossom; and not only white but pink! It was splendid, mostly brilliantly sunny, but even a few cool, damp days didn’t subdue the outdoor-loving Parisians, or me. Four rows deep of tables at sidewalk cafes blossomed with throngs, bewitching small shops and beguiling cozy restaurants charmed us at every turn.
It wasn’t just the perennial lure of Paris that took me across the sea. I had been invited to join a small group of friends on a three-day barge cruise on the Burgundy Canal near Dijon. Being a restless New Yorker, I thought that sounded like a bit of a snooze, but it turned out to be the highlight of the week.
Since there are endless interesting things to do and see in Burgundy we put in a bit of sightseeing on the drive to Dijon; the 16th century Château d’Ancy le Franc and its Le Nôtre-designed gardens near Tonnerre; of course, a glass of Chablis in the charming little town of Chablis, and the pristine Cistercian Abbaye de Fontenay, now a World Heritage site founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Walking through the empty buildings brought vividly to life Ken Follett’s wonderful book, “The Pillars of the Earth.”
Although dark and rainy when we arrived in Semur-en-Auxois, Charles, the handsome owner of a lovely little hotel, La Fontaignotte, made us all feel warm and welcome.
The next day in Dijon we found our barge, the “Apres Tout,” gleaming yellow and blue in the sunshine. Skippered by Roy Macrae with a friendly, charming and helpful crew of five, we couldn’t have been more comfortable. Thus began three amiable relaxing days drifting slowly through the Canal and the more than 25 locks along the way. We had delicious meals cooked by Roy’s wife, Caroline, and aided by June, usually served on deck. Glen, very knowledgable and clearly in love with Burgundy and its wines, gave us little talks at table about the special wines we were having. His descriptions were so enticing that we were often hard pressed to practice our impatience to actually get a taste.
To work off some of the calories consumed, the barge carried bikes. The locks, like well spaced steps, carried the barge upstream as the canal gained altitude. It took about 20 minutes for a lock to fill and raise the barge to the next level. Since the locks were very narrow, it was easy to hop off with our bikes and peddle along a lovely path running along side the canal, to the next lock … or the next … or the next. So went luxurious, lazy days.
One afternoon Glen drove us through the lush countryside along the canal, to Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, a hilltop fortified 13th-century castle embracing a tiny town, overlooking the green fields fields of grazing white Charolais cattle and yellow swaths of canola plants in the Ouche Valley.
From the castle one could see Vandenesse-en-Auxois where I discovered a delightful Airbnb, a lovely old manor house, the Domaine de Serrigny, run by two ladies both named Marie Pascale, one of whom had been an Eventing rider who, besides helping at the bnb, looks after 15 horses at her farm in Thoisy-en-Desert (so called because it is so remote!)
The days went quickly and of course, we wished we could stay longer, but it was back to Paris, which wasn’t too bad either. In particular, a celebratory Sunday lunch at Chez Janou in the Marais, where dessert was a large tureen of sublime chocolate mousse from which we could help ourselves as much as we wanted. We should have gone back to the bikes.
After a few more sights, sounds, and scents in Paris, sadly it was time to go.
Apres tout, there’s nothing more to say.