Spotlight on La Belle Epoque: Wine, History, and Culture in Northern Burgundy

Luxury hotel barge, La Belle Epoque - cruising

Gently cruising the Burgundy Canal between Venarey-les-Laumes and Tanlay, the 12-passenger La Belle Epoque showcases the very best of Northern Burgundy in elegance and style. A fabulous choice for wine and culture lovers, her itinerary explores the importance of Chablis whilst offering an immersion into the region’s history, food and culture amidst rolling hills and passing medieval villages along the way…

A Short History of La Belle Epoque

Built in 1930 in the Korte Frères Shipyard in Moerdyk in the Netherlands, La Belle Epoque started life as a cargo barge named Savornin Lohman and was owned by the Kruijt family. This barge cruised the commercial waterways of northern Europe.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Savornin was relocated to France, alongside the Kruijt family’s other barge, the Madrigale. For the duration of the war, the Savornin aided the French Resistance by secretly transporting stranded allied pilots to safety.

Growing up on his father’s barge, Leendert Kruijt took the helm of the Savornin in 1976 and continued the family trade by working on the Canal du Nivernais, where he transported timber to and from Paris together with sister-ship Madrigale. Kruijt worked as a bargeman until the Canal du Nivernais closed for commercial navigation, forcing him to seek a job on land.

In 1993, after more than 70 years of hard work, the Savornin was retired. Thankfully she escaped the destiny of many old working barges which are dismantled and sold for scrap. In 1995, she was purchased by European Waterways to join hotel barge Anjodi, becoming the second barge in the fleet at the time. Reborn as La Belle Epoque, she was taken to Zelvatt in Belgium for a complete transformation, where she was crafted into the luxury hotel barge that is graces the Burgundy Canal today.

La Belle Epoque history

Hotel Barge La Belle Epoque Today

At 126 feet in length, deluxe hotel barge, La Belle Epoque, is spacious and sophisticated. With space for everything guests could need to maximise their comfort, she can host up to 12 passengers in its 6 cabins. Six crew members, including a Captain, Chef, Hosts, and Tour Guide also stay onboard throughout the cruise, meaning your every convenience will be attended to.

Stay in a wood-panelled cabin that’s reminiscent of the state rooms of a seventeenth century manoir. Below deck there are six double cabins which can be made up with twin or double beds, depending on your needs. Each en suite cabin has plenty of room, ranging from between 124-165 square feet of floor space. There’s even a closet and drawers to help you tuck away all your belongings and make yourself at home!

La Belle Epoque cabin
En-suite aboard La Belle Epoque

With air conditioning and central heating throughout, conditions inside will be perfect for the extent of your stay, whether you’re someone who gets too hot or too cold. Take a moment to sink into the semi-circular sofas in the saloon with a cup of coffee after a day’s excursions. This main room is decorated with aged oak wood panels to give a feel of traditional luxury. With large rectangular windows on either side, you’ll be able to enjoy the afternoon sunshine filtering through from outside and views of the passing French countryside.

Stocked with a bar that serves a wide range of top-tier spirits, fine wines and a collection of single malt whiskies, as well as a choice of non-alcoholic beverages including tea and coffee at your request, the saloon is a great place to enjoy a drink and chat to fellow passengers. Fruit is readily available in a bottomless bowl and the dining table will be expertly laid for enjoying your meals. There’s even an antique telephone switchboard from an old lock house to transport you back in time!

La Belle Epoque has beautiful outdoor spaces and amenities too! With a lower sun deck complete with seating area and awning, you can sit in the fresh air no matter the weather. The upper sundeck is open to the elements, making it the perfect place to catch some late-afternoon sunshine. Sit back and enjoy the bubbles in the spa pool with a cold drink in your hand and the sun on your face.

If all this isn’t enough, La Belle Epoque also has a collection of bicycles stored on deck. Available to use when the barge is cruising down the Burgundy Canal, guests can cycle alongside the hotel barge or further afield to experience the tow paths and local wildlife. Glance behind you at La Belle Epoque and admire your elegant barge in European Waterways dark blue livery, with colourful flowering plants popping out from the planters.

La Belle Epoque on the Map – Northern Burgundy and the Burgundy Canal

Cruising the Northern Burgundy region, La Belle Epoque passes through beautiful countryside and past picturesque French villages such as Ancy-le-Franc, Montbard, and Ravières. Home to the famous Chablis domaines, this part of Burgundy produces both its iconic dry whites but also underrated red wines. Whether you’re cruising on La Belle Epoque, cycling along the tow path, or walking around wineries such as Domaine Laroche, witness the region’s rolling hills with rows of vines stretching as far as the eye can see.

Originally constructed in the mid-seventeenth century, the Burgundy canal extends over a total distance of 242 kilometres from Migennes to Saint-Jean-de-Losne, connecting the Yonne River to the Saône. With189 locks, the Burgundy Canal claims the highest point of any canal in France, at nearly 1,000 ft. in altitude with the 2-mile-long Pouilly tunnel, passing 150 feet below ground. The Burgundy Canal, or the the Canal de Bourgogne in French, was created by the engineer Pierre Paul Riquet. Its completion was delayed for years until its course was agreed upon at the end of the eighteenth century under King Louis XVI. With the first barge setting sail on the canal in 1808, the entire route was finally finished in 1832. Read more on the history of the Burgundy Canal.

La Belle Epoque in Burgundy Drone

A cruise along the Burgundy canal passes the white Charolais cattle grazing just outside the village of Tanlay in luscious fields of long, green grass. Presided over by the impressive Château de Tanlay, this medieval castle is set in acres of glorious parks and surrounded by moats, arcades, and iron grills. Glide past the pretty, little market town of Ancy-le-Franc, which is complete with its very own Renaissance château. With a dour grey exterior, it’s hard to imagine the lavish gilded trim of its interior which has carvings, paintings, and frescoes.

The Northern Burgundy region is also famous for its incredible cuisine. Think rich, hearty dishes like beef bourguignon and coq au vin, and delicacies like escargot, which is served with a heavy helping of garlic butter. Meals on La Belle Epoque are always served with a glass of fine white or red wine to fully complement each dish and elevate all the flavours. Gliding along the Burgundy Canal, you’ll come to understand where your wine and food comes from as you pass through fertile valleys shouldered with agricultural land and vineyards.

Itinerary Highlights

With plenty of excursions scheduled on your European Waterways cruise, you’ll learn about the best bits of Northern Burgundy. There are visits to glorious French châteaux and we take guests to the impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site of Abbaye de Fontenay.  Founded by St Bernard, the abbey is almost 1000 years old and has been restored to show visitors the dormitories, cloisters, scriptorium, and gardens. You’ll be transported back in time to see how the Cistercian monks lived and experience the Burgundy of times gone by.

You can’t visit Northern Burgundy without savouring the wines of its world-renowned terroirs. A classic cruise aboard La Belle Epoque will introduce you to Chablis wines at the prestigious Domaine Laroche, where you’ll also have the advantage of a visit to the 1000-year-old monastery cellars of St Martin. Mid-week on your cruise, you’ll visit the Château de Ricey-Bas and join Baroness Segolene, whose home it is, for a private lunch either in their salon or the atmospheric vaulted 13th century kitchen. The château also produces its own champagne as its location is within the ‘appellation’ or official producing region of Champagne. You will have a tasting of several of their wonderful vintages before a tour of the château’s stunning interiors and magnificent grounds.

Enjoy a delicious lunch with Baroness Les Ricey-Bas
Dine with a Baroness at the magnificent Château de Ricey-Bas

In addition, experience medieval splendour like nothing you’ve ever imagined at Château de Commarin with a private falconry display. Watch majestic birds of prey swooping over the grounds and meet the château’s owner, Count Bertrand de Vogüé. The count is the 26th generation of his family to have resided in this magnificent 13th century residence, and a private tour will reveal stories and secrets of this grand home.

A barge cruise in Northern Burgundy is peppered with picturesque scenery, including postcard villages like Ancy-le-Franc with its extraordinary château. Here, stunning symmetry and sixteenth century architecture wait to stun you, alongside the largest French collection of Renaissance murals.

Back on board La Belle Epoque, there are plenty of opportunities to hop off the barge and walk or cycle along the towpath to enjoy more picture-perfect villages like Nogent, Courcelles and Les Granges.

Château de Commarin

Media Reviews

Don’t just take our word for it, read the reviews of La Belle Epoque in the media. In 2023, travel blogger, Rose Palmer, stayed onboard and wrote about her experience. She described a stay in Northern Burgundy with European Waterways as “one of the most extraordinary travel experiences that I have ever had”. She had a great time slow-travelling on the Burgundy Canal, raved about the attention to detail and attentive service.

I especially appreciated all the small touches that took the cabin from comfortable to special. There was a personalized note on the bed welcoming me on board. A reusable water bottle, a small bottle of Perrier, and a dish of chocolates decorated the nightstand. In the bathroom I had a fresh rose, L’Occitane toiletries and a bathrobe with slippers for my use.

Rose thoroughly enjoyed excursions and remembered the falconry experience at Château de Commarin. She said: ‘I especially enjoyed the barn owl and the stately eagle owl with its six-foot wingspan”. She described feeling special on a tour around the castle and grounds with Comte Bertrand de Vogüé as he told stories of his 900-year family history at the château. A tour of the grounds and rooms shed light on the histories and the Comte’s ancestors, Rose mentioning that her favourite parts were the tapestries and décor of the 1700s.

Rose ventured along the canal for a cycle ride on one morning, giving her an opportunity to take in the beauty of the surrounding area. She biked past colourful houses with blooming potted gardens, Charolais cattle and some friendly locals who greeted her ‘bonjour’. She mostly had the towpath to herself though and “revelled in the long periods of peaceful solitude”.

Overall, Rose found her six nights on La Belle Epoque “regenerative… both for the body and soul”. Of the whole experience, she said:

This has truly been a one-of-a-kind experience that I will not forget and that will be very difficult to top. In this case it really was all about the journey – a quiet, and peaceful glide through the bucolic scenery of the Burgundy canal. I was pampered by the most attentive service and utterly spoiled with such gourmet food and wine that it will be extremely difficult to go back to my own boring cooking.

Finesse is Perfect for:


A wine cruise is the best way to experience Northern Burgundy if you’re an oenophile. Unique to this special itinerary is a visit to Maison Taisne Riocour for a champagne tasting, tour of the vineyards and talk about the 3 Appellation d’Origine Contrôlées in the region. In addition, we head to a small family wine producer to see the cellars and taste some world-renowned Pinot Noirs. There’s also lunch in the wine capital of Beaune, a private wine tasting at Domaine Laroche, and a tour around the 100-year-old Obediencerie wine cellars. What more could a wine lover want?


Whether you’re a hobbyist or something more, a golf cruise is the perfect opportunity to relax and take your best shot at a few holes. There’s exceptionally good food and wine and more than one or two rounds of golf throughout a 6-night cruise on La Belle Epoque. On this barge cruise, we stop at Golf Château de Tanlay to play on its challenging 9-hole course, and sweep into Domaine du Roncemay Golf and Country Club for an 18-hole course set in woodland and parks. In addition, there’s Château de Chailly for an 18-hole round of golf on a course landscaped by rivers, lakes, and a sixteenth-century château, and we finish with 18 holes at Golf de Beaune Levernois with expansive greens and white sand bunkers.


If a classic cruise aboard La Belle Epoque is a bit too ‘adult’, then why not charter her for a private cruise for your family and pick your own excursions? With space for up to 12 people, you could take the whole extended family or team up with family friends. Guests can swap up to four activities from the classic itinerary for visits to Auxerre Museum of natural history and science, ten pin bowling, laser tag or mini golf, tennis, or ice skating. There’s also a chance to experience tree climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and more. There’s even the possibility of horse riding or hot air ballooning. A family cruise aboard La Belle Epoque is sure to keep everyone entertained!

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Ready to Cruise Aboard La Belle Epoque

If you’ve been inspired and would like to experience La Belle Epoque for yourself, why not speak to a friendly member of the European Waterways team. Alternatively, order a brochure to consider all of our cruise options!


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