Loire Valley waterways

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Early last spring I discovered the company French Country Waterways (Box 2195, Duxbury, MA 02331; phone 800/222-1236 or, in MA, 781/934-2454 or visit www.fcwl.com) while reading the New York Times travel section. Not only did their 6-day canal wine trips sound very appealing but the company was offering a special. It was a discount equal to the number of years of marriage for couples celebrating anniversaries divisible by five. Since my husband, John, and I like wine, were celebrating our 50th anniversary and wanted to explore the French countryside, we were sold.

Out of the five boats in their fleet, we chose the Nenuphar, which carries 12 passengers and a crew of six. We hoped to go in late September ’04 to enjoy fall weather, but by early April the only space available was on the trip beginning Aug. 29. It turned out to be ideal weather.

We flew to Paris on our own, allowing some time for sightseeing, and met our fellow passengers and the captain on Sunday the 29th at Hotel Meurice on rue de Rivoli. Gregoire, the captain, drove us in a comfortable, small Mercedes bus to the Nenuphar at its mooring in St. Mammes. There we found our very pleasant cabin and bath below deck with our luggage already in place.

After getting settled in, champagne and an abundance of other refreshments were waiting for us in the lounge on the main deck. That gave us time to get acquainted before dinner. Although it may have been peculiar to our trip, the group turned out to be extremely compatible. The couples came from across the U.S., with the most common factor being that we all enjoyed good wine and travel.

Bit by bit we also met the crew, most of whom were English. They were a friendly and efficient group, always available to help with whatever we needed, usually before we knew we needed it. We also discovered that the bar and the kitchen were always open to satisfy our wishes. There was no doubt French Country Waterways understood American idiosyncrasies — like the need for ice.

At dinnertime we joined the captain in the dining room, where we all sat at one table. The 4-course meal was excellent, ending with a tiny, perfect crème brûlée. We discovered, as the week went by, this was what to expect from Bethany, the chef of the Nenuphar: high-quality, fresh food, well prepared and imaginative.

The wines served, a white and a red for each lunch and dinner, were chosen from throughout France by the company’s tasting group. The end of each meal was actually my favorite part as it brought three choice cheeses from around the country.

Adding to the ambiance were the daily fresh flowers. The meal our group of passengers enjoyed least was a very long, overly rich dinner ashore in Les Bezards. We all were happy to get back to Bethany’s creations for the rest of the trip.

We made daily side trips to interesting sites along the way, visiting châteaux, gardens, historic towns, an abbey and a winery. Our very knowledgeable guide for most of the trips was Glen, who seemed to have whatever information we wanted on the tip of his tongue. Our voyage ended after crossing the Loire River by sailing over it on the Pont Canal aqueduct designed by Gustave Eiffel.

In addition to the food and day trips, there was always the pleasure of sitting in the very comfortable lounge or on the forward deck just watching the lovely French countryside slide by. We went through 44 locks, and anyone who felt ambitious could help the lockmaster do his work. If you liked bicycles, there were several aboard which could be taken ashore to ride between most of the locks. Or you could walk. There was also the opportunity to go ballooning for an extra fee.

We can’t really imagine having given ourselves a better anniversary gift. My husband says the only downside was sleeping in cabin No. 6. Although it didn’t lack comfort or amenities, it was directly in front of the engine room and didn’t permit sleeping late.

Incidentally, one couple was celebrating their 60th anniversary, two of us our 50th and another their 40th. With the discount, our trip cost $2,147.50 per person, not including airfare or hotel costs in Paris. We heard that the offer might be repeated on certain dates and boats next year. We’re hoping it will still be available in some form by 2009 when we get to year 55.

PHYLLIS REICHE

Gila, NM

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Early last spring I discovered the company French Country Waterways (Box 2195, Duxbury, MA 02331; phone 800/222-1236 or, in MA, 781/934-2454 or visit www.fcwl.com) while reading the New York Times travel section. Not only did their 6-day canal wine trips sound very appealing but the company was offering a special. It was a discount equal to the number of years of marriage for couples celebrating anniversaries divisible by five. Since my husband, John, and I like wine, were celebrating our 50th anniversary and wanted to explore the French countryside, we were sold.

Out of the five boats in their fleet, we chose the Nenuphar, which carries 12 passengers and a crew of six. We hoped to go in late September ’04 to enjoy fall weather, but by early April the only space available was on the trip beginning Aug. 29. It turned out to be ideal weather.

We flew to Paris on our own, allowing some time for sightseeing, and met our fellow passengers and the captain on Sunday the 29th at Hotel Meurice on rue de Rivoli. Gregoire, the captain, drove us in a comfortable, small Mercedes bus to the Nenuphar at its mooring in St. Mammes. There we found our very pleasant cabin and bath below deck with our luggage already in place.

After getting settled in, champagne and an abundance of other refreshments were waiting for us in the lounge on the main deck. That gave us time to get acquainted before dinner. Although it may have been peculiar to our trip, the group turned out to be extremely compatible. The couples came from across the U.S., with the most common factor being that we all enjoyed good wine and travel.

Bit by bit we also met the crew, most of whom were English. They were a friendly and efficient group, always available to help with whatever we needed, usually before we knew we needed it. We also discovered that the bar and the kitchen were always open to satisfy our wishes. There was no doubt French Country Waterways understood American idiosyncrasies — like the need for ice.

At dinnertime we joined the captain in the dining room, where we all sat at one table. The 4-course meal was excellent, ending with a tiny, perfect crème brûlée. We discovered, as the week went by, this was what to expect from Bethany, the chef of the Nenuphar: high-quality, fresh food, well prepared and imaginative.

The wines served, a white and a red for each lunch and dinner, were chosen from throughout France by the company’s tasting group. The end of each meal was actually my favorite part as it brought three choice cheeses from around the country.

Adding to the ambiance were the daily fresh flowers. The meal our group of passengers enjoyed least was a very long, overly rich dinner ashore in Les Bezards. We all were happy to get back to Bethany’s creations for the rest of the trip.

We made daily side trips to interesting sites along the way, visiting châteaux, gardens, historic towns, an abbey and a winery. Our very knowledgeable guide for most of the trips was Glen, who seemed to have whatever information we wanted on the tip of his tongue. Our voyage ended after crossing the Loire River by sailing over it on the Pont Canal aqueduct designed by Gustave Eiffel.

In addition to the food and day trips, there was always the pleasure of sitting in the very comfortable lounge or on the forward deck just watching the lovely French countryside slide by. We went through 44 locks, and anyone who felt ambitious could help the lockmaster do his work. If you liked bicycles, there were several aboard which could be taken ashore to ride between most of the locks. Or you could walk. There was also the opportunity to go ballooning for an extra fee.

We can’t really imagine having given ourselves a better anniversary gift. My husband says the only downside was sleeping in cabin No. 6. Although it didn’t lack comfort or amenities, it was directly in front of the engine room and didn’t permit sleeping late.

Incidentally, one couple was celebrating their 60th anniversary, two of us our 50th and another their 40th. With the discount, our trip cost $2,147.50 per person, not including airfare or hotel costs in Paris. We heard that the offer might be repeated on certain dates and boats next year. We’re hoping it will still be available in some form by 2009 when we get to year 55.

PHYLLIS REICHE

Gila, NM