Forget about armies marching on their stomachs.* Travelers marvel with their stomachs (or quiver).

In Iceland reflections on nature are everywhere.

In Iceland reflections on nature are everywhere.

The first culinary morning of my Arctic journey with Poseidon Expeditions begins at the Hotel Grand Reykjavik, where even the manmade reflects the natural. The buffet breakfast includes international diversity and Icelandic favorites, with multiple flavors of Skyr yogurt .

A pot of miso soup, with bowls of seaweed and tofu to sprinkle in, sits next to a pot of porridge with brown sugar for flavoring. But best of all, next to that are shot glasses and a bottle of cod liver oil with lemon slices for a citric twist. An Icelandic health ritual.

Bottoms up as we head toward the Top of the World!

Our port for departure is in the capital of this land of “Ice and Fire” — more than 100 volcanoes and even more waterfalls. The country is fueled completely by renewable energy sources — wind, water, and geothermal power unite! Travelers, too, can be renewed by the wonders of nature in the wild and in the city.

My reflections go to my last time here, with sunny days and the Wild Nights of Iceland, but also look forward to what I hope will be nocturnal reflections of Northern Lights in the waters of northern Iceland, across the Arctic Circle and into the fjord system of Eastern Greenland.

Who knows what the electromagnetic energies of dancing lights can renew?

And who knows what food marvels lie ahead?

Sometimes filling in the blanks is fun!

As I sit in this lovely hotel waiting for transport to the M/V Sea Spirit, I have filled in some blanks, but I look forward to filling in even more blanks, skies, and plates ahead!

outdoorsSo far 2017 has been the year of N travel for me—Nature to the nth degree, from the sky darkened by massive groups of birds to the sky returning to light after a rare solar eclipse, and from miles of vibrant flowers to the upcoming journey to seek Northern lights and Narwals …

I headed to Nebraska for the birds and felt privileged to see hundreds of thousands of cranes seek rest in the Platte River as a stop-over in the Great Migration of the North American Fly Away.

The Netherlands in the Spring bloomed abundantly with tulip glory! A childhood friend and I took a barge through the canals with European Waterways and enjoyed “Tulips and Windmills with Panache”.

My husband Victor and I flew to Nashville, hoping for almost two minutes of the “Totality Awesome” Solar Eclipse, August 21. I have enjoyed upbeat Nashville before and knew that if the eclipse got eclipsed by clouds, we could still have a syncopated time in Music City, as chronicled in “Ringing in Nashville.”  Fortunately we were able to enjoy music and, after some drama with teasing clouds– a full and fulfilling Solar eclipse

Victor wrote “Nashville Hosts the End of the World” for the Huffington Post and used my photos.  Fortunately, the world did not end; the sun returned spectacularly from the moon’s shadow – so there is a lot more to explore.

I leave this Saturday to seek the Northern Lights and Narwals! If all goes well, I will board the Sea Spirit in the capital of Iceland — a country enchanted with waterfalls, hot springs, puffins, and more : “Wild Nights Iceland” won a NATJA award for Best Illustrated article.

From Iceland, we will head north of the Arctic Circle on a Poseidon Expedition to Greenland to explore the largest and longest fjord system in the world. I hope to be enthralled by the Northern Lights again. It’s been seven years since I shivered with awe and cold and produced a video of the dancing lights set to some Gershwin as part of
Hunting the Northern Lights” for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC INTELLIGENT TRAVEL.

This time I hope to see Nature’s great light show upward and reflected in Arctic waters with icebergs for exclamation marks!

Please stay tuned for more Nature ahead!

And if you want to record your own Nature adventures, you can pick up a copy of The Great Outdoors: Nature’s Bucket List or My Adventures: a Travel Journal, and add to the projects I was fortunate to create for Quartos Publishing.LTM bird THANKSIMG_7830 copy copy

Thirteen is a lucky number if you are in the Hilton Athens in Greece. It’s the rooftop floor with the Galaxy restaurant and bar, offering drinks, food and a wonderful view of the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus.

The Acropolis from the Galaxy restaurant at the Hilton Athens.

The Galaxy’s outdoor and indoor tables are popular with hotel guests and nightlife Athenians, according to the hotel magazine, which interviews successful local artists and entrepreneurs that use it as a meeting spot, watering hole, and a place to swap ideas.

My childhood friend and I sat alfresco with wafting warm breezes at the Galaxy bar balcony to revive ourselves after a day of active input for the eyes and cameras, and before flying home after the Ancient Mysteries, 11-day Mediterranean cruise with the Holland America Line. It was a good perch to pause between travel modes.

The Athens Hilton offers an outdoor pool in a historic region.

When we checked in Oestrisu made us feel warmly welcomed and answered all our questions- –Yes, free WiFi in the spacious marble lobby areas with lots of comfortable, airy, sitting spaces; yes, there is a swimming pool in the building and one outside; yes, the suite would have a marble bathtub and a balcony with a view; yes an  abundant buffet breakfast is included, and yes; we were close to museums, shopping and  easy transport to the airport.

Though the hotel’s large lobby area welcomed outsiders, a room key was needed to take the elevator to the top rooms.  Each lobby floor had original art work to distinguish it. Rooms with Acropolis views were all taken but we were positioned well to appreciate city views and a splendiferous sunrise over hills to start our trip home.

On shore trips we had seen hundreds of ancient columns -upright and reclined  ghosts from the  Greek and Roman civilizations from 2,000 BC on.  Looking up from dinner at the lit row of columns from “The” Acropolis was an iconic capper to our antiquities cruise.

Acropolis translates roughly as “city on the extremity,” often a citadel on top of a steep hill.  One guide told us that “there are over 5,000 acropolises in Greece, but the one in Athens is world famous.” We also

Athens National Archeological Museum

had visited many  great archeological sites in Crete, Rhodes, Corinth, and Napfion but often our guides would tell us about the artistic and artifact finds which were  not there but in museums— in Athens. Now was our chance!

This Hilton has a desirable location in central Athens,  across from a verdant park and near a Metro station. Four Euros buys an all-day Metro Pass, so it is easy to get to the Plaka, Constitution Square, the innovative Acropolis Museum (built with see through floors over an excavation site) and the renowned National Archeological Museum.

Athens Metro is easy- and colorful. Each car appears pre-painted to avoid graffiti.

Not only is the Metro faster than cabs in the often traffic congested streets, the stations themselves can be worth the descent to some of Athen’s modern underworld.  The Acropolis station had displays of artifacts unearthed during excavation for the subway and a private guide was including it in a tour, pointing to a display with a little terracotta horse with wheels and string- a toy in a grave many centuries BCE.

The Acropolis Museum in Athens

The marathon was invented in Greece long ago and my friend and I seemed to be creating a new kind of modern tourist marathon, trying to see as many exhibits as possible in our one day in Athens and absorb the lively street life and people vignettes in between museums.

That night after our view gazing from the Galaxy,  a bubble bath in the suite’s large and deep tub was a luxurious way to soak my limbs.  Immersed, I let some of the trip’s memories soak in while out in the room at the modern wooden desk, my photo chip was downloading visual memories into my computer.

The Hilton Athens  is a “Go To ” place for locals hanging at the Galaxy. For us, it was a wonderful “Go Between” place to cap off our fun cruise of  Ancient Mysteries with visits to Athen’s world class museums, and to relax and rest up  for the long flights home.

When I woke in the morning, the view from our Hilton Athen’s balcony was an exclamation mark of color at the end of a great trip, and a welcoming start to the voyage back to our other lives.

-Lisa TE Sonne, Luxury Travel Mavens

Dawn from our balcony, Athens Hilton

Photos by Lisa TE Sonne, (Except for the Pool Photo and Acropolis View image,  via Hilton)

 

Turkish lamps and warm hospitality seemed ubiquitous

Turkey is full of fantastical lamps, but you don’t need to rub them to have at least three wishes come true. The luxuries of good eating, shopping, and spa-ing are not new to Istanbul, which has culled for centuries from Europe, Asia, and Africa.  Before we boarded our “Ancient Mysteries” cruise on Holland America’s Noordam, my girlfriend Jamey and I indulged in pleasures worthy of the Sultanas of the 1400s and 1500s.

Ottoman Eats- The Matbah

Part of the Matbah menu featuring Ottoman food, Istanbul

This unique restaurant highly recommended by friends offers culinary time travel. Many dishes were researched from previous centuries, and the 32 Ottoman Empire menu selections are all from the “Kitchen of the Sultan,”—truly palatial for the palette

Enticingly, the menu includes the date of the earliest known recipe of the dish, if it’s known.   For the cold plate, I chose the Karidye Pilakisi (Shrimp Stew), which had the notation, “In 1473, during the month of Sha’ban, the palace bought shrimps for an amount of three silver coins almost everyday.”  Still delicious today, even when paid for with plastic.

For the entrée, it was a tough choice with so many temptations. I narrowed it down to Yufkada kuzu incik, begendili: “baked lamb shank on a bed of pureed eggplant, served in a pastry bowl” with 1463 as the first known recipe (before Columbus sailed!) or Zire-ba (mutencene): “Diced lamb with dried apricots, raisins, honey and almonds baked slowly in an earthenware casserole.” The latter was dated 1300-1463, so I went for the oldest and my taste glands were richly rewarded.

Shrimp stew, an Ottoman dish, Istanbul

The menu credits Ottoman Cuisine as coming from Middle Asia, the Balkans, the Middle East, Mediterranean, and European cooking traditions. It seems that fusion feasts are not new.

The outdoor, upper floor patio setting provided breezes, and as hundreds of birds flew overhead in the sky of pastels, the call to prayers of the muzzeins also filled the air, reminding us of other traditions that have survived the centuries.

Our first day in Istanbul felt complete, and we looked forward to how we would conclude our next day set to explore the standing history of mosques and palaces from half a millennia ago.

The dark pink building to the right houses the women’s Hamam founded in 1556

Spa- Hamam Style

To enjoy the kind of spa treatment that the top harem women and wives and mothers of Sultans enjoyed, we headed to the Ayasofia Hurrem Sultan Hamam, founded in 1556 by Sulieman the Magnificent, and elegantly renovated in recent times. Humams are traditional Turkish bathing houses segregated by gender. Istanbul has several high-end ones – some very old and some part of new high-end hotels.

Over 300 marble pillars support the underground cisterns built in the 6th century. photo by lisa te sonne

This humam is located in the center of the historic district and an unforgettable capper to a day of sight-seeing. Just a few-minutes walk away are the magnificent Hagia Sophia, with both Christian and Islamic beauty; the striking Blue Mosque; the remnants of the Hippodrome; and the underground waters of the Byzantine “Basilica Cisterns,” which were started in the mid 6th century. There are scintilating  treasures for the eyes, mind, and soul, but for the sensual pleasures of the body, enter the Hamam’s marbled and domed sanctuary, also a part of history.

Each visitor is matched with a personal female attendant who leads the way to an undressing room, then to a soothing bathing area. Mine pours warm waters over me from a gold bowl, scrubs me, and massages off layers of the unwanted. She whooshes soft silky soap bubbles over me, and massages me as I am stretched out on a side of an octagonal marble fountain that seems ageless.  My mind releases any worries about current times, and I wonder how closely this resembles how Sultan’s wives were treated centuries ago.

Spa for Sultanas, Istanbul

In the midst of all this pampering, she massages my scalp and washes my hair tenderly, like my mother did when I was little. It is a happy memory, but a small lump forms in my throat.

After more cascades of warm and cold water for rinsing, I am led upstairs two flights to a private room framed by an intricate wooden carving. A masterful massage of perfumed oils ensues, with any remaining knots kneaded out – front and back; top and bottom. I am again offered water or fruit drinks. My attendent beams at me “You are a Sultana!”

Delighted and detoxed, clean and smooth, I lounge near my childhood friend as we each purr contentment under a tall tranquil white dome, a nearby fountain flowing its liquid mantra to relax. When we are ready to head back out the door into the large park framed by iconic architectural wonders, we are handed little bags to take home. Mine has a kese (scrubbing mitten) and kariklar (plastic sandals) with the year 1556 imprinted.

Bazaar  Shopping

Crossroads of consumerism through the ages-Istanbul’s Bazaars

Straddling two continents, Istanbul, once aka Constantinople, is a crossroads of consumerism, from the Silk Road times to the Grand Bazaar and smaller Spice Bazaar, which are still magnets for thousands of shoppers. At the Grand Bazaar, twenty entrance gates are portals I read to a maze of more than 60 paths and 4,000 shops and cafes today—the evolution of a shopping center centuries old. Were these the original mega-malls?

The Grand Bazaar invited conspicuous consumption and beautiful production centuries ago with designated sections for the making and selling of leather goods, gold, jewels and the artistry of Turkish rugs. Today, shoppers weave through the maze under tiled, vaulted ceilings. Narrow passageways of vendors may lead to a courtyard or a wider path of stores with the labrinth including a great range these days from exquisite jewelry to junky trinkets—all waiting to be bargained for.   Amidst modern cell phones, men still scurry with silver trays of tea to serve the merchants.

An entry to the Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

Near one end of the Galeta Bridge (well worth walking), the “smaller” but still a-mazing Spice Bazaar was purportedly created in the 17th century to provide revenue for the “New Mosque” (now in its 4th century, which is still relatively new in a city with the Hagia Sophia). Spices, herbs, honeycombs, and all kinds of delectables seduce the senses and invite quick deal-making for some delicious presents.

Cruise Time

By the time we boarded our Holland America Cruise ship, the Noordam, we had tended to body, soul, and mind and had gifts for our husbands and friends in packages to carry to our Verandah suite on the Promenade Deck.

When we opened the door to our suite, more treats awaited — a bottle of champagne on ice and a dozen cut fruits waited on one plate, several kinds of finger sandwiches rested on another, and white and dark chocolates of sea horses and towers greeted us inside our well-designed cabin. Outside on our verandah, the azure of the Bosphorus, the coastlines of Asia and Europe, and a skyline of spires and skyscrapers and domes – past and present – wrapped around us.

With nearby menus for room service, onboard spa treatments and shore excursions, we were leaving port to head through the Dardanelles toward Greece as part of the Ancient Mysteries cruise, happily warmed up by Istanbul’s enduring luxuries of food, baths, and shops.

Photos and articles by  © Lisa TE Sonne

Click here for more of her Luxury Travel Mavens pieces

 

For additional Sonne articles, photos and radio pieces visit www.WorldTouristBureau.com

Please add your experiences and thoughts about Istanbul:

 

 

La Belle Vita– Serving up wines, foods, historic sights, and relaxing memories

Instead of a last gasp of summer, would you like a great grasp of vacation luxury at a special price?  European Waterways is now offering $2,000 off an August 25th cruise of culinary and cultural gems in Italy on the boutique La Belle Vita, “the beautiful life”- and it is a beautiful life!

With fewer than 20 fellow passengers and nine crewmembers, the luxury boat travels between Venice and Virgil’s Mantua in Italy’s Po Valley. As the private shore tours of castles, villas, museums, and palaces show how the wealthy were pampered in the past, current-day passengers are richly indulged in the present by a talented team.

Each day Chef Andrea Chin points to a different region of Italy on a map to set up the sumptuous courses of related specialties that he and Sous Chef Mario Sartori freshly prepared. Hostess Vanessa Santamaria describes the wine pairings for the courses. A third person elaborates on the Italian cheeses selected for that meal.

Sangria served topside while La Belle Vita tours the Grand Canal of Venice with savory appetizers and warm breezes

There’s an open bar and friendly staff who will find you topside to see if you would like a snack or cocktail. And everything is artfully arranged and delightfully presented.

The Chef is happy to share his recipes with food lovers — even before his anticipated book comes out featuring regional Italian dishes. He will also provide a cooking lesson on request. The only dinner off the boat is private dining at Ca’ Zen, the villa where Lord Byron wrote inspired poetry and pursued a great romance.

Art and Architecture are part of the excursion menu of private tours on La Bella Vita tour of Venice and the Po Valley of Italy.

To work up physical appetites and feed curiosity, Team Leader Klaudia Neri, who speaks five languages, helps tailor shore time, with specially-picked guides for each private tour, covering a range of artistic and architectural wonders of medieval and renaissance times. She can also help you with current desires — from getting a set of watercolor paints for fun onboard, to finding the pharmacy or photo store you want to answering questions about history and customs.

The affable Captain Rudy Toninata entertains visitors on the bridge while skillfully navigating through locks. Toninata and Neri have years of experience with Italy’s family run Delta Tours to work well with European Waterways for passengers to enjoy the best.

I greatly enjoyed this stimulating itinerary and relaxing venue last July to celebrate my birthday with my husband, so I encourage those who love food and arts to pick an occasion (half-birthday, “un-birthday,” anniversary, or “just because”) and savor the “Beautiful life!”

“Read All About It!” Summer special rate on intimate cruise of Venice and the Po Valley -the best of grapes and gondolas. (c)Lisa TE Sonne

And with the $2,000 savings (that’s $1000-off per person for double cabin) being offered by European Waterways,  you could upgrade to first class airfare or buy some beautiful hand blown glass on the Venetian Island of Murano, or hand-made lace on Burano, or order cases of wine, or ….. plan your next journey worth reading about.

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MORE INFO from European Waterways: “Prices for a 6 night cruise aboard the 20 passenger La Bella Vita are from $3,840pp in a twin/double en suite cabin, including all meals, wines, an open bar, excursions and local transfers. Full boat charters are also available. European Waterways: Tel: +44 (0) 1753 598555. Toll free from the US:  1-877 879 8808 ”   Check also for special prices on two upcoming fall Trips on La Belle Vita.

You can also connect by  Website * Facebook, Twitter, or You Tube

*******                                              -Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photos by (c) Lisa TE Sonne

 

 

La Dolce Vita from La Bella Vita luxury barge!

“La Dolce Vita” (the sweet life) beckons this summer in Italy! And  La Bella Vita, a luxury barge, is waiting to take visitors through the canals of  Venice and waterways of the Po Valley on a journey through centuries of architecture, romance,  poetry, and history.

Imagine the itinerary below provided by European Waterways, with cultural riches in view and culinary treats in store —from a dedicated onboard chef catering to a max of 20 passengers to onshore dining in a 17th century villa where Lord Byron wrote verses.

Sample a list of menu highlights, boat features,  and a video preview clicking here. The itinerary below is also posted on their website  along with itineraries in other countries for other floating trips through nature and culture.

Sunday, Day 1 Mantua

“Guests are met and transferred to La Bella Vita, moored in Porto Catena in Mantua. A Prosecco welcome gives you a chance to meet the crew followed by a cruise around the lakes surrounding the city or perhaps a stroll through the historic city centre and a visit to the Ducal Palace. Dinner on board

Monday, Day 2 Mantua to Zelo

“This morning we enjoy a guided tour of Mantua. This imposing city was home to the poet Virgil, artists Mantegna and Donatello and under the Lordship of the powerful Gonzaga Family. Mantua has early Etruscan origins but today is a center of extraordinary neo-classical and baroque architecture. We view the city squares, Cathedral, the Baptistery and then lunch on board followed by afternoon cruise through the Mincio Natural Park, to Zelo. Dinner aboard.

Tuesday, Day 3 Zelo to Bosaro

“Morning cruise along the Bianco Canal to Bosaro past villages and farmsteads. This afternoon we transfer for a guided tour of the Renaissance city of Ferrara, including the 14th century Estense Castle. This ancient ducal fortress with moat, drawbridges, unusual battlements and towers, houses marble balconies and sumptuous apartments. We see the Cathedral façade with its sculpted images, described as an Illustrated Bible, and visit the Schifanoia Palace with its fabulous 15th century frescoes. We conclude with a walk through the medieval city center and Jewish Ghetto before returning to La Bella Vita. Dinner on board.

La Bella Vita cruising through time in Italy

Wednesday, Day 4 Bosaro to Taglio di Po

“In the morning we visit the magnificent Renaissance gardens and wine cellars of the 17th century Villa Widmann-Borletti. For over 1000 years wine, balsamic vinegar, organic Carnaroli rice, grape seed oil and truffles have been produced on the Dominio di Bagnoli estate, which has also been famed for its exclusive D.O.C. Friularo vintages since the 17th century. Concerts, opera and art exhibitions are regular features in this magnificent property. We enjoy a private wine tasting before returning to La Bella Vita in Adria and afternoon cruise downstream along the Bianco Canal before entering the River Po and our peaceful mooring place at Taglio di Po.

“Here we have dinner ashore nearby at the beautiful 17th century Villa Ca’Zen, a private river-side stately home where we are hosted by the longstanding family owners. It was here that Lord Byron courted the Countess Guccioli and, whilst a guest at the Villa, wrote some of his most moving poetry.

Thursday, Day 5 Chioggia to San Pietro in Volta

“Morning to Porto Levante passing through a nature reserve with flamingos and occasional heron, snipe and other wildfowl. Guided tour to the ancient city of Chioggia, city of Goldoni’s plays, with ancient origins dating back over 2000 years to Roman, Etruscan and Byzantine links. We visit the Piazzatta Vigo, Vigo Bridge and 12th century Vigo column. At the Church of San Domenico, set on its own island, we see Carpaccio’s St Paul, his last recorded painting together with works of art by Tintoretto and Bassano. Chioggia’s cathedral beckons with works by Tiepolo, Giovane, Piazzetta and Diziani.

“A visit to the colourful fresh fish market completes the picture. After lunch aboard, we cruise north through the lagoon past rustic fishing huts on stilts and the island of Pellistrina, to San Pietro in Volta. Here there is the opportunity to stroll or cycle along the 18th century Istrian sea wall, with the Adriatic on one side and the lagoon on the other. Dinner aboard.

Dining room onboard La Bella Vita with moving views of Italy.

Friday, Day 6 San Pietro in Volta to Venice

“This morning we cruise to Venice, passing several lagoon islands – San Sevolo, once a hospital for the Crusaders, San Lazzaro degli Armeni, an early 18th century Armenian monastery, San Clemente, a luxury hotel and poetical Poveglia. These islands sport brightly coloured houses, painted fishing boats and tiny churches. Mooring on the waterfront outside the Naval Museum near St Marks, we make a guided tour to the center of Venice, experiencing the unique atmosphere of this magical city by visiting The Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace, that was the seat of the government of Venice for centuries as well as being the home of the Doge (the elected ruler of Venice). Captain Farewell Dinner on board and perhaps an evening stroll to the magnificent St Marks Square.”

I am signed up to go with my husband this July on the route from Venice to Mantua, so we can savor together “La Dulce Vita” on the La Bella Vita in unforgettable ways!

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Looking for a luxury hotel in Venice? Check out Luxury Travel Maven McLean’s story on the Aman Grand Canale   If you want to add Tuscany to your Italian rambles, read about a favorite Villa of LTM Kate.

If you want to add on a one time special  Italian Riviera “Transformational Travel”  trip in October,  read here.

European Waterways also offers memorable journeys in many countries including  barge and bicycle trips in France

Photos courtesy of GoBarging.com   European Waterways

- Lisa TE Sonne, posted for Luxury Travel Mavens

 

 

“I Love Paris” was written by Cole Porter and crooned by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and celebrities today. This Spring, Paris is singing in colors. Luxury Travel Maven Lisa TE Sonne enjoyed Springtime in Paris on her way to gliding in the canals of  the heart of France with European Waterways. Here are a few of Sonne’s  photographs about why Paris is worth singing about in springtime.

The fruit stands on Rue de Seine of the left bank…..

Springtime in Paris offers color for the sensual and the spiritual.

Notre Dame, Sonne

Spring light and centuries of prayer in Paris’s famed Notre Dame Cathedral celebrating its 850th anniversary. (c)Sonne

Reflections of Moulin Rouge after Spring Showers. The song “I Love Paris” was written for the Tony winning musical “Can-Can” set at Moulin Rouge (c)Sonne

 

 

 

 

Life’s vignettes ride by when your front row seat is a Parisian Cafe.

At the first signs of Spring, Parisians take to the streets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paris, Sonne

A little chill in the air doesn’t stop Parisians once the Spring sun is out.

Why do you love Paris?  

“Paris is always a good idea,” according to Audrey Hepburn.”  What do you say? 

 

 -Lisa TE Sonne, Luxury Travel Mavens

Photographs by Lisa TE Sonne

(c) To be used only with permission.

 

 

 

 

 

I woke in a dream on La Belle Epoque—gently, slowly gliding through the French countryside on a canal, while a charming talented chef shucked fresh oysters four feet away, and a cute Scottish lass offered more champagne. A Vivaldi piece ended and the birds crescendoed their musical score for our movie-like lunch al fresco topside on a luxury barge. The breezes caressed, the sun kissed, the blue skies cajoled. We were cruising the Burgundy canal in April, the weather thermostat on perfect.

Spa time as the french countryside floats by

Tableaus drift by—all white cows against shamrock green fields, a chateau in the distance, dozens of bare-branched trees with round ornaments of mistletoe, meadows of greens tattooed with yellow flowers, some children sitting on the bank waiting to smile and wave, a heron in flight- wings gracefully carving the air.
Six passengers, six staff as we voyage tranquilly from chateau to winery, from medieval to Renaissance to modern humanity, from the left-overs of winter to the burgeoning Spring.

A continuum of contentments—moving meditations just basking in the landscapes shifting with shadows and lights as we pass on, or active conversations with well-traveled and educated people; sitting in the Jacuzzi with lovely views to relax, or biking through villages and fields off the tourists path, feeling like you discovered it all yourself.

Passengers from New Zealand and California offered to help open the lock. Each lock station like the one in the background is numbered.

Every time we reach a lock, there is an opportunity to hop on or off the barge for a bike ride or walk.  Towpaths parallel the canal and side paths lead to villages and forests with songbirds. Pilot Alain and first mate Rod would let passengers help with the locks or steer the barge if they wanted.

Smiles
As we sat outside topside enjoying the oysters as a prelude to lunch, we each had many reasons to be smiling about our morning in Noyers sur Serain, an outstanding village with a lively market from fresh produce to original art, and winding streets of architecture from five centuries. Page had gotten a striking pair of shoes. Shona had gathered artisanal tiles after talking with the creator. Ann had walked through the centuries of architecture. Ken sat in the warm sun watching it all- people and the landscapes, an amused half smile on his face. Kirsten comes to see if there are any more food or beverage requests. David was pleased that so far all his advance requests for food and drink had been met from  his specific dishes, to bourbon and Pims being in stock.

Each day passengers could relax onboard, and explore the countryside by bike, and enjoy a private tour by Anna to a chateau, winery, abbey, or memorable village.

My long-time friend from graduate school, Page, chats with our four new friends about the cheese that David, a retired professor and author, had ordered in advance. Made by Cistercian monks whose parent monastery is kilometers away. We had visited the “daughter Abby” the day before- Abbaye de Fontenay founded in 1118 by St Bernard, and beautifully laid out. It’s the only privately owned UNESCO World Heritage site in the world according to Anna, our  wonderful Captain and our  entertaining, well-versed guide, for forays in the van.

The Abbaye’s gardens, cloisters, illumination room and chapel all emanated a prayerful sense. The practical side of the lay-out was intriguing also- a well-preserved medieval tower for the pigeons and doves, fish farm for food, a set area for the hounds they cared for in the past for the gentry hunters. Centuries ago monks here also invented the hydraulic hammer which made culling ore much more efficient, a pivotal innovation credited with ushering in the Industrial Age. We returned to the barge that day, most un-industrious.

Chef Huw comes out again to pick rosemary and thyme from the flower boxes flanking the sides of the boat. So far he has hit the bulls-eye every meal- from requested poached eggs and fruit for breakfast to other guest’s dinner requests for duck, pigeon, rabbit,  or salmon and vegetarian. He has also cooked up items passengers picked up in local village markets- making heirloom tomatoes taste even better and creating a celery root soup that practically had sippers swooning. The deserts were beyond good. And every night the table was set imaginatively sometimes with lit candles, fresh flowers and imaginative napkins thanks to George and Kirst. They also made eloquent introductions to the wines and cheeses that were paired with each lunch and dinner.

The first day we saw filmmakers in enchanting Flavigny sur Ozerairn where the movie Chocolat occurred.

Our itinerary of days ahead includes wine tasting in Chablis, an inside private tour of another historic chateau, a night at a country french restaurant, and a lock station run by an artist who displays his whimsical sculptures on the banks. Already we have walked through the lavish rooms of Chateau d’Ancy where Henry the IV, Louis XIII and Louis the XIV slept, stood on the hilltop where locals say Caesar conquered the Gauls in 52 BC in the Battle of Alesia,  learned about anise making in the village where Chocolat was filmed, bicycled through nature and rustic villages, and indulged in the comforts provided by a wonderful staff.

In the past, grand royal barges carried the privileged people of the courts. Now it is a vacation of privileges. European Waterways offers 17 routes in France, Holland and England.

 -Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photographs by Lisa TE Sonne

 

La Belle Epoque Dining & Saloon, provided by European Waterways

“French Soft and Creamy Cheeses” “French Goat Cheeses” “French Firm Cheeses” and “Wines of Burgundy.”  These section headings are followed by sensual descriptions of the delectable and savory with room for my future tasting notes. The salivating begins before I have even left home!

Weeks ago, I  received a beautiful European Waterways “Ship’s Log” book that includes maps, tasting lists, menus, and recipes for my anticipated  “Classical Burgundy” luxury trip on the Le Belle Epoque.   She is a “barge,” but with a sun deck, outdoor jacuzzi, library, 24/7 inclusive bar, and air conditioning, the wood-paneled, 12 passenger  La Belle Epoque sounds more like a yacht to me. She is built specially though to travel the shallow canals, locks, and rivers.

When I think of barges, I think of the elaborate, royal court barges of past eras that  I have read about, or the huge powerful container vehicles that ply the Hudson River and the Pacific coastline, and I think of  how joyful my mother is describing what a great time she and her girlfriends had years ago when they went barging together for a week in Europe– one big, elegant, floating slumber party with their own chef.

Traveling through Burgundy with leisure and pleasure

Most of my  girlfriends are still working and/or in active Mom mode, but I did find one who could  take time to smell the cheeses with me for lots of bon appetit! She is a francophile, so it wasn’t hard to say Merci to France for having so many barge options, but it didn’t diminish the drooling over other possible destinations.

European Waterways offers European barging trips in

England —Thames River

France— (16 different trips on various canals and rivers)

Germany —Mosel River

Ireland —Shannon River

Italy —Venice and the Po Valley

Netherlands: Holland’s Rivers and Canals

Scotland —Caledonian Canal

France alone has 2,700 miles of navigable inland waterways. Many have rustic parallel pathways lined with tall poplar trees. Originally the trees were planted to shade the horses that gave the barges their horse power.  Before the 20th century, barges were propelled by sails or pulled by horses or people.

Now the shore’s pathways or “tow paths” offer a wonderful way for barge guests to walk or bicycle between villages with their charming, slow moving, home-base in sight.  A little healthy exercise might justify all those cheeses, wines and dishes prepared by the barge’s chef. I’ll put some sneakers in my suitcase (as well as pants with an expandable waistband for good-eating days.)

Bicycling and Barging the Burgundy

It also looks like my camera will get some good exercise–  there’s the 11th century Abby, the village where they filmed  Chocolat, and Rennaisance Chateau and gardens!

Here’s more from the itinerary as provided by the  EUROPEAN WATERWAYS website :

LA BELLE EPOQUE – CLASSIC BURGUNDY CRUISE

Tanlay to Venarey les Laumes

Sunday, Day 1 Tanlay

Guests are met at the designated meeting point inParis and transferred to the barge moored in Tanlay. A full crew Welcome Aboard with champagne and canapés. After time to settle into your cabin you will enjoy your first dinner on board and introduction to Burgundy’s excellent cuisine.

Monday, Day 2 Tanlay to Lezinne

La Belle Epoque Cabin for barging on the Burgundy

Wake to the aromas of ground coffee and French patisseries, enjoy a leisurely breakfast and morning cruise to Lezinne with the opportunity to cycle or walk into the picturesque 16th Century village of Saint Vinemer. After lunch we visit the 16th century Renaissance-style Chateau de Tanlay, nestling serenely within this picturesque village and also the 18th century Fosse Dionne. Dinner on board.

Tuesday, Day 3 Lezinne to Ancy le Franc

After breakfast enjoy a lazy cruise up to Ancy le Franc with plenty of opportunity to wander or cycle ahead as the vessel ascends through the locks towards the beautiful 16th century Renaissance palace and gardens of Chateau d’Ancy le Franc. Lunch in a local auberge and then visit the vineyards and town of Chablis, dating back to Roman times. We enjoy a private wine tasting renowned for its Premier and Grand Cru wines popularized by Alexis Lichine in the 1950’s. Dinner on board.

Wednesday, Day 4 Ancy le Franc to Ravieres

Morning visit to medieval Noyers sur Serein to admire the local produce, colours and delights of the wonderful market, or to wander the town ramparts in this, one of the most beautiful villages in France. We return to the barge and enjoy a gentle afternoon cruise past grazing Charolais cattle to Ravieres followed by a visit to the 16th century Renaissance palace and gardens of Chateau d’Ancy le Franc. Dinner on board.

 Thursday, Day 5 Ravieres to Montbard

The Abbaye de Fontenay,

Morning cruise, with excellent walking and cycling opportunities, to Montbard passing the Forges de Buffon. After lunch, we escort you to the exquisite World Heritage Unesco site of Abbayé de Fontenay founded by St Bernard in 1118. Representing a distinctive example of early Cistercian architecture and virtually intact, Fontenay allows an exceptional glimpse of early Cistercian life and industry with its peaceful gardens and ponds and fascinating cloisters, dormitories and scriptorium. Dinner on board. 

Friday, Day 6 Montbard to Venarey les Laumes

Morning cruise through woodlands and rolling fields, with great towpath biking and walking opportunities, past the tiny canal side villages of Nogent, Courcelles and Les Granges. This afternoon we enjoy a stroll around the hilltop village of Flavigny sur Ozerain, where the film ‘Chocolat’ was located. On the way from the summit of Mt Auxois, we look at Alesia, the last battle site between the Gaulles and Romans that took place in 52 BC. Also time to enjoy the town of Semur-en-Auxois. Captain’s Farewell Dinner on board.

Saturday, Day 7 Venarey les Laumes

Disembark after breakfast and transfer back to Paris.

 For some stories on the above trip, stay tuned for future Tuesday columns in Luxury Travel Mavens.

For additional options, check out Andrea Rotondo’s River Cruising Revolution?

-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photos courtesy of European Waterways

Part Two: Barging and Biking In Burgundy

Short Video of the Luxury Barge

If you like this idea of slower, immersive travel please share this with friends, and add a comment.

 International trips organized around annual festivals and remarkable events may be packed and unpacked with “Ah!” and awe at human nature and earth’s nature.

Iceland, Solstice Celebration in June, photo courtesy of Kensington Tours

A camel beauty pagaent in India? Cherry blossoms in Japan? A solstice  celebration in Iceland? A leg rowing contest in Mynamar?  These are trips you can take that few have (and links to intineraries for that festival travel are below).

What better way to learn about a culture than by being part of the festivities it honors?  One of my most remembered (and photographed) trips was customized around the Tshechu dance festivals held in the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas.  Our private trip beautifully developed by Bridge to Bhutan included a local guide, great access to the festivals and temples, and some luxury accommodations (Zwha Ling in Paro, the first Bhutanese owned-and-operated hotel and resort to receive five stars, Uma Paro for peaceful pampering, is part of the upscale Como Hotels and Resorts,   Taj Tasha, a modern landmark in Thimphu and a Taj Resorts and Palaces.)  I hope to return this summer to Bhutan with my husband to provide luxe trav readers updated details.

LTM Festival Travel

Pushkar Camel Fair, India, courtesy of Kensington Tours

You may have a destination in mind and start checking into what festivals are celebrated as a memorable portal to unique experiences or you may know of a festival you like– St Patrick’s Day in Ireland in March, the big Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico in October, or the Water throwing festival in April that is part of Thailand’s New Year. You can start creating your own adventure with or without a company that customizes trips.

You may want to join a festival trip that has already been carefully planned. Since many destinations can be well booked by locals and foreigners for annual events, and festivals may have specialized customs, the expertise and clout of a seasoned travel company  could save you time and trouble. I have not experienced the festival trips below, but the photos and descriptions are beguiling:

APRIL

Cherry Blossom Festivals in Japan Photo provided by Kensington Tours

Japan`s Cherry Blossom Trip

As described by Kensington Tours: “Picnic under trees radiant with cherry blossoms and take part in the centuries old Japanese tradition of “hanami” on this private journey showcasing Tokyo and Kyoto during the most desirable time of year. Delve into this ancient spring custom and more, as you’re swept into a land of kimono-clad geishas, zen gardens, sushi, samurai castles and shrines, all narrated by private guide.

“Stroll the flowery “Philosopher’s Walk,” tiptoe across nightingale floors, cruise the Sumida River, visit mountain temples and behold cherry blossoms season at its finest!”

 

JUNE

Iceland’s Summer Solstice Tour: June 21, 2013

As described by Kensington Tours “Celebrate the Summer Solstice in “the land of the midnight sun” on this exclusive tour to the top of the world. Honor this mystical ancient tradition marking the longest day of the year in Reykjavik, Iceland.

“From druid priests, live music, bonfires and culinary feasts with the locals to champagne toasts, drinking “Viking blood,” carving sacred runes and unveiling legends of old with private Icelandic folklore guide, this northern adventure makes the most of all 24 hours of light.”

Nature’s spa at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon during the Midnight Sun, photo from Kensington Tours

 JULY

Spain’s San Fermin Festival: July 6 – 14, 2013

As described by Kensington Tours, “Not for the weak of heart, this wild Spanish fiesta is known for the Running of the Bulls which dates back to 14th-century Pamplona. Over time it has evolved into a daring weeklong fête where 2,000 people

San Fermin Running of the Bulls Fiesta In Pamplona, Photo provided by Kensington Tours

run in front of 15 charging bulls.

“Led by a real picador guide, behold the spectacle from a private balcony as Ernest Hemingway did and head to the country where the famous bulls are raised. Not ready to take life by the horns? Fireworks, gigantes y cabezudos, contests, dancing and spirited locals will keep any globetrotter on their toes.”

OCTOBER

Myanmar’s Leg-Rowing Festival: Oct 5 – 22, 2013

In the words of Kensington Tours: “Cruise the waters of time back to a celebration evocative of Southeast Asia centuries ago with a pilgrimage to Phaung Daw Oo – otherwise known as Myanmar’s Leg Rowing Festival. Held upon the shores of Inle Lake, a trip to this spiritual 18-day pageant is true cultural nirvana. Watch as a golden barge holding four Buddhas is towed by ornamented leg-rowers from private boat with expert guide.

“Take part in the eclectic festivities, from magic shows, dancing, leg rowing races and fireworks to fortune tellers, spiritual blessings and Burmese banquets. To amplify your experience, plan your visit to coincide with Thadingyut, the festival of lights!”

Myanmar Leg rower contest, Photo provided by Kensington Travel

NOVEMBER

Pushkar Camel Fair – India: Nov 6 -17, 2013

Kensington Tours: “There’s nothing quite as mind boggling exotic as a trip to India’s Pushkar Camel Fair. Held every year in the desert of Rajasthan during the full moon, this spectacular event attracts over 300,000 people and up to 50,000 camels.

Family at the Pushkar Festival in India, Photo from Kensington Tours

“Led by expert private guide, plunge into this cultural spectacle while staying at a whimsical luxury tented camp. From camel painting, beauty pageants, races, livestock trade, religious rituals to music, gypsies, mouth-watering feasts and other lively events, this exotic festival has it all!”

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Keep clicking in for future luxury festival trips as readers and luxe tour operators share their favorites. Coming up: Food and Wine Festival Trips

-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photos provided by Kensington Tours