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

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