Once royalty traveled on luxury barges down the Nile river in Egypt and the Thames in England. When future US President Thomas Jefferson was Ambassador in France, he wrote that of all the forms of travel he had tried, barging was the most pleasant.

I have come to love luxury barging in Europe going to places ships can’t reach and traveling at a pace that allows all the senses to be enjoyed.

This month’s WORLD TRAVELLER magazine ran my piece on barging via Europeans Waterways in Italy, Scotland, Holland, and France.  Two were girlfriend trips and two were romantic husband trips. I felt like royalty on all of them.


“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.

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 :


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.

The Zen of Ziplining with Dan Austin, founder of Austin-Lehman Adventure now Austin Adventures

Dan Austin, founder of Austin Adventures, not only walks his talk.  He ziplines it, kayaks it, and  ash-boards it. He makes the world his office and playground, as he aims for each AA adventure travel vacation to be “incredibly fun and deeply memorable”, (part of the company’s mission statement.) Not an easy feat, with 80 programs “evolving” in the Americas, Africa and Europe, but his family- run company keeps getting top awards and high praise.

 He credits his family, AA team and the hand-picked local guides. It’s also clear, he is all-around hands-on (both paddles and plans,) and is comfortable with a variety of Boards ( executives and sports.) He even ash-boarded down a young volcano with fellow travelers and me on AA’s inaugural trip to Nicaragua-

Dan Austin stays plugged in (with camera, smart phone and smiles) so guests can stay unplugged if they want.

enjoying the field research with his wonderful enthusiasm and observant eye.     He  slipped in some texting to his family and AA team  between zipline stations in  jungle canopy, from a kayak, and between courses to help keep things “fun and memorable” on this trip and dozens of others.

How do you define “adventure travel “?

Austin: “That is a tough question Lisa, Adventure Travel can be anything from climbing Everest to a walk in your local dog park.  It really comes down to what it means to the individual (or company in our case).  To AA it simply means staying active and exploring a bit more off the beaten path in each and every region we visit.  Definitely not a “typical bus tour.”

Family adventure travel by an award-winning, family-run company

“As you experienced in our recent trip to Nicaragua, we tried to balance seeing the country and cultural activities, with a bit more calorie burning modes of transportation like kayaks or hiking along with some heart pounding activities like ash boarding off a volcano.  Key is knowing what adventure is to you and making sure your goals and ideas are in line with your fellow travelers or an outfitter if you so choose. Also key to trust you always have options and that everything is introduced in a way that is as good for a novice as a veteran.”

 Why did you found your company?

Austin: “Now that is a bit of an adventure on its own.  I had a bit of experience in the industry back in the late 70’s.  I was a passionate rafter and thought it would be great to get people to pay to join me. Then some 25 years later my wife talked me into joining an “adventure vacation” to the Tetons with what was then Backcountry Tours.  I reluctantly agreed. I mean I was one of those macho do it yourself guys that looked at group travel, led by a couple of young guides as it had to be painful.

LTM Adventure Travel

River Rafting continues to be part of the Austin story. Rafting the Yellowstone River on ALA’s Montana Adventure. Photo Credit: Austin-Lehman

“Boy was I wrong!  It took all of the first day for me to realize this was my first true vacation.  Everything from someone else fixing the flat on my bike, to deciding where we would eat or what trail we would hike.  That and they carried by bags to our room and were a wealth of non-stop energy and learning’s.  After that week, a group of us approached the owners and ended up buying the company.  That was back in 1995, I have had no regrets since!”

 What are some of your most popular trips over the years and what is your rate of customer return?

The lower falls of Yellowstone River, a popular Austin adventure destination. Photo courtesy of Austin-Lehman.

Austin: “Yellowstone continues to be our #1 selling trip as it has for decades!  It is simply sensory overload and offers something for everyone. From the rich history (our country’s first National Park), to its spectacular geography (a giant caldera and more geo thermal features then the rest of the world combined) and of course the wildlife!  But that is just one of many tried and true favorites.

“Year after year Alaska continues to shine, as do the Canadian Rockies.  In Europe, Holland, Germany and Italy are always at the top of the list. Heading south, Costa Rica is our #2 selling program overall, with Peru and the Galapagos not far behind.  In Africa, my favorite and that of many of our guests, has to be Namibia, with South Africa a close second.

“About 70% of our guests are either repeat travelers or direct referrals from repeats.  One of our favorite alumni couples Chuck and Judy will be taking their 52nd and 53rd trips this year. In fact they will be repeating a trip the first trip they ever did to the Loire Valley, led by our Europe Operations Manager Ron van Dijk who was their guide on that trip so many years ago.”

Do you have anything particularly exciting coming up that you want to share?

Austin:We are always “cooking” up new trips.  We just finished putting the final touches on a new Inca Trail Luxury Camping program (Glamping)  combining hiking the Inca Trail with over- the-top services and amenities like massages and down comforters. We also are just finishing up a new Montana Based Best of the West family program.  Best bet is to sign up for our E-News letter and or catalog, of course that and Facebook. We are always communicating what we are up to.

 How can your company tailor things to be more luxurious if the client wants? Can you give some examples of things your company has done along those lines?

Sweet Adventure Travel, photo from Austin-Lehman

Austin:” Now that is clearly the fun part of the business!  About 25% of our guests choose “custom or exclusive” adventures.  Fact is if you can dream it, we can create it.  I love sharing these stories.

“There was the guest that had a vision of his wife standing knee deep in the surf off the coast of Kauai on her 60th birthday, cocktail in hand, Hawaiian trip playing as the sun set, topped off with rose petals falling from the sky!  Or the grandparents that wanted to treat their six- year-old twin grandsons to five National Parks in six days by private jet!  Then there are a lot more conventional adventures where a multi-generational family just want to get together for an adventurous family reunion.

Would you say you have a “family company”? What difference does that make?

Family Adventure: Austin guests hike up Athabasca Glacier in Alberta, Canada. Photo Credit: Austin-Lehma

Austin: “You bet I would or could say that. We are family owned and operated.   But I actually think the readers –and our guests– said it better when they awarded us the #1 Family Tour Operator in the world recognition in 2012! And  #2 overall !  It just helps that we know families!

“My kids grew up in the business as my crash test dummies (just kidding.)  We have always put a focus on doing family adventures right, not just calling an adult program “family” to sell more spots.  They are truly built for families, by families.  Here is a link to a fun webinar we did just to learn more from kids as to what kids wanted out of a family vacation.

 How would you define “Sustainable” or “Green,”  “Eco-travel?”  How important is it to your company?  Can you give examples of how you implement/ integrate it?

Austin: “Another great question and like the question on defining adventure travel, its all about what it means to you. I like to look at it in its simplest form.  The triple

In the middle of the hike, guide extraordinaire Julio Flores surprises everyone with Nicaraguan pastries. Ken sets a good example.

bottom line:

  • People
  • Planet
  • Profits

“All working together.  Another helpful definition is that of Sustainability: “ The ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs.

“We look to work with hotels and restaurants that follow these beliefs.  Is the produce local or flown in?  Do they practice recycling? Conservation?  But also things like hiring locals (starting with our guides).  Are they giving back to the communities they reside?

“One of our more significant programs that we are exceptionally proud of is our own nonprofit Wheels of Change.

Also check out www.austinadventures.com  for more.

What kind of awards have you gotten? What moments are you most proud of?

Austin: “We truly have been blessed in this arena. As I mentioned Travel and Leisure recognized us as the #1 Family Travel company in 2012 (beating out companies with names like “Disney”, that same year we were ranked #2 overall.  We have finished in the top 3 since we were first announced as #1 overall Tour and Safari operator in 2009.  But that is really just a start.

Austin-Lehman Awards

“National Geographic Adventurer listed us as one of the top companies in the World, several times as well as recognizing specific trips in the top trips category, year after year.  Outside Magazine gave our Cuba program the 2012 Hall of Fame award and so much more.  You can see more. You asked what award am I most proud of.. that has to be the Global Vision Award for our efforts with our bike program Wheels of Change.”

What else should potential travelers know about Austin Adventures for luxurious, adventure travel?

Austin: “I think it is not so much Austin Lehman –although we would love all your readers to join us– it is just travel itself.  As I recently penned for an email broadcast, travel is good for the soul!

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, photo thanks to Austin-Lehman

“I think Mark Twain said it best ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  

“You can of course start with our website  or on Facebook.  I also just encourage all to just call or email.  1-800-575-1540 or even better yet.  email me direct at dan@austinlehman.com  Yes, you will get a personal response.

“We are all eager to talk about travel and adventure anytime!  And if we don’t go where you want, we probably know who does and does it well, and are just thrilled to help you on your way!”

by Sonne

Dan Austin in the largest lake in Central America, Lake Nicaragua

(c)Lisa TE Sonne,  Luxury Travel Mavens

Photos by Lisa TE Sonne, unless credited to Austin-Lehman or Austin Adventures

Stay tuned for more Q & A with Dan Austin about how to Design an Adventure trip and for more on ALA’s innovative travel philanthropy

What do you think “Adventure Travel” is? Do you have Austin-Lehman trip stories to share in the comments below? Here’s my Luxury Travel Maven story and photos of the Austin Adventures Trip to Nicaragua