Anjodi, cruising along the Canal du Midi, painting by Stanley Rose


Happy New Year to all our readers, and welcome to the January edition of the lock-keeper. The festive season is over and we hope you all had a good time.

In this month's lockkeeper, we are very pleased to announce the launch of our all new gobarging website.

A lot of work has gone into the new design and we are sure you will like some of the new features. At the heart of the new website is a Cruise Selector which takes all the work out of finding your luxury barge cruise.

You can search by country to find barge itineraries and cruise rates. Theme cruise charter information is also available, allowing you to quickly get to the barge and itinerary of your choice.

Each barge page has its own menu, comprising all related information for that barge, and at any time you can re-visit the cruise selector main page or site map to quickly get to your next destination.

We hope that you will enjoy the new website and find it a useful source of information.

To celebrate the launch, we have a great new cruise competition where you can win a cruise for two on L'Art de Vivre in Burgundy, France. Details to follow later.

We have an interesting article on La Belle Epoque cruising in Burgundy by Les Furnanz, and we announce the lucky winner of our December competition to win a cruise on L'Impressionniste in Provence.

We revisit Venice to discover two exciting new cruise offers for La Dolce Vita. The colourful Vogalonga festival and our new Venice Opera cruises are presented below. We also visit the Henley Festival with Actief.

I look forward to hearing from you, and seeing you at our website, where you can find out all about GoBarging and keep up to date with the latest news as it breaks....

please read on and welcome aboard,

best regards,

Derek Banks, Chairman

Derek Banks - Chairman and Barge skipper

in this issue:

Yonne Love

L'Impressionniste cruise winner

Actief Henley Festival cruise

January cruise competition

A night at the Opera

Vogalonga festival


back issues:

january 04

february 04

march 04

april 04

may 04

june 04

july 04

august 04

september 04

october 04

november 04

december 04

(please note that past competitions are now closed)

visit our website


Yonne Love
Locked On Barging in the Heart of Burgundy by Les Furnanz

La Belle Epoque cruising in Burgundy, France
It had been another rewarding morning cycling Burgundy’s Yonne province on quiet farmland and forest roads and exploring six captivating villages along the river. Now, as we sat at a lock awaiting our floating home, La Belle Époque, we rated the morning a perfect "10" and chatted about our discoveries.

In the smallest village, Pousseaux, population 100, a local farmer had driven a large tractor down the single street to plow a nearby field. In the largest village, medieval Surgy, population 450, we had toured the picturesquely flowered streets with half-timbered houses and visited the flamboyant style church with its unique hexagonal spire. When we pedaled past a field of golden sunflowers, we felt as if we'd entered a Van Gogh painting.

Soon La Belle Époque rounded the bend and headed into the lock. We climbed aboard the comfortable barge and caught up on the explorations of the other ten guests while we dined over a sumptuous lunch of salmon, vegetables, and three distinct cheeses. We all agreed this was a morning to remember and toasted it with fine Burgundy wine.

12th-century Bazoches ChateauThe afternoon was filled with more discoveries. We were driven by van for a guided tour of 12th-century Bazoches Chateau, with a stop along the way to view the 2,000-year-old Roman bridge over sparkling Cure River — just another ideal day in the Yonne province of Burgundy, heart of France.

Originally built in the early 1900s to haul logs to Paris from Burgundy’s Morvan forests, La Belle Époque, 126’ long by 16’ wide, just barely fits the region’s canal locks. She has been retrofitted exquisitely for her cruise barge role, with six comfortable double guest cabins, salon/dining room, and spacious outdoor decks.

Our bilingual crew spared no effort for a first-rate guest experience. Neal, captain and pilot, informed us of each day’s itinerary and options, ensuring that we could debark or embark independently. Lynn, the tour hostess and guide, led interesting daily afternoon tours to wineries, chateaus, villages, and other sites a few miles from the canal. Darren, the first mate and general deck hand was always there to help, including loading or unloading the barge’s mountain bikes. Jane and Helen, our capable housekeeping staff, doubled as excellent table servers and commentators on the menus. Jean Sebastian, chef de cuisine, offered up incomparable meals with incredible interpretations of the best dishes from France’s five major culinary regions where he had studied and practiced his art.
La cuisine…incroyable!

Unbelievable it was! Each meal was uniquely exquisite. An example dinner menu read: Bourgogne Epinevil, Domaine l’Abbaye du Petit Ournay (local sauvignon blanc wine, a new one for each meal), Bourgogne Cote d’Auxerre, Bersan (local pinot noir wine, a new one for each meal), croustille de crabe aux legumes vinaigrette de betteraves (Crab pastry with vegetables in sugar-beet vinaigrette), filet de canard ci l’orange (duck filet with orange), les fromages - Langres, Picodor, St. Agor (yes, tasty cheese plate with three new selections at each meal), gateau du chocolat (chocolate cake par excellence). With such a great week of culinary delights, we were thankful to have the beautiful countryside begging to be explored on foot or bike for burning off the tasty calories.

Barging Basics 101

It wasn’t long before we fell into the La Belle Époque’s "barge routine." In our five days of floating the Yonne River’s Canal du Nivernais, we averaged seven locks and eight miles of travel per day. Captain Neal would start motoring around 9 a.m. Guests were welcome to leave the barge on foot or mountain bike at any of the locks, with the understanding they were to rejoin the barge at a lock further en route. A maintained pathway, an old towpath, bordered the canal for easy travel. The barge required fifteen minutes to pass through a lock, allowing time to explore on shore or lounge aboard.

A guided half-day van tour left each day, usually after lunch, for an interesting historical site or village. During the afternoon the barge would continue on its route before docking for the night at around 3 or 4 p.m. The tour van returned to the barge soon thereafter, leaving plenty of time for guests to relax and enjoy a cocktail before a delicious dinner.

'Locked In'

La Belle Epoque in the Lock, beside the Lockkeepers houseEach lock (écluse) was an experience in its own right, as the lock keeper lived there in a small stone house with his family. Conversations with a couple of the lock keepers revealed that they could handle a load of fifty barges per day during the busier summer months, but they were much happier with our October traffic level of twenty barges per day.

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Once free of a lock, Captain Neal willingly allowed all interested guests to have their own spin at piloting La Belle Époque…and "spin" it was. A heavy dual tiller and large helm wheel with sixteen revolutions of play made for heavy work keeping the barge on course at 3-4 knots. Those of us who "gave it a spin" certainly appreciated our captain’s ability.

"Yonne Love" - the Heart of France, a Fascinating History

The Burgundy region, southeast of Paris, is steeped in France’s culture and history. The Yonne province occupies the northwestern corner of Burgundy, bordered by its three other provinces: Nievre, Saone-et-Loire, and touristy Cote d’Or with the city of Dijon. Yonne’s attraction is its array of villages and towns that so well preserve their long history yet remain undiscovered by the crowds of tourists that frequent France.

Our itinerary ran through the center of the Yonne, from beautiful provincial capital Auxerre to Clamecy, just over the border in Nievre. Along this forty-mile stretch are no less than 25 villages bordering the river and canal. The nearby chateaus, vineyards, wineries, and the treasure of the medieval hilltop village, Vezelay, add up to one of France’s most interesting areas.

Burgundy’s history runs deep. Gauls ruled the region until Julius Caesar defeated Vercingetorix here in 50 BC. The Romans established and maintained trade routes into the 5th century. Then the Burgundii from Scandinavia settled the region. In the 9th century Richard d’Autan established the Duchy of Burgundy which prospered until defeated by French king Louis XI in 1477. During its medieval heyday Burgundy was a bulwark of Catholicism and birthplace of two of the 12th century Crusades to recapture Jerusalem.

In the 1600s Burgundy became a timber center for Paris, utilizing spring floods to float huge timber rafts to the Seine. Canals were constructed in the early 1800s to improve the process, however, the industrial utility of the canals has since been replaced by roads and rails.

Since the 1980s the canals have experienced a tourist barge renaissance and Burgundy remains to this day a region primarily of farming and vineyards, with its famous wines growing yearly in significance.

On Tour

Our barging week in Burgundy provided many of our best memories from years of travel in France. The short list below covers just a few of the trip highlights beyond the wonderful experience aboard La Belle Époque.
  • Auxerre: Yonne’s largest town with narrow streets, half-timbered houses, clock tower, 9th century Abbey, and St. Étienne Cathedral.
  • St. Bris-le-Vineux, Bersan: Ancient wine cellars under the church.
  • Caves de Bailly: Historical caves; tasting room full of bubbly brut.
  • Cravant: Village with 9th century belfry, church, gate, and dungeon.
  • Accolay: Where barge guests found fun with locals in the tavern and enjoyed a great restaurant dinner (our only meal off board).
  • Ste. Pallaye: Where the church caretaker showed us the ancient crypt and shared knowledge of village history back to Roman times.
  • Chateau Domaine de la Tour: A true "work in progress" of medieval reconstruction; great owner’s car collection and artist studio.
  • Mailly-le-Chateau: Where we walked up a cliff stairway separating the interesting lower and upper village; Yonne valley views.
  • Ballooning: Absolutely the apex of the week for those guests who opted to float above the Yonne Valley and the beautiful village of Vezelay — a truly adventurous experience
hot air balloon above Vezelay Party On

It was tough for us guests to say goodbye to La Belle Époque, her crew, and each other after such a glorious week of pampered care, great food, and unforgettable experiences in the heart of Burgundy.

Docked in Clamecy, the last night’s celebration at the Captain’s Dinner was our chance to express our appreciation to each other, and we "danced the night away," crew included, to the salon’s stereo selection of 'oldies, but goodies'.

It may have been 'Goodbye' for then, but there were many declarations of 'I’ll Be Back!' One of the guests, Susie, summarized it best, 'This has been the most relaxing and wonderful vacation I've ever had!'.

Visit La Belle Epoque, or contact us if you would like more information on a La Belle Epoque cruise.

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December 04 cruise competition

As a final competition for 2004, and to celebrate a very successful year barging on the European Waterways, we offered a cruise for two on L'Impressionniste in 2005.

All you had to do was visit our December competition page, answer a few simple questions in our fun competition and submit your entry....

To find out who the winner is....visit our
cruise winners page

Actief Barge cruising
Henley Festival Cruise 3rd July -9th July 2005

The Henley Festival cruise on Actief
The highlight for this very special week is one of the premiere events of the 'English Season', a unique evening at the Henley Festival Of Music And The Arts. You will be mingling with the local aristocrats who will be dressed up in dinner suits and flowing evening dresses, sipping champagne from their punts or slipper launches.

The Henley  Festival cruise on Actief This evening promises to be full of romance and magic. In the tents where the worlds greatest rowers performed last week at the Henley Royal Regatta, this week the best musical and comedic artists come together to entertain you for one very special night.

As you walk the lawns, you will be able to admire gallery areas full of great sculptures and paintings, and roaming artists singing and performing.

The Henley Festival cruise on ActiefAs you look out from your riverside seat at the splendid view either side of the floating stage on the Royal River Thames, the music drifts downstream accompanied by the sounds of a few quacking ducks, a wedge of swans flying overhead and water lapping gently at the river banks.

Many other guests listen from a small flotilla of beautiful, candlelight traditional launches.

It's what the summer was invented for, a truly spectacular evening with the stars under the stars. The memories of this spectacular evening will be with you forever...

Visit the
Actief Henley Festival cruise itinerary, or contact us if you would like more information on an Actief Henley Festival cruise.

To celebrate the launch of our all-new European Waterways
GoBarging website, we are giving away a cruise for two on L'Art de Vivre in Burgundy.

As usual, all you have to do is visit our January competition, follow the instructions and send in your answers. The winner will be announced in the February Lockkeeper.

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A night at the Opera
La Dolce Vita Opera cruises in Venice

The Venetian Teatro La Fenice, one of the most important theatres in Italy for opera, will be the centre of these whole boat charter cruises. Recently reconstructed after the 1996 fire, which nearly destroyed it, La Fenice is one of the icons of Venice.
Venice Opera cruise on La Dolce Vita
The cruise will include one evening seeing an opera at La Fenice, as well as a guided tour to the theatre and, upon request, a gondola tour with an opera singer performing some of the most famous arias of Italian operas.

Other customization details for charters can be determined at the time of reservation. Due to the opera season beginning at the end of September of each year and ending in June of the following year, such opera cruises are not possible during most of the summer. The current 2004/2005 season of La Fenice includes the following operas and possibility for charter opera cruises:

Aida at La Fenice theatre, Venice

  • “Pia de’ Tolomei” by Gaetano Donizetti
    Friday, April 15th 2005 - Cruise Week: April 10th-16th 2005
    Tuesday, April 19th 2005 - Cruise Week: April 17th-23rd 2005
    Sunday April 24th 2005 - Cruise Week: April 24th-30th 2005

  • “Daphne” by Richard Strauss
    Thursday, June 9th 2005 - Cruise Week:June 5th-11th 2005
    Wednesday, June 15th 2005 - Cruise Week: June 12th-18th 2005
    Tuesday, June 21st 2005 - Cruise Week: June 19th-25th 2005

For opera cruises in September and October 2005, the calendar will be given at a later date, as the Teatro La Fenice releases it. For more information about La Fenice, please visit www.teatrolafenice.it

Venice Opera cruise on La Dolce Vita

La Fenice theatre, VeniceEarly bookings for our chartered opera cruises are highly recommended, because tickets for La Fenice are often sold out well in advance. The extra charge applicable to the cost of the cruise depends on the grade of seat passengers wish to reserve at the theatre and their availability. Ticket for a seat on the upper or dress circle galleries are included in our Opera Cruise pricing below. For a seat in the central boxes or stalls there will be a supplement payable of between €100-120 payable directly to the Captain on board on arrival.

The 6 days luxury cruise through the magic Venetian lagoon aboard La Dole Vita is much more than one evening at the opera, for a sample itinerary visit
La Dolce Vita Opera Cruise, or contact us if you would like more information on a La Dolce Vita Opera cruise in Venice.

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Vogalonga Festival, Venice

Saturday 14th May 2005 to Saturday 21st May 2005

The Vogalonga festival, Venice, Italy
The Vogalonga competition takes part in Venice history since its birth, and it is one on the main Spring events.

Vogalonga's birth is due to a few Venetians and has always been supported only by the participants. This event has never needed money from the state or from sponsors thanks to its organizers - for example "paron Toni" Rosa Salva, one of the founders.

On November 11, 1974, a group of Venetians, with a passionate interest in rowing, in the lagoon and in the traditions of the “Serenissima”, got together on the island of Burano for the first race in a unique “regatta”.

For years, one Venetian family, the Rosa Salvas, together with a group of friends and numerous rowing champions, organized a race during the festivities of San Martino in a “caorline” with six oars. The crew was mixed, male and female, half of whom were rowing champions who had won the “Regata Storica” many times and half of whom were amateur rowing enthusiasts.

It was during the lunch following the race that the idea of a non-competitive race to be held the following year was launched. A race in which any type of rowing boat could participate. This race would be an invitation to the city authorities and citizens to act against the decline of the city, against the destructive waves caused by motor boats and to renew the traditional Venetian festivities. The idea was accepted with enthusiasm by the local press, by the rowing clubs of Venice, by the Province and by the Venetians residents who took the interests of their city to heart.

The race course that was laid out has remained virtually unchanged over the years. It covers about 30 kilometers by way of canals and through the most beloved and picturesque parts of the Lagoon of Venice. The boats gather in St. Mark's Basin in front of the Ducal Palace on the day of the “Sensa” (Ascensione). 500 boats with nearly 1500 participants meet on the fated day and after singing hymns to San Marco and to Venice, the "start" is given. At the finish line each participant receives a commemorative medal and a certificate of participation, a souvenir of the day. Prizes were also awarded (which in later years were drawn by lots). Among the prizes are five “mascarete”, numerous pairs of oars and "forcole" (oar locks) trophy cups and plaques, offered by the Councilor of Tourism, by the local newspapers, by various associations and by the organizing committee.

The first edition of the "Vogalonga" was such a success that it came to be placed first among the number of principle events of the city. It's success continued to grow with an ever larger number of participants, reaching the considerable number of 1500 boats and nearly 5000 participants in 1980. Following the races' success and on the wave of re-discovered love for the traditions and the call to save the city, more than 50 rowing clubs sprang up in Venice and in the surrounding centers which gradually acquired splendid procession boats rowed with ten, twelve and eighteen oars.

The entire city contributed to the re-establishment of the handicraft regarding both the restoration as well as the construction of boats, oars and “forcole” which had nearly disappeared. Boats were re-built that had long disappeared from the Lagoon since time immemorial, which could only be seen and admired in works of art by the great Venetian landscape painters of the '700 such as Pietro Longhi and Francesco Guardi.

Among the traditional boats which have regained interest are the “mussin” and the “vipera”, as well as the "pupparini", "gondolini" and "gondole da fresco". It not easy to recall all the picturesque rowing crews that have participated over the last 20 years in the "Vogalonga", also considering the fact that in the last few years the number of participants have reached nearly 1000 boats with about 2500/3000 participants from all over the world. However, we do recall with a certain fondness the group of German Grand-fathers in a canoe with ten oars, the Chinese and their characteristic “Dragon Boat”, the English rowing crew from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge with their typical "straw boater" hats, the university students from California who learned to row “alla veneta” in just a few days, and the Venetian contestant who, in the last two editions of the race, has swum the entire length of the race course.

Visit the La Dolce Vita
Vogalonga cruise itinerary, or contact us if you would like more information on a La Dolce Vita Vogalonga cruise..

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Magna Carta and Actief Chelsea Flower Show Gardens Cruise

Magna Carta and Actief are now both fully booked for the 2005 Chelsea Flower Show Gardens Cruise. We are taking bookings for the 2006 show on a first come first served basis, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

Visit our Chelsea Flower show and Hampton Court Palace flower show gardens itineraries, or contact us for more details on a 2006 Flower show gardens cruise.

If you have any suggestions, feedback or barging stories to tell us, then please e-mail us. We'll be glad to hear from you and share your inputs in the lock-keeper.

Why not email this edition on to a friend, and let them share the fun. New subscribers can sign-up here, and are very welcome. More people are joining every day, so let's keep building a great Barging community..!

That's about it for this nineteenth edition of the Lockkeeper, and hopefully the above articles have whet your appetite for that well-earned luxury cruise..!

Please visit barge cruises and have a look around, or follow the individual links above.

The next edition of the lock-keeper will be out in February, 2005, so we'll see you then.

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