European Travel and the Coronavirus
La Renaissance Barge Cruise Photos
Day 2: Monday
Canal de Briare
Our cruise departed from Rogny-des-Sept-écluses on Monday morning, immediately after breakfast. The first lock was just up the Canal de Briare from our mooring site, and the upstream gates were already open as we approached.
Ellie, the pilot-engineer guided the
barge into the lock with just inches to spare on either side. (Sylvain, the
chef, was at his side to provide moral support, or possibly to hear Ellie's
thoughts on the wine and cheese selections at lunch.)
After La Renaissance was tied up, the lockkeeper began draining water from the lock, and we stepped off the barge to watch the procedure from the towpath.
(Tip for do-it-yourself canal pilots: Allow enough slack in the rope, or your boat will hang from the bollards like a pair of trousers on a clothesline.)
As water drained from the lock, La Renaissance sank slowly toward the bottom.
Within a few minutes, the downstream gates were opened, and La Renaissance was delivered unscathed from the tight confines of the lock.
Maurine Stephenson and Cheryl walked along the towpath between locks, easily keeping pace with the slow-moving barge.
Soon, it was time for La Renaissance to enter its second lock of the day. (Most canal locks are anywhere from a few hundred meters to several kilometers apart, so it's easy for passenges to get on or off without much advance planning.)
La Renaissance coasted into the lock, with a crew member ready to toss a rope over the bollards and use it to apply braking as the barge approached the downstream gates.
Our third lock of the morning was different from the previous locks: It had a small hand-operated drawbridge across the downstream gates.
When it was time for our barge to pass through the downstream gates of the écluse, the lockkeeper tugged a rope to raise the counterweighted drawbridge by hand.
As the morning went on, we passed through more locks--among them, this écluse with its mosaic sign near , where the writer Colette lived for several years and married the writer Henri Gauthier-Villars (a.k.a. "Willy") in 1893.
We stayed on board for some of the locks. In this picture, you can see the mossy wall of a lock through an arch on the barge's covered foredeck.
The inset photo at right shows a view of the Canal de Briare from our cabin porthole. The canal banks are reinforced with steel and concrete--an upmarket version of the riprap or stone rubble that's used to prevent erosion on river banks.
Walking along the towpath was good for the appetite, and so was the lunch that Sylvain prepared for us. We were offered quiche, several types of salad, and two French cheeses.
(Cheese is a point of pride with European Waterways: We were served cheese at every meal, including breakfast.)
Château de la Bussière
In the afternoon, we traveled a short distance by minibus to the Château de la Bussière, a family-owned castle with its own park, gardens, and lake. The château was begun in the 12th Century, and in its heyday, it was the region's center for gathering, processing, and shipping agricultural products that were destined for Paris.
The oldest part of the château houses a fishing museum, which grew out of a former occupant's obsession with angling. Tourists can see a vast (and eclectic) collection of fishing tropies and memorabilia, walk through the old kitchens and other rooms, and enjoy views of the private lake through the windows.
During our visit, we were accompanied by the young grandchildren of the contessa who owns the château. The English-speaking brother and sister were friendly, bright, and articulate, and the boy took great pride in showing off the dumbwaiter between the basement kitchen and the dining room.
After a quick tour of the château, we visited its gardens, which supply produce to a Michelin-starred restaurant just down the road. The garden has a terra-cotta version of the Michelin Man that was made from clay pots; nearby is a pleasant little arbored patio where we sampled regional wines before heading back to the barge.
On our way to the barge (which had cruised ahead without us during our excursion), we stopped in the town of Briare, where a pont-canal or canal bridge spans the Loire River on a series of stone piers. The canal bridge, once the longest steel aqueduct in the world, is 662 meters or 4/10 of a mile long and entered service in 1896. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel.
We spent Monday night in Montbouy, a pretty little village between Locks 34 and 35 on the Briare canal. In the photo above, you can see our mooring site next to the church and the plane trees, with a barge about to pass us on the starboard side.
Soon, we were tied up to the plane trees along the canal.
The crew had laid a gangplank so that we could sample Montbouy's non-existent nightlife or take a stroll around the village's 12th Century church, which was next to our mooring site.
Our second dinner aboard La Renaissance began with a snail cassoulet, which was followed by rack of lamb, a cheese course, and one of Sylvain's homemade desserts.
By the time we'd finished eating at 10 p.m. or so, most of the passengers were ready to turn in for the night.
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