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You can both literally and figuratively taste the good life in France during a cycling and sailing vacation through Burgundy. Blogger Jessica de Korte sailed with us on the ship Fleur for a week. She cycled from medieval Moret-sur-Loing to the wine town of Auxerre, with the most beautiful encounters along the way. Take, for example, visiting a cider maker, a music-making pub owner and a wine producer, not to mention her fellow-passengers.

A swan perches on the water. Frogs croak. Slowly we sail on the Yonne, a tributary of the Seine, in Burgundy. On the banks are charming houses with shutters on the windows. Every now and then a narrow lock appears, through which the skipper skillfully maneuvers his ship. Then it is just a matter of waiting for the correct water level to be reached. Whether you like it or not, on or close to the water you automatically slow your pace. The work stress from home disappears in an instant.

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I spend a week on board the Fleur, an attractive boutique ship with ten cabins. Our starting point: Moret-sur-Loing, a medieval town 70 kilometers (43 miles) southeast of Paris. The Impressionist artist Sisley liked to set up his easel here, with Notre-Dame and stone gates on the quay. From the town we follow the river Yonne towards Auxerre. It’ll be 100 sailing kilometers (62 miles), 160 to 260 cycling kilometers (100-160 miles), depending on the routes I choose later.

The group: from forester to accountant

During the bike tour on the first day, I quickly get to know the other guests. Bob from Colorado turns out to be a landscape photographer; his English wife is a naturalist. Karen and Chuck are from Miami; both of them, lawyers. The group also includes a forest ranger, a few doctors and an accountant. We share stories about our lives in different parts of the world. David, the forester, points out what we see along the way: fields of wheat, barley, and rapeseed.

Fleur, the ship, is charming. She is quite narrow, so she can fit through the locks. Inside it feels like you’re in a living room. Here everything works on the honor system: grab yourself a glass of wine (the Chardonnay is delicious!) and tick it off the list. After a walk through Moret-sur-Loing and a dip in the river, I watch the sun set from the deck. The swallows and dragonflies make way for bats. Actually, I don’t want to say goodbye to this endearing place, but I look forward to what’s to come.

Poppies and ostriches

Early the next day, during breakfast, we sail to the town of Montereau-fault-Yonne, where we mount our bikes. Every day there’s a choice of a shorter or a longer route. One group goes with tour leader Tamara, who is Dutch-Italian and will show her musical talents later this week. The other group joins Marcel. Sometimes the two routes meet: for example, at a nice picnic spot. Sunflower fields and poppies follow each other in rapid succession. Then suddenly we see a few ostriches. Huh?

“The ostriches are part of a breeding program,” says tour leader Marcel. “Some go all the way to Africa.” The creatures are just as curious as we are; they extend their long necks and stick their beaks above the fence. It sparks a lot of laughter. Not much later we cycle past a menhir, a meter-high standing stone in the middle of a field, placed there by Late Stone Age people. How did they manage to move such a huge stone?

The most beautiful towns

For the next few days we cycle and sail further southeast. We stay close to the banks of the Yonne, or head into the hills. In the evening the ship is often moored in a beautiful city, such as Sens, where the inhabitants built their houses from Roman remains. “The half-timbered houses are so narrow at the bottom because their tax assessment was based on the width of the house,” says the city guide, who wears a charming straw hat with a bow on the back. The tour leaders translate her fast French, which sounds like an elegant song.

At the cathedral, the city guide points to the headless statues directly above the door. During the French Revolution, mobs destroyed churches and monasteries in cities across the country. Later I see it in other towns too: a lot of sculpted figures go through life without heads. I had never noticed that in this area before. Burgundy has a long history as a kingdom and duchy and has been an important center of power for centuries. Until the French Revolution it was an independent province.

Cider and wine producers

Encounters with local residents bring the journey to life even more. Tour leaders Tamara and Marcel know all the best addresses. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, the smiling owner of bar-restaurant Le Sabbatin serves fresh croissants, and her husband spontaneously treats us to a concert on a trumpet. Louisette Frottier is the sixth generation to make cider in Vaudeurs. A small woman, she shows us how she bulldozes hundreds of kilos of apples. She activates the press by treading a wooden wheel.

Our wine tasting at Earl du Bourg in Senan is also a pleasure. Aurélia Crépin pours one wine after another. Bourgogne Blanc, Vin de l’Yonne, Le Cherche Chaud and, our favourite, Ratafia: a sweet wine, the taste enhanced by fruit seeds and spices. On the way back to the ship, our panniers are a lot heavier! Two days later we taste the sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne at Les Caves Bailly Lapierre. We cycle through an ice-cold tunnel to the wine cellars, which are 50 meters (164 feet) underground. Not much later, we raise our glasses.


Every now and then we come upon the ship, which travels more slowly than we do because of all the locks. On the bank you have a completely different view of the whole process than on board. The lockkeeper arrives on his moped and opens the lock gates. The ship enters the middle section, called the lock chamber, after which the doors close. The water flows in very quickly through a hatch. The water level rises, lifting the ship with it. This makes it possible, in effect, to sail uphill!

Once in Auxerre, we enjoy the cooking skills of the Basque chef Asier one last time on board. It is special how he manages to conjure up the most impressive three-course menus in such a small kitchen every evening, taking into account my gluten-free diet. A day later, it’s time for good-byes. Big hugs follow, e-mail addresses are exchanged, and I hear the wine bottles clinking in my bag. Once on the train, I realize that I will miss the slow sailing and cycling pace, and the wonderful conversations.

Join Jessica on her adventure!

Want to see more of Jessica’s French adventure? Click here and watch her full trip report in the video!

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