Last Sunday, I watched a barge “butterfly” begin to emerge from her cocoon in the sunny Dijon harbor of the Canal de Bourgogne. This particular vessel Frontiers has known and recommended for nearly 30 years – through the last 3 owners, in fact. But it is this uncommon 4th new owner who has a different vision – not only for the barge itself – but also for its passengers – that we’re most excited about. Custom-built in the late 80s for the deKuyper family (of deKuyper liqueur fame) the idea had been to have a private River Yacht to cruise Europe’s inland waterways in style. When Mr. deKuyper passed away, the barge was sold to the Captain and his wife, who began their successful careers in the barge hospitality business. Fast forward to last year, when the 3rd owner elected to follow a different path in life, and he sold the barge to the gent who had been guiding the guests for the past 3 years.
This gent is Edward Anderson – a Rhodesian born grandson of an aviator who flew people over Victoria Falls in the 30s and 40s. His parents arranged safaris and from a young age, Edward too was involved in coordinating the details of a successful private safari. He firmly believes that a holiday is about the memories that you talk about for years to come. Setting his travelers up with a meerkat family in the Makgadikgadi Pans, swimming in the “devil’s pool” 300 ft above Victoria falls – rewarding, educational “Out of Africa” experiences that are done with a personal touch. That heritage alone is uncommon in the barge community! With this DNA, combined with his experience of hosting guests through the delights of Burgundy for the past 3 years and an energized enthusiasm (and dare I mention his wife Cindy’s extremely good taste in furnishings), all of us who work with the barges in Europe are impressed and eager to watch this new generation of barge experience come to life.
The barge is now named Grand Victoria, and has seen simply an ENORMOUS transition this winter. Changes include reducing the previous 4 cabins of various sizes to 3 equal cabins, installing a “visit anytime” high-tech kitchen with an elevated balcony for guests to chat and learn from the talented chef, offering Segway tours in Dijon and one of my favorites – situating the gents with beer flights in an atmospheric café while the ladies toiled away in the nearby excellent boutiques. This Canal Barge cruise will NOT be “it’s Tuesday so this must be the Abbey” – instead, Edward and Cindy plan to immerse guests in everyday France for a personal approach to experiencing the quaint cafes, the markets, the culture and traditions.
During my mid-April visit, finishing touches had yet to be made – drapes hadn’t yet arrived, a bathroom to be completed – however this infinitely comfortable barge, cruising the Ouche Valley on the Canal de Bourgogne this year, is one Frontiers is excited to recommend not only for the canal & barge cruise, but also for the enthusiastic proprietors who will delight in showing their guests an extraordinary experience deep in the French countryside.