heart out at 5 knots.
Mark found his favorite stop at the medieval village of
Sancerre, a golden crown atop a hill. We pulled over to the
bank of the canal and set out on foot – up and up through the
vineyards – until we entered the web of winding cobble streets,
cream-stone buildings, and belfries from the Middle Ages.
Looking down from the ramparts of this magical place, steeped
in the ancient history of France, we saw the vast quilt of fields
producing the pinot noir grapes that make this region famous.
Gina especially loved the 14th-century medieval village of
Apremont-Sur-Allier, a Lilliputian lane of preserved cottages
once home to the quarrymen who cut stone for the soaring
churches upriver in Orleans. At the head of the storybook
town was a castle surrounded by acres of exquisite gardens. We
strolled along the flowerbeds, over a Chinese bridge, down trellised paths, and into an open-air antiques flea market selling
everything from black-and-white photos from the last century
to vintage French clothing.
Douglas’s favorite memory was from
a restaurant called La Grenouille – pronounced grahn-wee, “frog” in French – where
a handsome French couple sitting nearby
realized that we were visiting from America
and hadn’t sampled the specialty of the house.
The young man came over and dramatically
placed his own hot platter of fried frog legs
in front of Brooke of all people. “You MUST
try zem!” he said. Stunned, the girl who’d
snuck a jar of Nutella into her suitcase for
emergency rations had no choice but to shak-ily bring a frog leg to her mouth and slowly
bite into it.
“Delicious, non?” Jean Luc smiled.
A lightness flooded over her young face.
“It’s good!” she exclaimed. There it was, that precious moment
of gastronomic metamorphosis we all experience when we’re
young, when we first realize that an entire world of foods previously considered completely disgusting were actually pretty
yummy. The next day, Brooke tried snails.
What Goes Down
We had four bikes aboard tied onto the stern platform, and we
unknitted them every day to go cycling. One hot afternoon, we
coasted the barge into a lock. The girls laconically looped the
lines around the bollards, the gates closed, and water gushed
in from ahead. But as we handed the bikes ashore, somehow
one splashed overboard, to be swallowed into the black water.
Everyone bolted into action. The lock keeper grabbed a 30-foot
rake kept near the locks for emergencies, tossed it to us, then
drained the lock as far down as he could. We slowly inched
the barge forward, then back, again and again, with Mark raking the bottom, picking up a century of mucky detritus. While
For tips on
chartering a barge
The Loire region is known for its goat cheeses (far left)
and extraordinary wines. Left, the village of Apremont-Sur-Allier. Bottom left, Brooke, Gina, Hannah, Mark,
Douglas. Bottom right, beautiful Sancerre.
com), which operates seven days
a week. Arrange
pickup by phone
anywhere on the
■ At least one person in your party
should enable a
cellphone for use in
France to contact
the LeBoat base,
taxis, tours, restaurants, and vineyards.
■ Before meeting at
the boat in Decize,
Douglas and I cycled
across the Loire
Valley on a one-
ing” bike trip, which
means we weren’t
with a group. This
relatively flat region
castles and hun-
dreds of miles of
yard roads with
few cars. Contact
Detours in France
France.com) for bike
route maps, and
■ The French train
you can often
take a train right
from Charles de
in Paris, to your
canal-charter destination and board
your barge that
day. (LeBoat will
arrange train-to-base taxi service.)
leave your charter in the morning, and train to
Paris for evening
flights. — B.B.