Travel is invariably stimulating but often tiring. Sometimes I feel the need to just relax. Certainly there are few more effortless ways to see the French countryside than from a barge on one of Burgundy’s idyllic canals. My recent cruise from Saint-Léger-sur-Dheune to Dole was blissful in every way. The Hirondelle, one of five barges currently operated by Belmond, has just four comfortable cabins, plus a large expanse of geranium-bordered deck. Throughout our six-night trip, the food was superb, and our table was graced by wines with legendary names such as Chassagne-Montrachet and Chambolle-Musigny.
Barges move at walking pace, so each day I would spend two or three hours strolling along the bank, keeping pace with my temporary home and gazing at the fields of sunflowers, the tidy villages and the undulating pastures dotted with white Charolais cattle. Bicycles were available for those in need of more vigorous exercise, but I contented myself with excursions on foot to ancient châteaux and famous wineries, as well as walking visits to local towns and vibrant markets.
I recommend a number of properties in Burgundy — chiefly in the Côte d’Or, the area around Beaune — so this time I also headed north to Chablis to search for new hideaways. One in particular, La Borde in Leugny, proved outstanding in every way.
A very different version of France is to be found 4,000 miles to the southwest on the Caribbean island of St. Barths. There, two of my favorite resorts have been extensively upgraded and refurbished. The Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France, now owned by the French luxury conglomerate LVMH, is better than ever and cannot be recommended too highly. Elsewhere, the Hôtel Le Toiny, an idyllic hideaway of 14 villas set on 42 acres of grounds, boasts stylish new décor and a recently added beach club. St. Barths itself remains one of the prettiest and most peaceful places in the world.