We began our fifth day on board European Waterways‘ La Belle Époque with a slow meander along the canal toward Montbard. It was one of the most scenic days on the barge, with more fields of Charolaise cattle, numerous little hamlets and the Forge de Buffon along the way. The forge, built in 1768 by Georges-Louis LeClerc, Count of Buffon, was the world’s most modern at the time and even included housing for his workers. You can take a self-guided tour of the forge grounds today.
I spent much of the morning walking along the path as the barge slowly picked up the rear. Somehow, I didn’t seem to miss the modern world and found plenty to fill my day.
Eating the market finds
This day offered some of my favorite meals, cheese and wines of the entire trip. It was great fun to taste the foods we had picked out the previous day at the market. Lunch featured the fish the captain picked up – Dourade – on ratatouille with a sundried tomato beurre blanc. Our cheeses for lunch were both quite unique – a pyramid-shaped Vezelay Valencay and three little crottin du chavignol the captain had picked up from the market. Each day, the wines got more refined and the two lunch wines were exceptional. Our white was a St. Veran Bouchard Père & Fils and the red was a 2010 Givry, Bastion de l’Oratoire Chanson.
Visit to a World Heritage Sight
Although a nap was calling to me after lunch, I didn’t want to miss the afternoon’s excursion to Abbayé de Fontenay (Fontenay Abbey), a UNESCO World Heritage sight founded by St. Bernard in 1118. The abbey is one of the world’s oldest Cistercian abbeys, founded for monks who wanted to return to a strict observance of the Benedictine Rule of the 6th century. The abbey has an amazing series of drains, which were necessary to build such a structure in the once water-logged land.
The abbey housed more than 200 monks at a time between the 12th and 15th centuries, but was home to only a handful of monks by the time of the French Revolution. In the 1800s, owner Elie de Montgolfier (inventor of the hot-air balloon) turned the property into a paper mill. His son-in-law, Edouard Aynard, bought it in 1906 and restored the abbey to its former glory. The Aynard family still owns the property, which was named a World Heritage sight in 1981.
We toured the grounds and I was overwhelmed by the sense of peace. It was May, so blooms were just coming out and grass was that rich bright green of early spring in Europe. The focal point at the sight is the Abbey Church, consecrated by Pope Eugène III in 1147. We wandered the grounds and browsed the rather large gift shop before heading back to our barge still docked in Montbard.
Evening in Montbard
I was exhausted after a day of exploring, so before dinner drinks on the deck were a great way to relax. Dinner featured salad with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes followed by lamb filet in rosemary and black olive jus. Our cheeses this night were two of my favorites. Both were from cow’s milk with smooth, creamy textures. The first, Chaource, is similar to brie and comes from the Champagne region. The second, Epoisses de Bourgogne is a creamy cheese from the nearby village of Epoisses. Our wines, which continued to get better with each successive meal, included a white 2004 Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir, Domaine Billaud-Simon and the red Pommard Château de la Charrière.
Did you miss my first days on board La Belle Époque? Check out the beginning of my journey here. If you’re ready to move on, check out my final day here, with a visit to the village that was the setting for the movie Chocolat.