Peter Cumberlidge explores the French inland waterways from Paris to Auxerre as part of a delivery trip for a new Linssen Grand Sturdy 40.9
Snails of Bassou
At Migennes we passed the rather drab entrance to the beautiful Canal de Bourgogne, whose 189 locks I had once wrestled with on this scenic but energetic route to the Mediterranean. Also at Migennes is Evans Marine, a waterways boatyard with a 35-tonne crane.
Not far beyond Migennes we moored next to a bridge near Bassou, a sleepy, unassuming village which nevertheless is important hereabouts.
Bassou is home to La Maison Billot, a venerable supplier of high quality escargots, edible snails which are a great delicacy in this part of Burgundy.
James was dispatched to bring back succulent Escargots à la Bourguignonne for our evening starter.
We pulled in for the night at Gurgy, whose pretty though quite shallow mooring bank is shaded by catalpa trees.
The snails were luscious with garlic and herby butter, and perfect with a Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre rich in seductive, very French Pinot Noir.
Across the quay at Gurgy is a small lake with ducks and coots paddling about. Over drinks we’d heard a strange loud grunting call that I supposed came from some exotic fowl, but it turned out to be a veritable symphony of frogs.
While we never actually spotted a single frog, they were there in force, adding their strange music to this magical waterfront.
From Gurgy to Auxerre is only 10 kilometres but with five locks. This stretch turned out to be our slowest because two locks were handled by the same keeper, who whizzed between them in his van, juggling with sluices and gates.
Some of these locks had evil cross-currents swirling across their entrances, so we had to steer in boldly, counteracting side-swing the while.
You need to watch out for this at all river locks, though many are fairly placid and become more so in summer when water levels fall.
Entering a city by boat is an amazing experience, as you creep past watery back doubles nobody ever sees.
Arriving at Auxerre by car is a long suburban trail, but gliding in by river you quickly find yourself gazing at one of France’s finest waterfronts.
Capital of the Yonne département, Auxerre goes back a long way. Our berth had fabulous views of a 13th century cathedral and its opulent bishop’s residence.
For our last evening we dined in impeccable French style at Le Petit Monde d’Edith, up behind the cathedral in Rue Fourier. For our last morning James discovered the finest croissants I’ve tasted for years, rich with butter in the light feuilletée pastry.
We were sad to leave our elegant Linssen, but fond memories of the Seine and the Yonne will last for many winters.