European Waterways offers travelers an escape from the hustle and bustle of life. They provide the right amount of activity and backstage access to local sights, sounds and wonders. Guests format their day by choosing to bike ride through the quiet countryside, partake in a small group excursion, or lounge about with a book, while the staff works behind the scenes to discreetly attend to everything a passenger could want or need. European Waterways navigates nine different European countries. Their specially designed luxury hotel barges with well-appointed rooms and tasty food and wine transport guests to delightful destinations. The knowledgeable staff guides travelers through unique experiences in first-class fashion. Tours are designed to give guests the inside story with a backstage pass. They are intimate and informative, never leaving guests feeling like they are being herded along on a cattle drive. Our Ship | My friend, Connie, and I traveled from Fleurey-sur Ouche to Escommes in Burgundy, France, on the L’Impressionniste. We shared the luxury barge with six other passengers while six staff granted our every wish throughout the week. We embarked on the adventure with our new “family”; and although we came from diverse backgrounds we quickly melded into one cohesive alliance out to have an exceptional time.Our first dinner went off without a hitch. Each person revealed their interests, backgrounds, likes and dislikes while we dined and drank together for over three hours. Although we differed in age, nationality, economic standing and occupation, we found joy in the diversity as conversation and laughter filled the room.Clos de Vougeot | Clos de Vougeot is the headquarters of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, or the “Fraternity of Knights of the Wine Tasting Cup.” Dan, our captain/tour guide, shared various stories about the monks and the knights. The years 1929, 1933 and 1934 produced beautiful Burgundy wines; but due to a serious economic crisis, no one bought them. Camille Rodier and Georges Faiveleu got together with other winegrowers in the region and said, “As nobody wants our wines, let’s invite our friends to come and taste them with us!” The two winemakers put together an unforgettable banquet.The banquet was so successful that chapters of this fraternity formed around the world, and today they continue the tradition of feasting, singing, dressing in costume and consuming copious quantities of wine several times per year.Domaine Quivy | Private tours allow for richer experiences. We stopped at Domaine Gérard Quivy, an enchanting 18th century home boasting a winery, cellar and outbuildings. We gathered at a large wooden table and learned about Burgundy wines. It’s all about the terroir, its location in the region, its slope and the weather. The early monks used these specifications to separate the region into vineyards classified by quality. After our education, we sampled some of the finest bottles of premier cru and grand cru from 2013 to 2016. We arrived back on the barge, and our hostesses, Regina and Aoife, greeted us with cold washcloths and delicious cocktails. Most days were hot, and each time we returned to the ship these ladies received us with a unique cocktail and delicious appetizers.To enhance our experience, the staff brought two local musicians on board to delight us with a jazz concert after dinner. This special performance inspired the entertainer in Dan, our captain, and Michel, a passenger, to step forward and take a turn at the microphone. Special Touches | Dan, the captain, and Jim, the chef, guided us around old Dijon where we visited the marketplace. Jim asked us to select ingredients. Connie mentioned that she liked scallops and, voilà, they were on our dinner plates that night.Our trip coincided with the World Cup, and three of the passengers had teams playing in the finals. Dan made a special trip to the nearest town two nights in a row escorting the three fans to a pub where they could watch their teams play and not miss out on any of the action. All is right with the world when you begin the day with a chocolate croissant. Each morning the breakfast table was adorned with a basket of pastries, and Jim would offer to cook whatever your heart desired. Coffee, espresso, tea and an open bar were available 24 hours per day. Maybe a coffee with Baileys to start the day…why not?Beaune | Our day in Beaune began at the Bouchard Beaune Greves Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus vineyard and was followed by a private tour of the wine cellar at Bouchard Père et Fils. The underground cellar, once an arsenal, stays at a constant temperature and holds both new and old premier and grand cru wines. Charles Régnier, External Relations Officer, says, “Every 30 years workers come down to refill old bottles and recork them.” One or two bottles of the same wine and year are used to top off the others, and then they are all recorked. Most bottles from the 19th century are still drinkable. The oldest bottle in the cellar is a white Meursault Charmes Premier Cru from 1846. Two years ago a bottle sold at an auction for 2700 Euros. Charles said, “The wine was still good, but those old wines need to be consumed within 30 minutes of opening or they go flat.”We enjoyed a private wine tasting and then walked to the orangery of Château de Beaune and reveled in a lunch of gourmet delights and high-end wines. After lunch, we wandered in the gardens taking in the scent of lavender and gazing out at the city views. On our final stop, we visited the 15th century Hôtel-Dieu Hospice. We followed Dan into the hospital where he informed us that Chancellor Nicolas Rolin and his third wife Guigone de Salins built the facility. Nicolas was a very wealthy man. He was not religious, but his wife was; and she worried that he would not spend eternity with her in paradise. Nicolas loved her so much that he changed his sinful ways and built a hospital for the poor in hopes of receiving forgiveness and being allowed into heaven upon his death. Château De Châteauneuf-en-Auxois | Castles are found all over France, some gorgeous and others in disrepair, but the stories within their walls are what make them interesting. We visited Château De Châteauneuf-en-Auxois, a castle built by Jean de Chaudenay in 1132 for his son Jehan. Nine generations lived in the castle. The husband of Catherine de Chateauneuf died, and she was forced to remarry to keep the property. Her new husband, Jacques d’Haussonville, was cruel, so she plotted his demise.Catherine secured arsenic and secretly had it put into a cake for her husband. He died and so did her 12-year-old servant girl who tasted the cake. Exposed by the cook, Catherine was drug by a horse back to Paris, a good 250 kilometers away. She lived through the horror but was then accused of being a witch and subsequently burned at the stake. With Catherine’s death, the lineage ended.Service with a Smile | Staff at European Waterways believe that all problems have a solution and it is up to them to resolve them, not the guests. Connie and I needed to change our train tickets. Dan assisted on the computer; but after no success, he drove into Dijon and purchased new tickets so that we were assured seats on our desired train. Château de Commarin | The Château de Commarin has been passed down through 26 generations. We talked with Count Bertrand de Vogue, the current owner and resident of the castle. This stunning fortress, complete with a moat, showcases many original 18th century furnishings. According to Count Bertrand, “If you are looking for real estate, more than 800 castles are for sale in France today.” Owners are required to pass down equal shares to their children, and today’s heirs are not always interested in sharing the taxes, upkeep and overall expenses required to maintain such history.Art Appreciation | A truly indulgent and intimate excursion was our visit to the workshop and gallery of English sculptor Paul Day. Paul has worked for over 20 years to perfect his talent for creating astounding high-relief figurative sculptures and other fine pieces. These high-relief works are three-dimensional and dependent on a background surface. It’s looks as though the sculpture is escaping out of a solid backdrop.Paul explained his artistic process to us from beginning to end and gave us a tour of both his workshop and gallery. Commissioned by various cities and individuals, his incredible work is found worldwide.Paul studied art in England. Upon graduation he received a grant from the Prince of Wales Business Youth Trust to get started. Their motto is, “We work hard to create brighter futures for young people aged 11 to 30, empowering them to get into jobs, education and training.”It was a privilege to visit Paul’s studio, and this type of backstage experience only happens when you work with people connected to the community. Staff at European Waterways take pride in their connections and are thrilled to share exceptional experiences with their guests. They do everything well, but the company excels in training staff to provide luxury in the details. Book a trip and sit back and experience one of their amazing and luxurious backstage pass adventures.