This may be the smallest type of cruise possible. Luxury travel company Belmond is building another mini-river cruise ship. This one will sail just 6 guests through the legendary Champagne region of France.
Part of its French collection, Coquelicot, A Belmond Boat, Champagne, launches in spring of 2023. It joins a fleet of so-called ‘barges’ in France called Les Bateaux Belmond. The fleet includes intimate vessels sailing in France’s Du Midi, the Camargue, Provence, two in Burgundy, and one in Lilas.
They call them 'barges,' but that word may evoke images of hauling cargo along canals and rivers. Your actual experience on the 'bateaux' couldn't be farther from that image.
Belmond is the company behind the iconic Hotel Cipriani in Venice, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train, remote beach retreats like Cap Juluca in Anguilla, Italian hideaways such as Splendido in Portofino, and homes away from home at gateways to world natural wonders such as Hotel das Cataratas inside Brazil’s Iguassu National Park. As part of the luxury lifestyles group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, they know a thing or two about luxury and hospitality, and can tap into a vast network of relationships to make travel experiences unforgettable.
In the case of the new Coquelicot (French for ‘poppy’), the vessel will sail up to 6 guests on a journey through the Champagne region in partnership with Maison Ruinart, the world’s oldest champagne house, on week-long private charters. I’m sure you can think of 5 people you’d want to join you on that unforgettable river cruise of a lifetime!
Belmond calls its barge experiences the ultimate in 're-imagining slow travel.'
Six guests will stay in three double cabins with marble ensuite bathrooms and an indoor lounge with a champagne bar – stocked with a curated selection of the guests’ preferred labels. The vessel’s top deck will be the social center for guests to unwind as they meander the calm waterways. Framed by potted local herbs and indigenous wildflowers that root the space in the locale, the deck features two seating lounges, an open kitchen and a shaded dining area to enjoy a menu inspired by seasonal ingredients from trusted local suppliers.
To complement the ever-changing views and create an intimate sanctuary on the water, the barge’s interiors and exteriors will capture the essence of Champagne. Coquelicot’s namesake, the red poppy, will be found in subtle references such as the hand-cut red marble side tables and the tone-on-tone hand-painted petals that line the hallway, while the lounge’s skylight is a celebration of Champagne’s water mapping legacy.
Belmond has partnered with Maison Ruinart to offer guests exclusive access to the first established House of Champagne with a private tasting lunch by Chef In Residence Valérie Radou and guided tours of the historic Taissy vineyard to discover the brand’s latest sustainability initiatives.
Guests will disembark Coquelicot to visit the Taissy vineyard, dating back to at least the early 1700’s. Maison Ruinart, in partnership with Reforest’Action and the University of Reims, launched a pioneering viti-forestry project in 2021 to preserve and regenerate forests in order to restore biodiversity. Also dotting the grounds is a new art installation by German visual artist Nils-Udo, a pioneer of land art. A technical tasting of iconic Maison Ruinart cuvées, led by a Maison Ambassador, will conclude the morning experience in the vineyard.
Back on board, you’ll be treated to a private tasting lunch by Maison Ruinart’s Chef In Residence Valérie Radou and Coquelicot Head Chef. It will be the first time Maison Ruinart’s Chef will be cooking a private ‘four hands’ lunch outside of Maison Ruinart. This dining experience includes five seasonal courses inspired by regional cuisine and paired with prestigious cuvees. Framed by the idyllic Champagne landscape and in the comfort and privacy of your own luxury vessel, wine lovers can delve deep into the world of Maison Ruinart, as the winery’s ambassador shares the story, characteristics and technical aspects of each bottle.
Personal Guest Experience Executives will help customize itineraries depending on guest preferences to craft the micro-cruise of a lifetime.
Imagine alternating an al fresco soirée on the top deck with an off-board Michelin-starred restaurant experience or a casual dinner in one of the quaint villages scattered across the region. An art-focused tour of Champagne, a historic voyage through the mighty castles, an active adventure on two wheels or a series of epicurean visits to Europe’s most celebrated and most secret wine producers.
On a cruise smaller than you may have every imagined possible, and provided every service you’d expect from a larger ship, from navigation crew to culinary team and suite attendants, guests on the Coquelicot will have the opportunity to design your own journey and marvel at Champagne’s treasures at your own pace.
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By: Lynn Elmhirst, cruise/ travel journalist and expert
Images courtesy of Belmond
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