Russet roofs and elegant stone chateaux dash past beyond grassy verges, sunlit fields bursting with uniform rows of vines over yonder. Delice de Bourgogne melting in mouth and a crisp Chablis in hand, it takes hold; instant bliss, an instant appreciation for the pure, easygoing life along the Cote d'Or canals of France.
We were all spoilt from day one and all made to feel that Captain's Choice were continually focused on our well being and on our enjoyment.
Col Bradford - Ancient & Holy Lands, 2016
Bound for la dolce vita, we look forward to arriving in Venice as a new day begins.
While the canal-crossed streets of Venice beckon with dreamy intent, we save the discovery for a later date with good reason. Believe it or not, there's a city just as romantic over the horizon.
Weaving between crumbling Roman relics and stone buildings of deep ochre hues, we're rendered starry-eyed as we arrive in Verona – celebrated by Shakespeare in one of his most famous works, 'Romeo and Juliet'. Cocooned within the city's ancient heart, the Palazzo Victoria is our resplendent home for the next three nights. Our very own whirlwind love affair begins with an outstanding dinner set in the shady Veronese courtyard.
Verona's streets are bustling with lovelorn tourists and locals as we set out on a tour encapsulating everything from Juliet's Balcony to the elaborate Arche Scaligeri tombs and the market near the Piazza delle Erbe.
The road we take later traces a path through the bucolic Veneto countryside, spilling out between the vines of Valpolicella. It's here we seek Italy’s finest red, the coveted Amarone. After tastings to cherish, the village of Bardolino puts forward a feast of three delightful courses on the edge of Lake Garda. We will then enjoy a pleasant wander through the alleys and squares of Garda and Lazise.
It's no accident that we are here during the acclaimed Arena di Verona Opera Festival, and we have arranged VIP seats beneath the pink-tinged marble arches for an evening operatic performance we'll never forget.
After prima colazione, we set our course to discover the riches of Castelvecchio, the 14th century fortress straddling the river Adige. Within the museum, we explore artefacts and artwork dating back to the Middle Ages, followed by a pleasant stroll through the Renaissance gardens of Giardino Giusti. There are box hedges manicured to within an inch of perfection and evergreen cypresses reaching towards the sky, creating a picture too flawless for words.
Fresh from some time to ourselves, we come together at twilight and fall even further under Verona's spell with a lavish dinner set for us in a private villa garden, illuminated with candles fluttering in the gentle summer breeze.
Arriving into the City of Canals, Venice is our next stop, where the stunning Hotel Danieli awaits. A walking tour along the streets paved with cobblestones makes for a most idyllic discovery. The day then takes us to St Mark's Basilica which we are privileged to have all to ourselves during an exclusive after-hours tour.
Tonight's welcome dinner sets the scene for a tour that's set to sparkle. Gondolas drift into view as each course disappears with pure delight.
Enamoured by this fabled city of islands we are ready to meet the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Welcome to a world of white gloved service, where your steward will attend to your every need and course upon course of fine dining will be served.
Such resplendence calls for a celebratory after dinner aperitivo in the Bar Car, accompanied by tinkling piano music as Italy melts into France and you journey onwards through the night.
Disembark Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
The sun wakes you and your steward waits with breakfast. We farewell our friendly crew on arrival in Paris. Like any good celebration, however, we begin with Champagne.
Welcome to Chateau Les Crayeres; with perfectly manicured gardens and beautifully appointed rooms, this impeccable property has been the epitome of French chic since 1904. We set the standard with an outstanding dinner at Le Parc restaurant, prepared by Michelin starred chef Philippe Mille.
We're feeling particularly effervescent this morning, ready to pop corks along the Route du Champagne. A prestigious Champagne house opens its doors for us and the afternoon takes us south through the Cote de Blancs.
In Dijon, we are ready to see a different side to France, cruising her radiant waterways. Stepping aboard the MS Jeanine, the pace of life slows down gloriously. We've privately chartered this dainty French barge exclusively for a leisurely meander along the Cote d'Or Canals from Saone et Loire.
Settling into your neat cabin, it's a pleasure to know you will have to unpack just once for the next six nights. Dinner and sunset cocktails set the scene for lazy evenings ahead.
Days don't get much closer to the sublime than those spent enjoying life's simple pleasures on our very own barge.
Winding at leisure through the Grand Crus wine route, we pass through the most prestigious of the Burgundy vineyards. At Petit Ouges, we explore the intriguing circuit of the three wash houses.
The river to Saint Jean de Losne traces some of the region's most voluptuous curves as we drift past rural vineyards and rustic farmsteads, waving to passing boats, Bourgogne in hand.
Saint Jean de Losne is the self proclaimed capital of canal barging in France. In a history of sieges and saviours, we visit the Hotel-Dieu, maritime museum and gothic style church during an insightful tour. Back on the water, sit back and relax as we navigate through the arteries of Southern Burgundy bound for the verdant heart of Dole.
Follow the paw prints to the Trail of the Perched Cat on a morning excursion ashore bringing the charming stories of poet Marcel Ayme to life in Dole.
Our last afternoon of sailing is spent on the River Doubs en route to Besancon, a photogenic gem that epitomises the rural treasures of France and the ideal place to enjoy the Captain's Gala dinner finale.
Disembark Ms Jeanine
Bidding 'bisous et au revoir' to fair Jeanine, we're back on dry land, disembarking to transfer to the Loire Valley.
The Chateau d'Artigny is our very own for the next three nights and is sure to astound. Built by famous perfumer Francois Coty in the 18th century, this is a shining star in one of France's most notable wine regions. Dinner and a tour of the stately grounds leaves you feeling like Lords and Ladies of the manor.
Peppered with medieval fortresses, fairytale chateaux and of course those abundant vines, there's no wonder the Loire Valley has earned itself UNESCO World Heritage Status. On our full day tour from Villeray to Langeais, Renaissance art meets award winning horticulture and pristine Chateaux. Could there be a more pleasurable setting for sipping some of France's finest wines?
A perfect day is rounded off with dinner at the chateau's L'Origan restaurant by award winning Chef Richard Prouteau.
It's a pleasure to be able to set out again on a degustation discovery through the luscious Loire Valley. Starting in Blois, we follow our palate to Cherverny, where a lavish lunch is accompanied by King Francis I's very own private wines. Our last port of call is Chambord, a place which inspired Louis XIV's favourite black raspberry liqueur – an archaic twist on the version we might drink today.
A day of indulgence is topped off with an authentic dinner at a famous family run Domaine – all will be revealed on the day!
After our final cafe et croissants we have some time to relax before we catch the train to Paris for our departure.
You're looking forward to wowing your friends with your improved skills in Italian and French as you return to Australia tonight.
Imagine a trip where you won’t have to lift a finger, or worry about bringing your wallet.
All meals are included with your tour price along with beer, wine and soft drinks. Dining experiences can range from Michelin-starred restaurants to intimate local eateries.