Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen
We separately discovered the magic of France in the 1970s and returned together in 1984 to work on hotel barges; cruising in Burgundy, Alsace and Southern France. Between jobs, we lived in a lockhouse on the Burgundy Canal, near Montbard. We came home to New Zealand in 1987 and established Bespoke France in 1990 to develop an annual Food & Wine Tour and share our love of France. In 1991 we took our first party of 21 people to New Orleans and Paris en route to Burgundy for a ten day luxury barge cruise.
Barbara’s background is in teaching, primarily high school English, but her career has included jobs as diverse as wardrobe mistress to the NZ Ballet, resident cook in London, housekeeper and chef on the barges and food columnist for The Christchurch Press. She is also a freelance travel and food writer, author of Grace & Flavour (Old NZ recipes for modern cooks) and a casual tutor at the University of Otago Language Centre, when not working on Bespoke France projects.
Robert trained in interior design and came to NZ from Manchester in 1973 to work at Kirkcaldie & Staines as their furnishing consultant. He has a wide background in retail and while in France took on the roles of tour guide, matelot, barman and barge pilot. For over 20 years he sourced, imported and sold oriental rugs, textiles and artifacts, but now he focuses on the travel business, developing most of the Bespoke France itineraries.
In this digital age where everything appears to be accessible through the internet, we still believe in the importance of personal service based on personal experience. We continue to visit France to research our holidays – inspecting accommodation, finding car parks and toilets, sampling restaurants and meeting local guides and operators. We love the work and and we’re still finding new places, waterways and restaurants that amaze and delight us.