Bon Voyage April 2016

Bonjour FrancophilesP1000165.JPG

The year is flying past, summer’s over – time to start digging for information about that holiday in France! To our surprise and delight, booking numbers are well up on last year, with rental boats and independent cycling holidays dominating.

The big news for this season is that our best friends in France are moving into a new venture and will be welcoming guests at Domaine de Cromey from June 2016.  With a 30 year history in hospitality and tourism, and great personalities, Dennis and Ellie, possibly top the list of couples offering a unique French experience, more than just an escorted tour.  James and Diana are stiff competition though, with their excellent walking weeks in south-west France (and Suffolk, UK), as are many of the smaller hotel barges, such as Paul and Annie on the Bonheur in Burgundy, Rene and Liz on the Emma in the Midi, and Peter and Wendy on the St Louis in Aquitaine.

Our theme this issue is cooking, as we look at some holidays to compliment a week at Domaine de Cromey and review a delicious dinner in Honfleur.

OWNER OPERATORS – Dennis Sherman and Ellie Garvin

We first met Dennis and Ellie on the hotel barge Litote in 1983.  They were sharing the cooking duties in a cramped, hot galley with a very low ceiling and turning out amazing meals for the 20 lucky passengers and 7 crew.   The following season we joined them as crew on a 30m barge which had been chartered for a month by an American millionaire and his girlfriend.  Ellie was chef, Dennis was tour guide and host, Barbara was housekeeper and Robert was the pilot.  We cruised through Burgundy and up to Nancy, which turned out to be hard work as the weather was awful and the American was rather difficult, but Dennis managed him brilliantly and Ellie’s cooking kept everyone happy.   We still remember sitting on the steps of the galley (no dining room for the crew) eating perfectly cooked duck breasts with a cherry sauce on a bed of chopped spinach – one of the best meals we’ve ever had.

After we returned to NZ and set up Bespoke France, Dennis and Ellie bought a luxury hotel barge in the 1990s and steadily developed the Papillon brand.   For a decade they cruised the waterways of Burgundy indulging guests with superb food and wine, and immersing them in the culture and history of the region.  Dennis is a tour guide extraordinaire with his infectious humour and generous spirit and he is also passionate about wine.  Now he is a registered wine merchant, exporting wine from small Burgundian estates to the USA.

Later they sold the barge and bought a house, but continued the Papillon experience with their ‘Select Tours’ for small private groups.  They visited special parts of France and Italy, staying at manor houses with Ellie cooking and Dennis guiding. They built up a large devoted following, who make comments like –  “We have been in Europe with Dennis and Ellie twelve times now, and every trip has been excellent. Every detail is in focus. But Ellie’s wonderful cooking is the main reason to go! These are great folks to be with, and being with them in Burgundy at their Domaine de Cromey will be fantastic.  We are already signed up for 2016”.


Dennis -Aloxe-Corton     P1010419_5

In 2014 Dennis and Ellie, with their American partners, purchased Domaine de Cromey to realise their dream of creating a unique property dedicated to the enjoyment of the food, wine and the natural beauty of Burgundy.   The 18th century building sits among vineyards in a peaceful valley south of Beaune.  They are currently transforming it into a luxury farmhouse complex with six en-suite rooms in three separate buildings set around a courtyard, all within a large walled park.

Domaine de Cromey will offer modern comfort and sophistication in a setting from another era: gentle sightseeing with ample time to wind down, accompanied by superb food and wine.  They put a strong emphasis on meeting the locals and with two minibuses, they have the flexibility to offer multiple excursions.  A week at Domaine de Cromey is designed as a private house party for friends and family, so you can make it as casual and informal as your group wishes.  It’s your party, your holiday, so if you want to laze in the sunshine by the pool or take a walk in the vineyards rather than go on excursions, that is absolutely fine.   It is an all-inclusive private booking for 6-14 guests and no group will share the property with any other guests.

Such is the reputation of Dennis and Ellie, that the summer weeks are already booked for 2016, but, this year only, they have scheduled four Mix and Match Weeks.  On these weeks individual rooms are available for like-minded guests to share Domaine de Cromey.

The dates are –

17-23 July, 23-30 October,  30 Oct to 5 Nov

The price is 2750 Euros per person, share twin and everything is included, except three lunches.

However, for private groups 24-30 July is still available, as is the period from 6 November through to Christmas & New Year, when Ellie will offer cooking workshops alongside Dennis’s wine tastings. These can be customised to suit the group and mushroom and truffle expeditions could also be included.


The perfect compliment to Dennis and Ellie’s land-based Burgundian experience, would be a hotel barge cruise along the canals.  You are still sleeping in the same bed every night and enjoying gourmet meals and fine wines, but the barge moves every day, if at a rather slow speed (5-6kms per hr).  The barge cruise formula is half a day cruising with the landscape gliding past, and half a day sightseeing ashore with a tour guide.

Barges are available with two to ten cabins for private group charters, but many also accept individual cabin bookings and the 14 passenger Luciole even has two single cabins with NO SINGLE SUPPLEMENT.   Some barges currently have special offers, such as the 12 passenger L’Impressionniste cruising the Burgundy Canal and the Panache in Alsace, which have savings of 1500 Euros per cabin for selected dates in May, June and July.  Contact us with your dates for availability.



Francophiles who want to immerse themselves in the French language might like a week at Ecole des Trois Ponts, near Lyon.  As well as their intimate language classes (maximum of 6 in a class), they also offer a combined French language and cooking course for one week during most months of the season.  After a morning of French language instruction, you join the in-house chef to create a variety of sweet and savoury dishes – all the time building your culinary vocabulary as you chop, whisk and stir your way through classic French recipes.  Later you’ll enjoy your creations at dinner.  If baking is your thing, they offer a language and baking/pastry week in September, but it is popular so needs to be booked early.  The dates are 11-17 September and the price is 1540 Euros per person, share twin.  Single rooms are also available.


Jun20.1For a more intense cooking experience, another couple offer Gourmet Cuisine and Cooking Holidays on the edge of the Loire Valley.   Aucklander Freya and English chef (and husband) Maynard bring together their love of gourmet cuisine and France at the Walnut Grove, with the help of an old friend and chef Warren Farrar.  They combine all their skills and experiences to offer fun-filled residential cooking courses for enthusiastic cooks and professional chefs (but not together), from a charming restored farm house and barn near Laval.  Most courses start on Saturday, last five days and they are open to individuals or groups of 6-8 people.


Enjoy lunch by the Canal

Last October we returned to the Canal du Midi cruising from Narbonne to Trebes on a rental boat.  It is a lovely one week cruise, but for me, there are now too many rental boats and too many inexperienced drivers.  Getting four boats into an oval lock requires patience and a gentle touch on the throttle, but few of our fellow boaties seemed to understand that, resulting in lots of knocks and scrapes.

Still, we all had a good time and met some lovely people including Heather and David, who live near Trebes in a delightful setting beside the canal.  Heather is a professional chef and they run Cooking by the Canal du Midi, offering relaxed, fun and informative cooking classes. They have parking for your car, or your boat, by arrangement, will even collect participants from Carcassonne station.  They have a hands-on approach and focus on using seasonal produce and classic recipes, with a modern twist.  Courses start with a tour of the adjoining wine domaine and working farm to meet the locals and pick up some extra supplies and end with a long lunch beside the canal.

FROM THE FOOD DIARY – L’ENDROIT, 3 rue Charles et Paul Bréard, Honfleur

P1000196.JPGHonfleur is a picturesque old port town in a beautiful setting at the mouth of the Seine, and l’Endroit is a modern, stylish-but-casual restaurant a block or so back from the water. Its pared-back industrial decor, with brick floors and open kitchen are a good  introduction to the distinctive cooking style.

We began with a vegetable tart with an endive salad – finely sliced root vegetables on a delicate flaky pastry base, with a crisp and slightly bitter salad to bring out the sweetness of the tart. A simple but clever combination, beautifully cooked & presented.

Nothing will keep Robert from a tripe dish if there’s one on the menu and there was – Tripes a la mode de Caen, flambéed in Calvados. A traditional Norman tripe stew or casserole, this one had masses of flavour and he was very impressed.  I had tuna with Sauce Vierge exotique.  Another beautiful dish, modern and clean, with the olive oil, tomato and herb sauce giving the already delicious fish even more flavour.

After such outstanding dishes, we were very interested in the puddings – Robert had a fruit soufflé, which was a popular choice at the other tables too. It was a massive airy dome on a base of assorted fruits and very good too. My turn to go traditional – pain perdu – but this was a  bit more sophisticated than the fried slices of eggy bread that we sometimes have at home. Fat slices of brioche were garnished with citrus-spiked caramel and a mandarin soufflé on the side. Old comfort food made modern, jazzy and delicious.

A superb meal at a very good restaurant, and we’re looking forward to our next visit.

 Robert & Barbara