Barbara Keen and Robert Buchanan 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 to 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, 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 the 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 to work at Kirkcaldie & Stains in Wellington as their furnishing consultant. He has a broad background in retail and for over 20 years he sourced, imported and sold oriental rugs, textiles and artifacts. While on the barges in France he worked as tour guide, matelot, barman and barge pilot. Now he focuses on the travel business, developing most of the Bespoke France itineraries.
In this digital age, we maintain our belief in personal service based on personal experience and we have over 40 year's experience of exploring La Belle France. We visit France regularly to research our holidays and love the work, finding new places, waterways, restaurants and experiences that amaze and delight us.
I realise this has been a bit slow, however we’d like to thank you for getting this trip sorted for us – we had a really great time. The accommodation in Paris, Sancerre, Amboise, Belle Ile and Dinan was particularly good. Dinan apartment was brilliant. The visit to Belle Ile was special, some great walks. Perhaps the only disappointment was Chinon, where we struck a period where many restaurants were closed. Travel times worked well – one addition you may want to consider is Maurice Dufresne Collection in Azay-le-Rideau – most eccentric 'museum' full of interesting things with 'story' to match. Your restaurant recommendations were fantastic, difficult to choose a favourite however lunch in Nevers was exceptional. No big travels next year, so we have time to plan where next. The problem with this is my French seems to lapse quickly. Thank you once again, Russell and Denise"