The odds of winning one of those holidays advertised as part of a company promotion are pretty low. Most of us think of the contests as scams, so nobody enters and nobody wins.
Ah, but they do. Ask Ken and Diane Proseilo of North Shore Fishing Lake near Kuroki, Saskatchewan. They won the trip of a lifetime, courtesy of Bell Media and Canada A.M. Proseilos’ entry was one of 250,000 and it won the grand prize, a 14-day, all-inclusive South of France river cruise from Paris to Nice, valued at $23,440.
They did not believe it at first. When Bell Media called to inform them, Diane said, “No thanks, we’re not interested in what you’re selling.” It took two more calls for the reality finally to sink in.
The tour began in June 2015 in Paris, France, where Diane and Ken were picked up by limousine and whisked off to a room at the Paris Marriot Opera Ambassador Hotel, priced at €700 ($987) per night for those who had to pay. Acclimatization to the culture and easy, chic way of life began in the heart of Paris with a whirlwind tour that took in the sights, including the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, plus the numerous sidewalk cafes.
Next came a high-speed train ride from Paris to Chalon-sur-Saône, where they met their 400-foot riverboat, a floating palace offering all the decadent food, wine and luxury they could desire. Included in their accommodations were a private deck, motorized windows, an ensuite bathroom and their very own 24-hour butler.
When asked by the butler if everything was to their liking, Ken told him yes and, “Take the white wine out of the fridge and always make sure there are three bottles of red there, please,” and it was done. Whenever the fridge door was opened, as if by magic three bottles of red wine were nestled side by side, ready to be consumed.
As the Saskatchewan couple familiarized themselves with the boat they shared with 150 other guests from all over the world, they found that beverages were available 24 hours a day, along with a 24-hour buffet in addition to the gourmet evening meals, lunches and breakfasts. No expense was spared on the quality and service. Every evening they sat down with their tour director, who went through the itinerary for the next day. Each morning they would be met by tour buses and a choice of one of three tours, which invariably included wine-tasting and exquisite cuisine.
Their first stop, Beaune, was the wine capital of Burgundy in the Côte d’Or in eastern France. Of the landmarks in Beaune, including the old market and the clock tower, it was the 15th-century hospices and medieval laundry that most impressed Ken and Diane.
Once back at the boat it was a gentler cruise down the river, sipping on local wines and indulging in the rich excess of French cuisine. That evening and every evening there was a requirement to dress for dinner, which made each dinner feel like a special occasion. The daily personal itinerary that was always left in their room explained the tours available, the temperature for the day, the choices of food and a myriad of other information, down to the tiniest detail. Perfection and service were unrivalled.
A close encounter occurred at the Château de Cormatin, where Diane became a victim of spirits; not the liquid, but the spooky kind that slammed the shutters and shoved her in the back.
It’s not surprising considering the history of the castle, built around 1605. It has the oldest-of-its-kind empty cage staircase in France, along with plenty of tragic stories of death and despair. To regain her composure, it seemed a good idea to sample some wine and partake of the more natural liquid spirits that were spread out like a Roman feast from which to pick and choose.
The hottest day , a sweltering 37C, coincided with a ride on the narrow gauge railway Train de l’Ardèche. The short, slow, scenic mountain and river valley trip left the passengers parched due to the heat of the day and the smoke belching from the steam train. It was a good excuse for quenching the thirst with yet again more wine.
If there was a highlight of this incredible journey, it might be the city of Lyon and a visit to the Basilica of Notre Dame, a minor basilica built with private funds between 1872-84 in a dominant position in the city, over the site of a Roman forum. Or maybe it was the champagne toast and fine dining in the Pope’s dining room at the Pope’s summer palace in Avignon. Then again, maybe it was the day spent truffle-hunting with dog and guide and, at the end of the hunt, a truffle baguette.
The finale of the leisurely two-week cruise was a three-country escape. In the principality of Monaco, Ken and Diane took in the sights of Monte Carlo, including the family palace of the reigning monarch, the Grand Prix circuit, and the Grand Casino where the millionaires in this wealthy playground gamble. Then they travelled back over the line into France and over to Dolceacqua, Italy, where Claude Monet painted his The Castle at Dolceacqua.
“ We savour every moment,” Diane says. “At times it is unbelievable, what we saw. When we sip on a glass of wine at home, our thoughts take us back to those French vineyards and the taste of the rich burgundy wine.
“Dream the dream! Real people do win these contests.”
By Andy Labdon
Photos courtesy Diane and Ken Proseilo