Offering one of the most unique ways to taste and tour your way through Europe, barge cruising is the best all-inclusive vacation you’ve never heard of. Plying exquisite inland waterways and scenic petite rivers, barges function as floating boutique hotels, usually carrying just two to twelve guests.
Since 1985, the Barge Ladies, who now include both of Ellen’s daughters, Caroline Sack Klein and Stephanie Sack, have offered guests decades of expertise into the dynamic world of barge cruising. Barging is like any other kind of cruise: there are lots of choices as to level of luxury, cruise route location, and onboard ambiance.
But the true charm of barging lies in its intimate introduction to the cuisine and culture of the cruise region.
“One of the most unexpected – and appealing – aspects to barge cruising is the guided excursions ashore to working vineyards, public markets, and family-owned chateaux,” says Ellen.
Barge cruises offer an intimate level of access to Europe’s lively villages and local landmarks, allowing for an insider’s view of these beloved cultural treasures,” she explains further.
Life onboard on a barge also reflects a genteel ambiance, as passengers are pampered by English-speaking crew, including their own private Chef. As if by magic, meals and snacks appear from the galley, ensuring that the seasonally-inspired, market fresh cuisine is one of the most memorable pleasures of luxury barge cruising.
Welcome to your barge cruise!
Here is how a day on the French canals might unfold, hour by delicious hour:
8:00 a.m. Wake up to breakfast – and do not even TRY to resist the chocolate croissants!
Barge breakfasts are informal affairs, taken in the salon, dining room, or perhaps al fresco on deck. A selection of cereal, yoghurt, fruit, cheese, and juice await. But the real point of breakfast might be the village-baked pastries, just warm from the oven. One or two chocolate croissants? The choice is yours. Finish off with hot coffee or a perhaps a selection of herbal teas. Now you are ready to begin another delightful day floating, bicycling, tasting, and sightseeing in the French countryside.
9:00 a.m. Begin to cruise, relax, and explore
Barges in France cruise on historic man-made canals, built in the 17th, 18th and 19th century to carry cargo. Now these vintage waterways have been renewed as routes for vacationers. Today your barge will cover approximately 10 miles, heading towards the next port. At such a relaxed cruising pace, you can WALK faster than the barge can cruise! So what to do this morning? Well, there’s relaxing on deck and watch the gorgeous scenery drift by. Or, take out a bicycle and explore the passing villages. So many ways to immerse yourself into the passing countryside – and then return to the comforts of your floating home away from home!
10:00 a.m. The life of a lockkeeper
Canals are bisected by locks, which raise or lower the barge to the water level of the next section of the canal. Although many of these are now operated electronically, along certain sections of the canal, lockkeepers still manually open and shut the system. On certain routes, lockkeepers still live in petite houses right on the canal and will often welcome your barge with wine and fresh produce for sale. Ask the Captain: Can you jump on shore and help turn the cranks to raise or lower your barge? Many guests enjoy playing lockkeeper – an adventure they could have nowhere else!
11:00 a.m. Hang out with the Captain in his wheelhouse
In the always-open wheelhouse, you’ll be welcome to join your Captain for a chat. He knows local lifestyle and personalities (aka gossip) and will introduce you to the intricacies of operating the barge. Try steering – it’s fun but a LOT harder than it looks!
Noon. Luncheon is served. Bon appetit!
Already?! The barge has moored now and everyone gathers in the dining room or on the deck for lunch. Many barges offer a lavish buffet, featuring a different daily selection of hearty salads, main dishes, rich quiches, and boutique cheeses, paired with a selection both a red and a white. At each meal, the accompanying wines are introduced by the crew, revealing the rating, region, and flavor profile. Sip on one of the two dozen wines you will taste while barge cruising!
1:30 p.m. Sightseeing – a special introduction to the landmarks, lifestyles, and even secrets along your cruise route
This afternoon, enjoy a private tour showcasing those special experiences that can be found only on a barge cruise. Your barge’s crew includes a Tour Guide, who accompanies you on chauffeured and escorted excursions throughout the cruise region. Accompany the Chef to market, where you will perhaps pick out tonight’s cheese selection. Or delve into the history of a preserved family-owned chateau, with the owner as your guide. What about a private introduction to a local artist, going truffle hunting, or perhaps a VIP tasting at an olive oil cooperative? Stroll the pedestrian streets of a city center, sip a coffee in the town square, or window shop for gifts and souvenirs. Taste the wines at historic cellars which have produced and stored varietals for generations. Other choices, depending on your region, may include culinary experiences such as chocolate samplings and champagne tastings; many cruises include visits to enchanting villages, ancient churches, and local museums.
4:30 p.m. Back onboard – relax and rejuvenate
Late afternoon is a wonderful time to relax and unwind while cruising the canals of Europe. Socialize on the deck while enjoying craft cocktails and freshly-made canapes …curl up with a book and cup of tea in the salon…sample local spirts and regional wines from the barge’s fully stocked bar…or challenge the crew to a friendly game of petanque!
7:30 p.m. Dinner is served!
Glistening glasses, starched linen napkins, and flower displays set the scene for a dinner party with friends…and you’re invited! Light and flavorful cuisine showcases local ingredients and variety in the four-course menus. Dinner’s plating and presentation are partnered with the nightly wine pairings, which are expertly introduced and generously poured by the crew. A cheese platter and a decadent dessert round out the day’s edible adventures. As with the wine, each cheese is specifically introduced. You’ll taste at least 18 different cheeses – and maybe more – during your cruise.
10:00 p.m. Under the stars…a last enchantment!
End your day with liqueurs served on deck as the stars come out over the canal.