Barge Cruising is one of the most intimate and luxurious ways to see the French countryside. It is a completely different animal from taking a river cruise, or really any other type of small ship cruising experience.
From the limited number of passengers onboard to the highly attentive service from the crew and culinary excellence at every meal, you will never want to leave the luxurious comfort of this floating hotel. Moreover, you may never want to cruise any other way in the future.
Enjoying Barge Life
The most notable difference from other types of cruises is that the barge sails in either the morning or the afternoon, not overnight. Which means you will never feel rushed or pressured to get out to explore or join a tour at 8:00 am. Daily excursions happen either after breakfast or after lunch, and your guide will let you know the night before what time the next day’s excursion will depart. The day begins when you are ready. Give yourself permission to sleep in. A buffet breakfast is set out by the staff for you to enjoy whenever you wake up. Spend the morning reading in the salon or enjoying an extra cup of coffee and fresh croissant on deck. Take a dip in the private hot tub. This is an opportunity to enjoy the ship and its amenities. Passengers will find this daily pace just slow enough to make you feel like you are truly on a relaxed vacation.
Keep your Activity Level Up
While sailing, the captain must stop the barge at regular intervals along the canal in order to go through the locks. This is an ideal time to hop off and walk or use one of the barge’s bikes to ride along the path and stretch your legs. The boat cruises at approximately four miles an hour allowing you to easily hop back on at the next lock or further down if you prefer. This is a great opportunity to work off some of the extra calories you might consume at the gourmet meals prepared by your private chef.
Authentic Food & Wine Experiences
There is no better place to taste wine than the actual vineyard in which it was produced. You will have the opportunity to experience one or several private wine tastings at family-owned vineyards during your trip. These private tours offer more than just sipping and swirling wine a tasting room. They include visits to the actual cellars and a comprehensive overview of how their wines are made. The vintners will take their time to educate you leaving you feeling more knowledgeable about the region and the wines they produce.
Excursions also include food and wine experiences. If you are not in the vineyard, you might be at the market. You’ll have an opportunity to see where the locals shop for their produce, fruits, cheeses, meats and flowers. One day you may also enjoy a gourmet meal on shore for lunch or dinner at a Michelin Star or award-winning restaurant.
Be prepared for epicurean overload. Not only does your private chef prepare three course meals for both lunch and dinner, you’ll also have a cheese and wine pairing. Throughout the week on the barge you may sample as many thirty different cheeses and taste more than twenty varieties of wine.
Tips for first timers
If you are at all hesitant and just want to dip your toes into barge cruising, take this into consideration — everything is included with the exception of the discretionary crew gratuity. You will never be asked to open your wallet to pay for the chauffeured transfers to and from the barge, the wine tastings, the museum entrance fees, on shore meals or use of the barge’s bicycles. There are no extra or hidden charges. Not even when you help yourself to an aperitif from the bar stocked with top shelf liquors.
Additionally, there is a considerable price difference between a Charming and Ultra Deluxe barge cruise. While both are equally as wonderful, if you don’t mind slightly smaller accommodations or require certain amenities like a hot tub, you might want to check out the some of the Charming cruises knowing that the service, cuisine and excursions are all comparable across the full range of voyages. You might also inquire about shoulder seasons rates as well.
No matter which European canal barge you choose to sail on, know that you will want for nothing and may be spoiled for life!