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Canal Barging in France: The Idyllic Food Cruise

Canal Barging in France: The Idyllic Food Cruise

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There’s a reason why people who have taken canal cruises are often repeat customers. Add to this gourmet food, personalized service, and daily excursions and you have the perfect relaxing vacation.

European Waterways is one luxury barging company that meanders through the many canals of Ireland, England, Germany, France and others. One of their most popular trips is in Alsace-Lorraine; a region of France created by the German Empire in 1871 and encompasses parts of the Rhine, Moselle Valley, and Vosges Mountains.

Not many know that the term barge is something of a misnomer. These retrofitted boats serve as upscale floating hotels complete with comfortable rooms, beds and showers as well as a lounge area, bar, dining room, and all the amenities you can imagine. One of the vessels in the European Waterways fleet, The Panache, accommodates 12 passengers with spacious, comfortable cabins; a double sink bathroom; and full shower.

The first stop was the small town of Lutzelbourg, where the barge is docked for the night and a regional dinner is prepared by your onboard chef. A typical meal may consist of a mixed salad with smoked duck, filet of pork with wholegrain mustard sauce, a selection of cheeses, and dessert. Of course, wine pairing is all part of the fun and each selection is presented with a little bit of history, charm, and humor.

Each day begins with a casual buffet breakfast followed either by an off-boat excursion or cruising down the canal through various locks to the next mooring destination. On the second day, an excursion is taken to the town of Sarrebourg and the Chapelle des Cordeliers. You might not think twice about this non-descript little chapel except for the fact that it houses the largest stained glass window in the world by artist Marc Chagall. The Tree of Life is based on biblical themes but experts still guess as to some of its deeper, hidden symbols and meanings.

The next stop, the Cristallerie Lehrer, is home to third generation crystal makers, and here you can view master craftsman creating beautiful glassware in the form of vases, stemware and cute little animals. You also have the option of purchasing some of these to take home with you, carefully packaged, of course.

Many of the postcard perfect towns along the Canal de la Marne Au Rhin can be explored on foot or by bikes, the latter of which are carried on board. This is one of the best ways to see the small villages that line the canals. If you happen to get tired, just catch up to the boat at the next lock, in time for a sumptuous lunch.

This itinerary also includes a visit to the Lalique crystal and jewelry museum in Saverne; tasting tarte flambée in Altenheim-sur-Zorn and seeing gorgeous Hansel and Gretel style villages along the Alsatian wine trail.

One of the highlight is the city of Strasbourg, selected as a UNESCO World Heritage of Humanity Site. With winding cobblestone streets, flower-laden bridges, half-timbered houses, and plenty of shops and restaurants, Strasbourg is an amazing place to visit.

The pièce de résistance, of course, would have to be the Cathedral Notre Dame De Strasbourg. Construction of this gothic work of art started in 1015 and the spire was finally placed in 1439. Today, this magnificent cathedral is undergoing renovation but you can still tour the inside and see the massive astronomical clock dating from 1843.

The week can go by quickly and farewells are said at the captain’s dinner. After experiencing slow cruising on a barge, many say it was the most delicious and enjoyable trip of their lives. Perhaps you will be among them?

This is France, the land of exquisite cuisine and fine wines. That means fresh food from local markets, innovative recipes and courses paired with handpicked French wines. Every day is another culinary delight with three or four course gourmet dinners capping your idyllic day of relaxed activity and fascinating sights. For more information on breakfast, lunch and dinner.

  • Barges are rated by amenities, size of cabins and price per person based on two people sharing a cabin. Click here for more information on the four categories of charming, first class, deluxe and ultra deluxe barges.
  • Many barges offer "value" and "regular" season prices. Value season prices can save considerably and apply in early spring, mid summer and late fall.
  • Charter prices often depend on the number of guests and can make the price per person less than booking individual cabins. Read more about barge cruises for charters and groups >>
  • For single occupancy of a double cabin, a single supplement applies. One barge has 2 single cabins with no supplement.
      , cruises on the Nivernais Canal in Northern Burgundy.
  • Special offers become available and are subject to change at any time. Check our Special Offers page or Contact Us anytime for the latest information.

    Barge Cruising in Burgundy

    Ahh Burgundy! – The thought of this famed French region springs to mind historic towns, enchanting wine villages, cultural treasures, gorgeous rolling countryside, replete with breathtaking vineyards and of course wine!

    Barge Cruising in Burgundy

    The term barge brings to mind a different annotation, associated with that of working vessels used for transporting freight. The luxury bateaux plying the waterways of Burgundy couldn’t be further from this description! Hotel barges are former cargo barges, but have been renovated and converted into elegant, comfortable passenger vessels carrying between 4-21 passengers (most carry 12 or less). Barges welcome guests on board for six night cruises from the months April through October, when the beauty of the canals is at its peak.

    Barging is all about exploring the idyllic countryside, gourmet food and wine, while relaxing and being pampered. On board, your dedicated, English speaking crew accommodates every request. 3 to 4 hours of the day are spent cruising, either the morning or afternoon (barges do not cruise at night). Bicycle along the towpath or into town as the barge cruises, chat with the Captain in the wheelhouse or relax on the deck with a glass of wine and take in the sprawling countryside from your floating pied-à-terre for the week. The other half day is spent enjoying a guided excursion to a regional highlight near to the cruise route. Winetasting at local vineyards, châteaux, historic churches, markets and captivating medieval villages are just a sample of what you might experience.

    Food and wine are major highlights of barge cruising! Wake up to a beautifully presented breakfast spread of freshly baked croissants, pastries, cereals and fruits. Buffet style lunches, multi-course dinners and desserts are prepared fresh by your gourmet Chef – every day.

    Local ingredients purchased from daily market trips are showcased. Almost everything is made from scratch – the pastas, sauces, quiches, soups, ice creams, etc. A red and white wine is hand selected by your Chef to complement every meal. These wines are local vintages of the region and are not exported, thus making for pleasurable discoveries. Of course…don’t forget the cheeses! An indulgent cheese selection is presented after each lunch and dinner.

    Combine barging and Burgundy and the result is tres magnifique! Burgundy has been called “The Land of Good Living” – and what better way to get an in depth experience of the good life in Burgundy than on a barge! Considered the quintessential barging destination due in part to the divinely beautiful countryside, famed vineyards, art and architectural treasures and accessibility from Paris, it is perfect for first timers and repeat guests. Over the years I have been to Burgundy more than I can remember, each time discovering something new, reaffirming my deep love for the region. Burgundy is divided into Northern and Southern Burgundy. Here you will find the highest concentration and widest variety of vessels ranging from charming and cozy floating inns to luxury vessels with top amenities.

    Northern Burgundy is located a two to three hour drive south of Paris. All barges in this region offer convenient chauffeured pickup and return in Paris. Vessels float along the Canal du Nivernais, the Canal de Bourgogne, and the River Yonne, lined with colorful villages at some spots, sailing through dramatic cliffs in others. Winetasting in Chablis, 30,000 year old cave paintings at Grottes d’Arcy, historic Auxerre, and Vezelay with its spectacular 12th Century Basilica are a few of many experiences this area offers.

    Head a little further southwest into the geographic heart of France and you reach Southern Burgundy, encompassing the famed Cote d’Or vineyards and roll call of wine villages including Nuits St. Georges, Pommard, Puligny Montrachet, Volany. Cruise routes ply the Canal de Bourgogne, Canal du Centre, and the River Saone, serving up some of the most meltingly beautiful countryside in all of France. Beaune, with its immaculately preserved medieval hospice and cobblestoned shopping streets, market day in Dijon, the hilltop village of Vandeness-en-Auxois, and the remarkable Chateau Sauvigny-les-Beaune housing 80 fighter jets lined up against a beautiful backdrop of vineyards are a sample of some highlights guest might enjoy on a barge cruise in Southern Burgundy.

    Whether you choose to barge in the north or the south, with Burgundy you can’t go wrong. It comes down to preference and what sites and barge calls out to you. Both areas offer easy access from Paris, perfect for adding on a night or two in the famed City of Lights for an unforgettable holiday in France.

    Ellen Sack, The Barge Lady, has been a broker of French canal barge vacations since 1985. She represents barges which range in size from 4 to 21 passengers. She has visited France at least fifty times, as if anyone NEEDED an excuse to travel to the top regions, cruise on untouched waterways, and enjoys the finest wines, cheeses and local sightseeing. Ellen has been named a Top Travel Specialist by Conde Nast Magazine, making her one of the most elite travel providers in the world.

    Reflections on a Day of Canal Barge Cruising

    A canal barge cruise is a gracious invitation to come discover Europe at its most intimate and delightful to follow your heart from morning till night. Wake and sip piping hot coffee or tea from the deck of your vessel, as the sun bathes the tranquil waterways. Disembark to explore iconic and less-frequented sites, far from throngs of tourists. It might be a local truffle farm and lavender distillery in the South of France, a tasting at a chocolatier or a guided stroll around the ramparts of a medieval castle. From châteaux and cathedrals to busy local markets, each experience proves more revealing than the last.

    As the afternoon lengthens, consider a peaceful cycling excursion through the countryside, or simply find a spot on deck and enjoy a cool drink as the scenery lazily rolls by. Return to your floating home as the sun hangs low, indulging in a gourmet meal, matched with curated wines. Before turning in, enjoy a nightcap with fellow guests, and then slumber peacefully in your well-appointed cabin, arising the next morning to begin the adventure anew.

    The Hemingway Adventure: Visiting Burgundy on a Luxury Canal and River Barge

    Burgundy. The name conjures up a beautiful image, one of rolling hills, expansive vineyards, and picturesque waterways calmly flowing through the countryside. Châteaux and villages rise above the water, beautifully quaint and strikingly different from any sight you’ve seen before. Beauty surrounds you from all sights and captivates the senses. The sights are beautiful, the cuisine divine, the wine seductive. It is a vacation unlike any you have experienced before. And the best way to enjoy the region is aboard a luxury barge like the Hemingway, a freshly refit yacht that cruises the Saône and the many canals winding through the Burgundian countryside.

    The Hemingway seeks to give its guests the ultimate in luxury as they cruise Burgundy. Personalized itineraries cater to every interest, and an onboard chef brings Burgundian cuisine to life with fresh, market-fresh ingredients, without having to venture away from the palatial comfort Hemingway offers. If you do choose to venture away from Hemingway, use one of the bikes stored onboard to ride to the next lock on the canal, or simply walk the towpath as the barge meanders in the waters alongside you.

    But why travel to Burgundy? In short, the historic region is an ideal place for a relaxing vacation different from other cruises. History, recreation, cuisine, and wine all come together for a majestic experience fitting the royalty who once ruled this beautiful region.

    Burgundy has a long and storied history, dating back to the days of the Roman Empire. Established as a kingdom by Scandinavian descendants at the western edge of the Roman Empire, the early Burgundians paid tribute and served auxiliaries until the Empire’s decline. Kingdoms came and went, foreign rulers occupied and retreated, and dukes rose to rule the region. The rule of the various Dukes of Burgundy was a golden age, bringing Dijon to power as a market hub — which it remains today. And all the while, the Benedictine and Cistercian monks were producing some of the finest wines in the world. The Hemingway includes several wine tastings and vineyard tours in its itineraries so you can appreciate the monks’ art form for yourself.

    Dijon remains a market center today, with its main market — designed by Gustave Eiffel himself in his signature wrought iron — a bustling hub of vendors selling the greatest variety of food products imaginable! Vendors sell food ranging from fresh fruit and produce to delicious pastries, tantalizing cheeses, and poultry. Tuesdays are traditionally market day, and the activity in the center of town brings Dijon to life. Other vendors sell all sorts of goods, from handbags to shoes, making a shopping trip in Dijon a must for any traveler. The fresh food doesn’t end at the vendors — restaurants line the town square, serving incredible food. A lunch break is as much an experience as the shopping. The flexible itineraries of the Hemingway ensure plenty of time to explore the market while touring Dijon.

    To Dijon’s southwest sits a second historic city, Beaune. The true heart of the Burgundian wine trade, Beaune remains home to nearly-uncountable wine cellars. The historic Hôtel Dieu, a former charity hospice, remains a major component of the local trade as site of an annual charity wine auction. The Museum of Burgundy Wines, housed in the former residence of the Dukes of Burgundy, is a must-see for wine aficionados and novices alike. The rich history of Burgundy truly comes alive in Beaune. Guided tours provided by Hemingway’s knowledgeable staff give ample opportunity to learn about Beaune’s rich history firsthand.

    Winemaking, naturally, remains a critical component of the local economy. Thomas Jefferson once spent five days touring the region and arranging for supplies of Burgundy wines for the legendary cellars of Monticello. Historical record has provided evidence for wine production dating to the first century B.C. by Celts, but the region’s winemaking history truly began with Benedictine monks affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. The monks took a role at the forefront of Burgundian wine production, with the Cistercians in particular devoting considerable attention to the growth and cultivation of the vine. Cistercian attention to detail and patience put Burgundy on the map Clos de Vougeot, one of the Cistercian’s numerous walled vineyards, continues the tradition today, and remains one of the best labels in the Côte d’Or.

    Red wines today are mostly Pinot Noir varietals, which originated with a decree in 1395 by Duke Philip the Bold declaring the Gamay grape — the other major red varietal grown in the region — unfit for human consumption. The white wines in the region are largely Chardonnay, particularly in Chablis to the north and in the southern Côte du Beaune. Many local vineyards, descendants of long, proud traditions dating back centuries, continue wine production in the many cellars throughout the region. Beaune has cellars throughout the city, many of which constitute hidden gems for those in the know locally, where a wine aficionado could spend hours tasting wines from across Burgundy.

    The cuisine of Burgundy is another essential experience for any traveler to the region. The Dijon market is a critical centerpiece of Burgundy gastronomy. The many chefs of the area rely on the marketplace for fresh ingredients for meal preparation. The legendary Maille boutique has sold mustard since the eighteenth century from a street corner shop in the heart of Dijon, and is an absolute must for anyone passing through the city.

    The unique culinary traditions are visible outside of Dijon as well. Beef is a major staple of Burgundy cuisine, and the rolling hills of the Burgundy countryside would not be complete without the many Charolais cattle grazing. The careful regime used to raise the cattle results in a tender, flavorful beef that defies description. The signature dish of the region, Boeuf Bourguignon, is an art in itself that requires two days of preparation using locally produced red wines and Charolais beef. Enjoying the dish with a Burgundy red is an unsurpassable culinary delight, and Hemingway’s onboard chef brings local dishes directly to the dining table for your personal enjoyment.

    Burgundy has much to offer the traveler, be it a foodie, a wine connoisseur, a self-declared history buff, or a simple adventurer. Restored barges and yachts, often owner-operated directly, offer a comfortable way to experience Burgundy. A barge cruise offers a comfortable, relaxed way to see the countryside, feet kicked up and a drink in hand. The luxury accommodations and personal, professional service provided by the owners gives their guests the feel of a luxury hotel, as well as transportation through the countryside to Dijon, Beaune, and elsewhere. Customized itineraries can cater to many tastes. Perhaps a wine-focused itinerary for a discerning connoisseur that has prearranged tours to the region’s best labels? Or perhaps an itinerary customized for a golfer, with tee times daily at the region’s picturesque courses? Perhaps a mix of everything? A relaxing cruise through a scenic, historic region. A casual bike ride along the winding towpath to meet the barge at the next lock on the canal. A hot air balloon ride to see Burgundy from the sky. These adventures, and more, are possible on a barge cruise aboard the Hemingway.

    Whatever your interest, a Burgundian barge cruise is the vacation you need. Come and see the world differently with us! Burgundy is waiting!

    Luxury Barge Cruise in France – Day 2 – Meaux

    We were up early the next morning as we wanted to be on deck by 7am for the cruise through Paris along the River Seine towards the River Marne.

    We gazed long at the intricate wrought iron lattice work that is the Eiffel Tower as it loomed large above and then cruised on through old Paris in drizzling rain, past the haunting shell of Notre Dame Cathedral gutted by fire, and the Louvre, and all the ancient buildings of riverside Paris that have stood through the ages, all with their own stories to tell.

    Breakfast was a gastronomic affair, with a plethora of pastries, cold meats and cheeses, a vast bowl of lovely fresh fruit, yoghurts and a main of smoked salmon and scrambled egg. Divine.

    By mid morning we had reached the River Marne and navigated through our first lock.

    The weather was by now fair and we stood on deck watching the world and the riverbank go by. Various small villages with villagers cycling the river path or just going about their daily lives flashed past, so too large, small and indeterminate houses of many architectural styles.

    Plus, we noticed small cafe-restaurants jutting out over the river and idly wondered what it would be like to return one day and perhaps for a while live the village life here.

    We passed the time in desultory fashion chatting with fellow passengers on deck, enjoying the scenery or sitting in the lounge reading, until lunchtime when Arnie cooked up a storm for us to enjoy.

    Wild asparagus wrapped in ham, mullet with orange couscous and a delicious sauce all accompanied with white and red wine, followed by delicious cheeses of the region.

    But we were careful not to overindulge in fine French wine for Florian, our cruise director, had advised that we should be ready by 2.30pm for our first excursion … to Meaux.

    A short drive took us through rolling green countryside peppered with rape seed and wheat fields.

    Musee de la Grande Guerre

    We arrived at the Musee de la Grande Guerre just a few kilometres outside the town of Meaux. It’s a fascinating museum dedicated to World War One with an incredible array of artefacts from the war.

    It was built in 2011 on the historical site of the first Battle of the Marne, and it owes its existence to a historian, Jean Pierre Verney who spent more than 40 years collecting around 50,000 objects and documents form all over the world that related to the history of World War 1.

    We spent a sobering couple of hours here mulling over the futility of war and honouring those who had given their lives, as well as acknowledging that here was the place where the Germans were stopped in their tracks from advancing on Paris, just 35kms away.

    The quaint town of Meaux

    Afterwards we had a short time to explore the quaint town of Meaux with its imposing cathedral Saint Etiennee, the sylvan Jardin Bossuet, and ancient outbuildings dating back to the 13th Century.

    Florian then gathered his flock and safely drove us back to Panache, which was now moored at a different spot in Meaux. After gin and tonics and whisky sours, expertly shaken by Regina, we enjoyed a gastronomic three course dinner.

    Barge Nilaya

    Hotel Barge Nilaya's been listed in the excellent Rick Steves 'France' guide book for over TWELVE YEARS and we often enjoy the company of his well travelled followers. Many sandwich an informal six night French barge cruise between two Rick Steves organised tours or simply as a relaxing break within their own hectic travel plans.


    Pulitzer prize winning cartoonist Tony Auth enjoyed a wonderful French barge holiday exploring the French waterways aboard hotel Barge Nilaya and surprised us by making this wonderful moving cartoon.

    Click the arrow to start the short movie about our
    Informal Barge Cruises in France.

    Stunning scenery round every bend in the canal

    2020's been a terrible year due to the COVID pandemic, so what could possibly be better than a relaxing barge cruise with family or friends. ?

    Join Kevin and Isabelle on an informal six night French hotel barge cruise through some of the most beautiful French waterways in the country. They're relaxing, sociable, flexible and fun! Stunning scenery, flexible dining and being able to tell the captain 'where to go' are just a few of the ingredients ensuring your barge cruise of a lifetime. Soak up some seriously slow cruising, far from the madding crowd, aboard a classic 1922 luxemotor luxury hotel barge and our comfortable summer home, Barge Nilaya. Join her voyage of discovery through the river and canal navigations of France and enjoy riding aboard a beautiful, historic barge as it cruises through the extensive European waterways.

    Four lucky guests enjoy exclusive use of hotel barge Nilaya

    Just four lucky guests enjoy exclusive use of one of France's most gorgeous private charter barges, uncovering a hidden side of France that few get to see. Whether it's the champagne reception, substantial continental breakfasts, extensive light lunches or two gourmet home cooked dinners, you're sure to leave hotel Barge Nilaya with the most wonderful memories. Informal, fun, barge vacations are what it's all about and there will be loads of time to relax as well. You'll need to be reasonably agile, have an open mind and great sense of humour. If you arrive aboard hotel Barge Nilaya with a positive mindset, you will quite simply have the time of your life.

    One of France's most beautiful private hotel barges

    Once aboard, Isabelle and Kevin hope to indulge you in our passion for the French waterways, country, global travel, Belgian beer, local wine, tasty regional cuisine and soaking up the ever changing landscapes that glide ever so gently past french hotel Barge Nilaya. Nilaya offers most of the comforts of a home away from your home. Her two cosy cabins can be arranged as either twin or double and both have private en-suite shower rooms. She has a spacious saloon with panoramic windows offering great views, day or night, plus a spacious sun deck should you fancy doing the same outside.

    Kevin and Isabelle are your happy hosts

    Owning, maintaining and piloting a beautiful 1922 hotel barge in France takes great teamwork and a lot of laughter! There's never a shortage of lively banter aboard the good barge Nilaya and topical conversation blended with liberal dashes of typically British and Belgian humour are but one of the magical ingredients making Nilaya such an outstandingly happy ship. Kevin's background involves mostly travel! From his days in print watching millions of travel brochures flying off the end of presses, to spending tens of years traveling either privately or as a paid globe wide tour leader. Isabelle, my barge lady, is a truly accomplished chef, having previously worked in both Belgium and France, honing her language and culinary skills.

    Food glorious home cooked French food!

    For owners Kevin & Isabelle, barging in France is about living the 'life less ordinary'. Experiencing the tranquility, ever changing scenery, colours and seasons while preparing, serving and enjoying the tastiest seasonal French cuisine from some of the finest local produce in the world. Add some gorgeous French cheese, wonderful French wine and water and lively conversation for a recipe you'll savour for many years to come.

    Gorgeous sun deck and gardens

    Since its conception, hotel Barge Nilaya's always had a garden! We pride ourselves on growing almost all the salad and herbs we use throughout our summer season. Izzy can often be seen harvesting some just before mealtimes, ensuring the freshest crunchiest salads arrive at our table just in time. Shrubs, edible nasturtiums and lots of bright red geraniums help make Barge Nilaya one of the most recognisable and beautiful barges on the canals of France. Hotel barge Nilaya also offers one of the most spacious sun decks of any similar sized hotel barge, with a wonderful exterior dining area plus fully reclining lounge chairs for all that relaxation you're going to do! We even have a couple of benches at the bow so you can get up close and personal watching Isabelle work the front end of the barge through the countless locks.

    Lots of fresh air and as much exercise as you like

    Hotel Barge Nilaya accommodates up to four guests, so once you've booked, it's a little like having your own private barge hotel. Payments from guests provide for day to day running and most importantly, the large maintenance fund keeping our nearly 100 year old barge afloat! She's our wonderful cruising summer home and we welcome you to her unreservedly. The regions of France we cruise are really beautiful and a world apart from the heavily touristed ones you see in the brochures (Canal du Midi and Burgundy canal for example). For the most part, we don't cruise where the big barge hotels do. We like the flexibility of 'making it up' as we go along. We carry four unisex road style bikes plus helmets, and can advise the best walks, rides and places to explore. After all the fresh air and excercise, you'll be amazed how well you'll sleep!

    Experience a voyage of discovery

    Hotel Barge Nilaya's rates are some of the most reasonable to be found on the French waterways, offering an unbeatable quality of food, accommodation and experience for the price. Testimonials from our previous guests back this up. If it's an unforgettable, unique and informal experience on the canals of France you're looking for, search no further. We welcome you to be a part of our journey! Isabelle, Kevin and hotel Barge Nilaya. New friends you've yet to meet!

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    European Canal Barge Cruises: Insider’s Guide

    Barge Elisabeth in Burgundy. Photo courtesy Barge Elisabeth.

    The insider advice on this page is from one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for European-canal barge cruises: Ellen Sack of Barge Lady Cruises.

    Barge cruising is slow travel at its best: luxurious boats plying centuries-old canals through the bucolic European countryside, covering just a few miles a day between excursions to villages, chateaux, markets, and local artisans’ studios. With many dozens of such trips between them, Ellen and daughter Caroline Klein will level with you about the pros and cons of each itinerary—most of which are in France, with a few options in England, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, Belgium, Germany, and Italy—as well as the crew, cuisine, and sightseeing possibilities on offer for each vessel. The warm welcome their travelers receive on board is testament to Ellen and Caroline’s close personal relationships with all the vessels’ owners. For multigenerational families and other groups of up to 12, they can arrange a private barge charter, with activities customized to individual interests.

    Barge Luciole cruising on Canal du Nivernais, Burgundy, France. Courtesy Barge Luciole

    Best-value barge
    At $3,750 per person, the eight-passenger Savoir Vivre, cruising in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, was conceived as an option for travelers more interested in authentic culinary experiences than deluxe amenities: Unique among all barges, the cruise fare includes dinner on shore each night at a different bistro breakfasts and lunch are delivered by a top local chef and served on board. Daily sightseeing includes a goat cheese tasting and a visit to Dijon’s lively market. The boat’s interior is space-saving and flexible for instance, the salon converts to an informal dining room in minutes, while the kitchen is open and always available to guests.

    Best-value barges for families
    In Northern Burgundy, the 12-passenger Luciole offers the Family Adventure Cruise, a personalized and private experience for three-generation families. Priced at less than $5,000 per person, this is an excellent value, as the daily programming includes events perfect for passengers of all ages: Kids can enjoy zip-lining, go-karting, and kayaking, while excursions to local markets and working vineyards appeal to adults. The gourmet cuisine includes wine pairings and nightly cheese platters as well as special children’s menus, ensuring that everyone enjoys their family time together at the table. Also included are chauffeured transfers to and from Paris, all onboard food and wine, an open bar, and use of on-board bicycles.

    In southwest France, the Family Fun program on the 10-passenger Athos takes multigenerational travelers on a private cruise of the Canal du Midi. Family-friendly adventures include kayaking, horseback riding, swimming in the Mediterranean, helping the chef pick out the best produce at the local market, touring nearby Roman ruins, and lots of cycling along the beautiful towpath. Mealtimes are taken al fresco when the weather permits, and the chef is happy to provide kid-approved fare while serving seasonal delicacies and regional wines to those with a more sophisticated palate. Priced from $4,500 per person, the fare includes all food and wine, an open bar, all excursions and activities, and use of onboard bicycles.

    Best barge for a splurge
    The eight-passenger Prosperité in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or has the most spacious accommodations in barging: Its four identical cabins are 270 square feet, complete with king-size beds, a full-sized shower, and a bathtub. The open kitchen encourages casual cooking lessons with the chef, while gourmet French cuisine and top Burgundy vintages are served in the formal dining area. When not socializing on the large deck or lazing in the hot tub, guests can stroll or cycle along the canal’s refurbished towpath. Sightseeing includes guided visits to working vineyards, lively markets, and picture-perfect towns. A top British-French crew of six welcomes guests so warmly that many return again and again. Round-trip chauffeured transfers from Paris are included in the fare.

    Best small barge
    Rendez-Vous, a six-passenger barge in the Cote d’Or, feels more like a sleek boutique hotel than a traditional barge, with well-appointed cabins, an open chef’s kitchen, and a shaded sundeck. The onboard cuisine combines traditional ingredients with modern cooking techniques, while the wine pairings emphasize the region’s world-famous vintages. Comprehensive sightseeing includes a special cheese tasting, a cycling tour through the Grand Cru vineyards, and lunch at a local bistro. Included in the fare are round-trip chauffeured transfers from Paris.

    Best barge for the solo traveler
    The Luciole in Northern Burgundy has two single-occupancy cabins priced with no single supplement. This barge is perfect for solo travelers who enjoy attentive service, cultural immersion, and meeting other travelers, all in a relaxed environment. Guests socialize over drinks on deck, linger in the cozy salon, or ride bikes along the canal’s towpath. Multi-course dinners are served at one long table, meaning nobody is left out.

    A chef plates a dish on the Barge Prosperite, Burgundy, France. Courtesy Barge Prosperite

    Best barge for foodies
    Every barge in Europe could win this category, as the entire style of travel is focused on locally sourced ingredients, seasonal cuisine, and boutique wines. Depending on the barge’s itinerary, foodies could also enjoy shopping with the chef at local markets, attending informal cooking demonstrations in open kitchens, or enjoying impromptu spirit tastings from the onboard bar. As well, many tastings and samplings are included in the daily activities, with guests sipping small-batch wine at area vineyards, nibbling on bonbons at an artisanal chocolatier, or savoring freshly made cheeses at a fromagier.

    Vineyards in Burgundy, France. Courtesy Barge Elizabeth

    Best itineraries
    The Côte d’Or route through Southern Burgundy combines some of the most beautiful rural scenery in all of France with guided visits to the region’s many cultural attractions, preserved antiquities, and charming towns. Then there are the region’s great traditions of food and wine. Barge guests can tour Dijon’s vast and colorful Les Halles market, with its array of fresh produce, cheeses, and pastries sample top vintages from famed wine towns such as Nuits St. Georges, Pommard, Puligny Montrachet, and Volany sip the locally produced blackcurrent liqueur, Cassis and of course shop for the area’s iconic mustard. Miles and miles of beautifully refurbished towpath are perfect for long afternoon strolls or leisurely bike rides.

    For those interested in other European routes, consider joining one of La Nouvelle Etoile‘s fall cruises from Luxembourg through Germany on the Mosel River, a waterway lined with colorful towns and expansive vineyards. Passengers love to bicycle through the grapes or join locals at a beer garden. The fascinating Roman ruins in Trier are another highlight, especially for those interested in the complexities of European history. Gourmet dining is an integral part of the experience, featuring multi-course meals seasoned with herbs grown right on the barge. La Nouvelle Etoile is the only boat in Europe with a computer in every cabin, a dedicated exercise room, and an elevator.

    The Scottish Highlander immerses its eight passengers in a remote and scenic area along Scotland’s Caledonian Canal. Cruise from loch (a.k.a. “lake”) to loch—including the famous Loch Ness—through spectacular scenery and expansive greenery. The barge’s comfortable décor features the tartan plaids of Scotland, while onboard cuisine reflects the heritage flavors of the region. Sightseeing includes visits to iconic castles and historical battlefields, along with whisky tastings, dinner at a local pub, and an informal “living room” concert. Cycling and walking opportunities are plentiful along the Caledonian Canal’s towpaths and nature trails. Bring your camera to capture the beautiful flora and fauna in this region.

    Don’t-miss stop
    Vessels cruising on the idyllic Canal du Midi in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon take passengers to the Cité de Carcassonne, a beautifully restored medieval fortress, encircled by a moat and wall, that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. This is France’s second most visited tourist attraction (after the Eiffel Tower), but barge guides know how to avoid the inevitable crowds.

    The Crew

    As I write this it is a bit before 10 am in the morning and in the main indoor living space my wife is checking the news on her phone, using the wi-fi and the only two other passengers are visiting our captain Morgan in the wheelhouse. We interact the least with the captain whose domain is the wheelhouse and who is responsible for the boat and for getting us safely to our destination.

    Our chef Sylvain has started on dinner in the open kitchen just past the glass dining room table. He is preparing a dish with a celery root ball to go with the duck for tonight’s dinner. All-day long he is busy in the kitchen as we have a three-course meal at lunch (appetizer, main and dessert) and a four-course meal at dinner (appetizer, main, cheese, and dessert). Passengers are welcome to ask questions or learn how to make a certain dish or welcome just to eat heartily as has been our choice.

    Each meal has been a pleasure to see as well as a pure pleasure to eat. For years I have told people I don’t like fish, but Sylvain has made me a liar. All meals are made with what is fresh and what is in season.

    While Sylvain is busy in the kitchen our two hostesses Agata and Manora are keeping busy. Agata was laying out a buffet breakfast by 7 am with fruit, cheeses, fresh local pastries, cereal, and eggs cooked on request. It is Manora’s turn to clean the cabins and I last saw her washing the windows below decks.

    Our tour guide Claire is off in the van somewhere in the countryside. She makes the early morning run for fresh pastries, each day from a different bakery along our route. She will show up at the next set of locks to handle the ropes to tie up the barge as the lock fills. Later this afternoon we will hop in the van on an excursion.

    LINKS to Alouette Information

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    This page last updated May 13, 2021

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