- Small Group Tours that Include Barge Cruises
- A Typical Cruise
- Other Barges / Regions
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A Typical Cruise – A Cruise Diary
Our trip started at the meeting point of Clamecy in Upper Burgundy, an idyllic village where we caught our first glimpse of the hotel barge, a beautiful vessel on which we were to spend the next week. Welcomed by the Captain and crew, we settled into our cabins before champagne and nibbles were served. The cabins are remarkably spacious and tastefully decorated, each with a small ensuite bathroom with marble tiled features. L’Occitane toiletries completed the lovely feel of each room. Another feature was that each cabin has its own individual air conditioning and heating unit. The upper inside area is a beautiful lounge, bar and dining area with polished wood and antique style lamps and buffets.
The barge is so cleverly designed that the sundeck hides a mechanised bicycle garage (which is raised out of the deck by the crew whenever you request a bike!) and 6 person Jacuzzi. Surrounded by colourful potted flowers and comfortable outdoor furniture, you could stay on deck all day just watching the gorgeous countryside go by, reading a book, enjoying morning tea or later, a bottle of local wine.
There are more energetic pursuits, however! ½ day trips are taken each day in the company minivans, and our Captain was our guide – one of the best I have ever met in France. Friendships with the local people, an incredibly wide knowledge of the history of the area and a wicked sense of humour provide a commentary interspersed with colourful anecdotes and unforgettable flavour. Our excursions were varied and interesting – one day a visit to an historic local chateau, the next a charming country market in an ancient half-timbered village, and the day after, one of the most incredible wine tastings I have ever experienced, in the 12th century tunnels under the wine making village of St Bris.
All of these excursions made us feel that we were really off the usual tourist route and experiencing a view of France rarely seen unless by locals. For boating enthusiasts, the Captain and his assistant were only too pleased to let people drive the boat and help out at each lock.
Breakfast was fresh baguettes, buttery croissants and pastries, delicious cereals, home brewed coffee and a wide range of juices and herbal teas. Lunch generally consisted of a meat dish (cold or hot – quail with garlic sauce was one heavenly highlight) accompanied by salads and followed by carefully selected cheeses and coffee. Cheeses were a feature of dinner also, and the girls gave us a detailed description of the origins and flavours of each cheese as they were served.
Dinner each night is a three course affair – mouth-watering entrees such as vanilla scented lobster in a light filo pastry, main courses such as grilled salmon with seasonal vegetables on a light Chablis sauce or guinea fowl with wild mushrooms, cheese and desserts such as chocolate truffle cake on a vanilla raspberry sauce. Wines were all exquisite local selections chosen by our Captain, again a very nice personalised touch. This might all sound a bit overwhelming for those who don’t normally eat so much, but the lovely thing was that the chef served sensibly sized courses that enabled us to try this wonderful local cuisine without making us feel totally bloated by the end! The bar, including wine and spirits, is open all day.
In between these delectable meals there is ample opportunity to walk along the towpath, or ride your bicycle beside the barge. The boat only travels at walking pace, so long relaxing ambles in the countryside are the order of the day. There was something quite magical about wandering past 14th century farmhouses, cute little lockkeepers’ cottages, picturesque villages and vineyards, with the beautiful barge, of which we grew so fond this special week, cutting majestically through the water behind us.
The crew really were exceptional, focussing on our every need and working throughout the day not just serving us but keeping the barge and our cabins spotlessly clean.
I have travelled to France every year for the past twenty years and I can say without hesitation that this was one of the most unique and unforgettable experiences I have ever had in this wonderful country.
** One question I am asked frequently is, "Didn’t you feel claustrophobic or 'on top of one another' being in the confined space of the barge"? I can very honestly say, "no" – because not only is the barge so much more spacious than one expects, but also because rarely is everyone together, as people walk or ride in opposite directions, sit on deck or in the lounge, and even on excursions there is plenty of time allowed to independently explore and get away on one’s own should you so desire. This makes meal times a lovely get together with anecdotes of the day’s experiences, jokes and lots of laughter.