A cruise aboard the barge, Wine & Water, combines an appreciation of the Burgundy landscape with a dedicated immersion in regional food and wine. Wine & Water Barging
by Alison Gardner, Editor of Travel with a Challenge
Go directly to our fine Barging Specialists showcased within this richly-illustrated article.
Visiting Paris before or after your French barge cruise? You’ll get some original Paris touring ideas from our stimulating and surprising article, “Black Paris is Alive and Well“.
Interested in more barging ideas? Check out additional articles in our Travel Article Library collection about barging across Scotland, in the Burgundy region of France, and self-skippering a Narrow Boat through Britain’s Waterways.
Cruising along Europe’s historic waterways in Spring, Summer, and Autumn provides an authentic link with past and present cultures and with Nature at an unhurried vacation pace. Many of the Continental European canals and locks still in use were constructed as early as the 16th century, long preceding highways as reliable transportation between villages and market towns. Since the canals were the main street, impressive buildings were frequently designed to display their best face to the action.
The two-deck, 18-passenger Esprit barge features large viewing windows, separate dining room and a partially canopied sundeck. French Country Waterways
Still standing today, canals are preserved, like time capsules, as historic working monuments. Often with intricate lock systems and tunnels, they represent astonishing feats of engineering for their time. Along their banks, one may visit Greek, Roman, and early Christian sites; medieval walled cities; and great castles with noble and sometimes infamous histories. Vineyards, owning wine labels coveted throughout the world, are a feature of many “shore excursions”, and the special dishes and drinks of each region make most barging vacations a gastronomical treat from start to finish.
The best-established barging routes, whether self-guided or fully-catered with all the trimmings of a deluxe hotel and dining room, are in England, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, and France though Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Italy are up and coming barge destinations too. Each route is steeped in history, country atmosphere, and culture which faster-moving vacations fail to allow time to fully absorb or appreciate. Each vessel, operator, and route has a distinctive personality which, thanks to well-presented, informative websites, it is possible to do the necessary homework to choose a compatible cruise.
There is a considerable difference between canal barging and river cruising, with the former featuring fewer passengers and a slower pace (frequently slower than walking!). A barge cruise can cover only 30 and 50 miles in one week, while a river cruise covers hundreds of miles in the same period.
These are grand vacations for photographers, bird watchers, walkers, artists, and multi-generational families, leaving plenty of room for spontaneous as well as planned land-based explorations. Some barge companies offer specially-themed weeks scheduled for golfers, cuisine vacationers, and wine lovers. With canal barging, you can lend a hand at the locks, help wind the sluices to send thousands of gallons of water rushing into the lock chamber, or just sit back and enjoy the slowly changing scenery. You can drop into a lockside pub, take a bicycle ride or a walk into a medieval village for a baguette of French bread and a bottle of wine, and still be on board in time for tea.
Each barge varies in furnishings and design, offering a theme or distinctive personality, such as new-barge ASLAUG’s Scandinavian look. Arnild Barging
With a brief lesson in boat etiquette and vessel management before hitting the water on your own, self-skippered vessels are often small enough for one or two families or even a couple to create a wonderful, affordable holiday, ideal for that memorable three-generation vacation where the lack of telephones, TV and Nintendo set the perfect atmosphere for creative communication and shared activities.
The public areas of KR-line’s barge Johanna are contemporary in design and bathed in natural light thanks to large viewing windows. Melanie Clary
In Britain alone, there are over 4,000 miles of navigable rivers and canals covering the length and breadth of the country. From 1761 until well into the 19th century, “narrow boats” were the working vessels of the canals (or indigenous craft, as they are fondly called), generally about 70 feet long and 7 feet wide, often barely smaller than the width of the canals themselves. Now restored for their new role as carriers of tourists, they are decorated in traditional style with polished brasses and intricate rope work; today they are run on diesel engines instead of being pulled by horses as in times past.
Many European canals were constructed hundreds of years ago to serve as reliable commercial highways. Today comfortable hotel barges like The Saint Louis cruise these restored waterways with international visitors aboard instead of loads of trade goods. The Saint Louis
No longer a vital form of transport for the mines, farms, factories and ports, these colorfully painted hotels are now given over to stylish luxury and haut cuisine with a British flavor. Some hotel boats offer self-guided walking holidays particularly attractive to the seniors market. Each day, clients sets off to explore an area with a packed lunch, and meet their slowly moving hotel at a designated spot later in the day.
Steadily growing, fleets of barges and canal boats are proliferating on Europe’s continental waterways. Holland, long respected for an epic struggle to control its own water-logged territory, is a land of well-ordered canals and rivers with a large choice of boat-based vacations. Hundreds of miles of centuries-old canals are dotted with towns and villages to admire while boating down the main street!
Hotel barge accommodations, like this bedroom aboard one of the European Waterways fleet, are comfortably personalized with ensuite bathrooms. European Waterways
Growing in popularity, Germany is also a culturally and historically significant destination with a vast network of canals, rivers and lakes, including the country’s largest lake, the Muritzsee. You can even head to Brandenburg at the heart of reunited Germany and visit Berlin with its famous Museum Island. Whether choosing an ultra-deluxe, full service vessel or a modest self-skippered pénichette, Germany is a country that deserves more attention in the barging and canal boating vacation lineup.
Built in 1667, Canal du Midi in the south of France offers a less familiar canal system to explore. Courtesy of ROW Adventures
Shoulder or “value” seasons undoubtedly provide the best deals. Check with your barging consultant on shoulder dates in particular countries. For example, cruising seasons are April to October in both France and the U.K., with self-skippered boating in parts of France starting in mid-March. Also inquire about discounts for second and subsequent weeks on the same vessel. Singles especially appreciate these vacations because there are often single cabins with little or no surcharge. Also ask about the barge operators who welcome small children or extended families, often with designated “family weeks”.
Featuring profiles on Wine & Water, KR-line Barge Johanna, The Saint Louis, Arnild Barging, French Country Waterways and European Waterways!
Wine & Water, www.wine-water.com … this French barge’s name clearly announces one of the most significant highlights of a canal journey with owners, Max and Bea Reneau. Captain Max is a huge reservoir of knowledge and insider secrets about French wine and has many personal contacts along the canal routes ready to open doors for private tastings and tours at some of France’s finest vineyards and wine cellars.
Wine & Water barging cruises explore France’s region of Burgundy. Wine & Water
Offered from April 1 through October, cruise options are either 6 nights/5 days or 4 nights/3 days, including full board and excursions. All cruises take place in Burgundy, France’s most popular visitor region, including stops in Dijon, Burgundy’s capital city and the historic wine town of Beaune, and visits to medieval villages, classic French chateaux, abbeys and local cheese producers.
Wine & Water’s full refit – inside and outside – was completed in 2013/14. A spacious sun deck allows relaxed scenic viewing of classic Burgundy countryside and a chance to eat some meals outside. When not on a stimulating daily excursion, there is plenty of time for personal exploring, enjoying the deck-side jacuzzi, cycling and walking along picturesque tow paths beside the canal. Offering these private charter cruises for 2 to 6 passengers with 3 two-person suites, your hosts draw on their 30 years of barging experience and a passion for French food and wine to complete the cruise with a finer appreciation and understanding of French culture and heritage. Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: 00 33 614910238.
KR-line’s Johanna, www.bargejohanna.com/en/cruises-in-france, is the most newly launched addition to our widely-varied collection of European hotel barges. While its original construction was commissioned in 1966, this canal boat remained a cargo carrier until 2012. Encountering Johanna was love at first sight for Patsie and Kris Rotsaert, Belgians living in Flanders who were shopping around for a different way of life from their previous hectic careers. They dedicated several years to converting and renovating Johanna into the comfortable hotel barge, now exploring the waterways of Belgium and Northern France.
The six-guest/three-cabin barge Johanna owned by KR-line is designed for maximum comfort as well as generous viewing areas inside and on deck. KR-line
Clients may choose from a real variety of barging routes over the season, some shorter and others longer. Their less- traveled Belgian itineraries offer several UNESCO World Heritage cultural and art cities and, for food lovers, an opportunity to sample over 400 different beers and some of the world’s highest quality chocolate! There is an unusual 14-day Bruges to Paris option as well as routes within France featuring Champagne, the Upper Loire and the Upper Seine, and the naturally-beautiful Somme Valley, made all the more special as battle anniversaries of World War I are recognized. In 2015 excursions are self-guided, with plenty of recommendations and planning help from your knowledgeable hosts.
Cooking has long been an important hobby for Patsie, always looking for exciting new recipes and adding a fresh, personal touch. It has now become a welcome new profession for her, together with serving as hostess and sharing local knowledge with guests. In addition to Patsie and Kris, their cat, Yara, is also part of the crew with important tasks such as enjoying the sun and bringing good fortune to the ship and its passengers. Although the bedrooms are off-limits to the cat, visitors with allergies will want to take into account its presence in the rest of the ship. Tel: +32 (0)476/46.40.92; Email: email@example.com.
The Saint Louis is a classic Dutch barge, converted to a hotel barge in 1994, and superbly re-fitted in 2007. The Saint Louis
The Saint Louis, www.saintlouisbarge.com, is extremely comfortable, with 3 large double/twin en-suite guest cabins, a superb saloon, and airconditioning/central heating throughout. The Saint Louis provides week-long cruises on the magical unspoiled waterways of southwest France, between Montauban and Bordeaux, under the expert touch of Irish owners and genial hosts, Peter, Wendy and Minnis.
Excursions are taken to a huge variety of places of interest, including medieval villages, ancient abbeys, vineyards, distillers of Armagnac, local markets and country museums. Peter and Wendy’s cuisine is highly recommended — fresh delicious meals crafted from the best of local ingredients, all beautifully presented. These great cruises are inclusive of transfers, excursions, all food and all drinks. Clients come from all over the world to sample the delights of the Saint Louis, often in groups of 2 or 3 couples, or in family groups. Mobile tel: +33 (0) 787 353 360; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aboard the new barge, ASLAUG, relax on two sun decks, cycle or jog on towpaths. Arnild Barging
Most barges offered for European canal cruising today are conversions of historic cargo vessels. Not so the thoroughly modern, Scandinavian-sleek ASLAUG, a purpose-built, four-guest hotel barge designed and launched by proud owners, Kurt Jensen and Bente Arnild as their “retirement project”. Saying goodbye to successful multi-national company careers in Switzerland and Denmark, this Danish couple is eager to share with guests from around the world their lifelong interest in gastronomy, history and nature.
Since 2012, Arnild Barging, www.arnild-barging.com, has offered itineraries designed to discover the “small gems” along rivers and canals in France, Belgium and Holland. Something different for 2015 and 2016, ASLAUG will be cruising the Somme Valley area between April and August to allow guests who wish to mark the centenary of WWI to visit significant sites and take in special events. Other destinations will be explored in September. See 2019 itinerary by month. One week half-board for 1 to 4 persons, see website for prices and conditions. Tel: +33 6 74 22 29 75; E-mail: email@example.com.
ASLAUG, named for a beautiful, wise queen in Nordic mythology, is a spacious and secure 24-meter Luxemotor, designed with normal staircases and safety railings around the top decks. “We have tried to design a very healthy, non-allergenic interior climate,” says Bente, “no chipboard, no synthetic fibres, only natural materials with a touch of Danish design.”
French Country Waterways Limited, www.fcwl.com, has added two chateau visits and lengthened the route of its Upper Loire Valley itinerary, and added an on-shore dining experience to its Alsace-Lorraine itinerary. It is also returning a fifth barge, the 18-passenger Esprit, to its fleet to accommodate increased demand. It continues to cruise five picturesque regions of France – Champagne, Central Burgundy, Burgundy Cote d’Or, Alsace Lorraine, Upper Loire Valley – each one rich in culture and history. Expect the same high quality throughout this fleet, each barge with the ambience of a fine country inn. FCWL is the only American-owned luxury barging company along France’s canal system.
Barge Adrienne’s salon, bar and dining area create an elegant yet relaxing area for guests to converse and relax. French Country Waterways
Drawing upon France’s rich culinary heritage, French Country Waterways’ chefs skillfully blend classic cooking techniques with current trends to lighter, healthier cuisine. The results of this synthesis of styles are fresh, creative dishes equal to any from the best kitchens in France. From Continental breakfasts and buffet lunches, to four-course, candlelit dinners with local wines, each meal is a celebration for the senses.
Spacious twin or double staterooms with private bath complement the attractively furnished lounges and panoramic deck areas. As well as offering bicycles to encourage independent exploration, a deluxe motorcoach accompanies each barge for excursions ashore and transfers. Departures are every Sunday, April through October. Tel: [toll-free USA] 800-222-1236 or 781-934-2454; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since 1974 , European Waterways, www.gobarging.com, has been a pioneer in the vacation hotel barging business, offering luxury cruise holidays in countries that include Scotland, France, England, Ireland, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Holland. This company has been a leader in hotel barge design and in developing new routes and themes for their creative itineraries. See our unique stories on barging across Scotland and barging in Burgundy, France. Among the most popular choices remain canal cruises in the south of France and the Fall cruise around the Chablis Vineyard region in northern Burgundy. Family barge charters are also in high demand.
Somewhere over the rainbow, Barge L’Impressioniste on the Burgundy Canal in Dijon. European Waterways
European Waterways’ large fleet of beautifully-presented 6-20 passenger hotel barges cruise in nine European countries at a calm majestic pace, allowing passengers to truly experience a country’s character from within. Barges feature a dining area, bar, saloon, spa pool/Jacuzzi, bicycles and cabins with ensuite facilities, a knowledgeable English-speaking crew, great food and quality guided excursions. Travel individually or charter a whole barge. Tel: [toll-free USA] 1-877-879-8808, [toll-free Canada] 1-877-574-3404 or [Britain] +44 (0) 1753 598555. See a 9-minute barging video. Email: Sales@GoBarging.com.