Barge cruising offers a unique take on the river experience and France is the showcase nation for this type of discovery.
Modern, luxurious vessels offer an intimate and immersive journey through the country, traversing canals and narrow rivers inaccessible by larger ships.
Barges are purpose-built vessels that allow you to explore many of the quaint waterside villages that you wouldn’t see on a ‘standard’ tourist trail.
The space will surprise you
Barge cruises typically range from as little as four to 25 passengers. But while a smaller ship means fewer passengers, it doesn’t mean you have to skimp on space.
Even 3-star barges, such as Savoir Vivre and Athos, feature spacious outdoor and indoor areas to relax. You can sunbathe on an alfresco deck, drink in a salon-style bar or kick back on deck chairs while the French countryside rolls past.
The on-board amenities only increase in size and opulence when moving up to the 5 and 6-star barges. The 6-star charter boat Amaryllis boasts a heated pool on its sundeck while La Nouvelle Etoile has an open-air jacuzzi and antique-filled dining room.
Rooms typically range from 37 to 85 square metres and most come with ensuites with walk-in showers. The higher-rated barges even have king-sized beds, double vanities, Wi-Fi and picture windows.
Quality over quantity
Barge cruises generally last from two to seven days while covering about 50 kilometres of canal networks each day. The vessels maintain a comfortable, steady pace, giving you ample time to soak up the scenery.
If you need a break from the water, you can take one of the on-board bicycles and ride alongside the barge between locks.
Guided sightseeing tours take place every day and usually include cultural experiences like wine-tastings at family-owned vineyards, browsing local markets and visits to historic churches.
Regular barge cruisers will tell you to expect quality dining on board. You’ll enjoy a fresh-baked croissant and delicate pastries for breakfast, or devour seasonal soups and gourmet cheese platters for lunch.
At dinner, expect a multi-course dinner consisting of delicious French classics. The food experience continues with exclusive culinary activities like cooking demonstrations and shopping for seasonal ingredients with the on-board chef.
Many barges, like Back-Roads Touring’s MS Jeanine and MS Anne-Marie, boast private dining rooms. However, the smaller barges without on-board dining, such as Anjodi and Emma, include meals at local restaurants and eateries each day.
It’s still your holiday
You’ll be surprised at the amount there is to see and do, even over the shorter distances. Mesmerising artwork, historic villages, ancient architecture and beautiful scenery await you with each sunrise. Fortunately, cruise companies give you plenty of free time to shape your own adventure.
France offers many famous regions too. You could find yourself browsing handicraft stores in Dijon, strolling flower-lined canals in Montargris, sampling local olive oil in Provence or visiting World War I monuments in Champagne.
Where should you cruise?
This may be the toughest question you face when you’re considering barge cruising in France. Every region has its own unique appeal.
If you love wine-touring, we recommend the Champagne voyage which includes a tour of Moet et Chandon.
Dreaming of the City of the Lights, dramatic rural scenery and royal chateaux? Jump on board the Paris to Burgundy barge cruise.
Alternatively, seek out revered artworks, signature French spirits and centuries-old buildings on the Gascony route.
Other regions include Alsace Lorraine, Upper Loire, Canal du Midi, Provence and the chateau-rich Loire Valley.
Published under license from Well Travelled.