Luxury Barge Cruises in France
Have you been thinking about exploring Europe by ship and are you looking for a luxurious experience that you will never forget? Then I have something for you: How about barge cruises in France?
I was recently invited by European Waterways to join them on a barge cruise in the Champagne region in France, and it was my favorite cruise experience so far. We were only seven passengers on board the Panache, a remodeled freight barge that offered all the amenities of a 5-star hotel.
For six days, we were spoiled with delicious food, charming views of the rolling vineyards, and exquisite local wines and champagnes.
What to Expect from a Barge Cruise in France
Most European Waterways barges have room for 6-24 passengers, so your barge cruise experience will be much more intimate than on a larger vessel.
Amenities and Service
Our barge, the Panache, offers all the amenities and service of a 5-star hotel. The host and hostess spoil you without being obtrusive, bring drinks and treats, remember preferences and special requests.
The cabins on board the Panache were spacious and smartly designed to store all our belongings. Our bathroom was equally roomy with two sinks and a large shower. On the main deck, we had the dining room, living room, and a fully stocked bar. Outside, you can choose to relax on either a dining table, sun chairs or in the jacuzzi.
Most barge cruise itineraries focus on short distances on smaller canals, so you can get to know a specific region within a country. This allows you to explore some hidden treasures and get to experience the area more intimately as you travel only 10-20 miles per day at about 3-6 miles per hour.
Food and Drinks
The food on our barge cruise in France was simply superb. Our chef Holly managed 2 Michelin star restaurants before becoming a barge cruise chef, and he treated us to some delectable dishes.
Breakfast was an assortment of fresh bread, pastries, platters of deli meat and cheeses, fruits and a selection of cereal. You can also order eggs, omelets and whatever your heart desires to let you start your day off right.
For lunch, Holly prepared a 3-course meal, an appetizer, a main and a selection of French cheeses and dinner consisted of a 4-course meal with appetizer, main, cheese board, and dessert.
Lunch and dinner were paired with a neverending flow of first-class French wines, and you also had access to a fully stocked top shelf bar, where you could either mix your drinks or ask the host/hostess to fix a drink for you.
You can read my full article on why this is the perfect epicurean adventure here.
Each day, we would go on a small excursion, either in the morning or the afternoon. These day trips vary depending on which country/region you visit.
As we were in the Champagne, we visited 2 Champagne Houses (including tour and tasting), toured a stunning family château, explored several quaint French villages, paid our respects at the grave of Dom Perignon, and visited the cathedral of Reims, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Most excursions only lasted for 2-4 hours, so we had time to relax and enjoy the amenities of the boat on our barge cruise in France.
Typical Day on a Barge Trip in France
8:00 AM to 10:00 AM: Get up and have a delicious breakfast.
10:00 AM to 12:30 PM: Excursion to a Champagne house, where you learn about Champagne production, grape varieties and the history of the bubbly delicacy. Of course, you will have the chance to sample some and if you like, buy some for your collection.
12:30 PM to 2:00 PM: Delicious 3 course lunch on board the Panache.
2:00 PM to 5:30 PM: Cruising for 10-20 miles, passing through several locks on the way. You can take one of the complimentary bikes and ride on the bike path that follows the canal, relax in the jacuzzi, read or take a nap.
5:30 PM to 7:00 PM: After docking, explore the local village, go shopping or enjoy a glass of wine at the local restaurant.
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM: Chef Holly treats you to a 4-course meal, from traditional French cuisine to some dishes with a unique and innovative culinary twist.
9:00 PM to 10:30 PM (or later): Grab a drink from the bar and watch the stars or mingle with the other guests.
What is the difference between Barge Cruising and River Cruising
One of the most significant differences between barge cruising and river cruising is the number of passengers. Most European river cruise ships can host up to 200 passengers, but barge cruises usually have less than 20 passengers. Our boat, the Panache, has space for 12 passengers and six crew members. This gives your barge trip a more personalized feel than a regular river cruise, where you are just one of many passengers.
Another big difference is the itinerary. Most European river cruises cover large distances on the main waterways of Europe, stopping in iconic cities like Prague, Vienna or Budapest. You might pass through 3-4 countries on your 1-week river cruise. It is an excellent way if you want to see as much as you can in as little time as possible.
A barge cruise takes a different approach. Most canal barge cruises in France and other countries only focus on one small region within a country. On our trip through the Champagne region, we went from Château-Thierry to Châlons-en-Champagne, a distance of less than 100 km (60 miles) on the Marne river. We stopped in small French villages and towns and got a feel for the region, the local cuisine and of course its specialty, the Champagne.
Best Canal Barge Cruises in France
Alsace-Lorraine is the border region between Germany and France and gives you a unique cultural experience. The canal passes through steep valleys and several tunnels which make this barge cruise a unique experience.
Bordeaux is one of the oldest wine producing areas in France, and they certainly have perfected their craft over those past centuries. This barge cruise takes you around some of the most iconic vineyards in the world, and you will learn more about the world of viticulture.
Burgundy is one of the most popular barge cruises in France. European Waterways has six barges that cruise the canals of Burgundy during the spring, summer, and fall. If you are a wine lover, this is an excellent choice for your barge cruise in France.
Canal-du-Midi gives you a more Mediterranean experience during your canal barge cruise. The beautiful Canal-du-Midi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site itself, and you can enjoy it on board of three luxury vessels.
The Champagne region is just a short 2-hour drive from Paris, and you will have a chance to explore some of the most recognizable Champagne Houses during this cruise. Walk down the Avenue de Champagne, after Champs Elysee the second most expensive street in France.
Gascony is an often overlooked region that not many tourists find themselves in, but this lets you experience a taste of the real France, along with fresh local delicacies, outstanding wines and more.
The Loire Valley is a perfect barge cruise destination, especially if you love castles, châteaux and wine (of course).
Paris is always a good idea, don’t you think? Some of the barge cruises in France start or end in the city of lights and give you a great excuse to add a few days in this spectacular city. Here are our recommendations for where to stay in Paris.
Picardy is one of the few canal cruises that passes through two countries, Belgium and France. The perfect journey for History buffs, this cruise will bring you closer to the battlegrounds of the Great War.
If you are looking for barge cruises in other countries, you can also cruise with European Waterways in Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Scottland, and Ireland.
Packing List for Barge Cruises in France
The dress code on the barge cruises in France is casual, but I recommend 1-2 dressier outfits. Most cruise itineraries include a dinner at a nice restaurant and there is also a Captain’s Dinner, where business casual is more appropriate than casual vacation wear. For the other days I recommend, shorts, summer dresses, and T-shirts, as well as comfortable walking shoes.
If you plan to ride the bike, walk, or run along the canal, I recommend that you bring some exercise appropriate clothes and footwear and also don’t forget your swimwear for the jacuzzi.
The evenings in Western Europe can get a little chilly, even in the summer, so I recommend a fleece sweater and for rainy days a raincoat.
Also, don’t forget your camera to capture some of your memories that you will make along the way.