There are so many hotel barges cruising on the waterways of France these days that it can be very difficult to know which one will really suit you. You are spending valuable holiday dollars so you want to be sure you have made the perfect choice!
I have been working with the barge companies in France for 14 years now, and luxury hotel barges have become the main focus of our company. I have cruised on most of them so I know them all well and my first step is always to help my clients choose which barge is right for them!
So… here are my tips for how to choose the best barge to suit your needs and interests!
You may have an idea already of the region you most want to visit; if not, do a bit of research about the different areas that offer barge cruises (Burgundy, Canal du Midi, Gascony, Loire Valley) – climate and highlights and “feel” of each region are the things our guests ask about the most.
Of course budget is vital to anyone’s holiday plans. The most important thing to keep in mind when deciding on a Deluxe, First class or Standard category barge is that on every barge the standard of cuisine, wines and excursions will be the same – very high! Across the fleet, every barge aims to maintain a very high standard that is consistent with other vessels, regardless of category. Where the barge categories differ is in the standard of amenities offered and most particularly, in cabin size. On a Deluxe barge you can be assured of having a spacious cabin; on standard barges you may be very cosy!
Some Deluxe barges may have it all; large sundecks, big picture windows in a spacious salon, roomy cabins and bathrooms, Jacuzzis, sometimes even a small pool. First Class will have some of these; Standard, usually more compact but still charming!
But remember – ALWAYS exceptional food, wine and excursions on every barge!
Yes, it’s time consuming, but once you have narrowed down region and budget, take the time to read through the itineraries of each barge you are considering. One barge may have a highlight that you’ve always wanted to see while another may miss it out. You may love walking and cycling; usually we mention if there is good walking and cycling along the towpaths, on each of the specific barge pages. Your interest may be medieval history so you want to follow in the footsteps of the Dukes of Burgundy in Dijon. You may want to taste lots of wine, so see if there is more than one tasting on the itinerary (more than the wonderful wines you taste with each meal!). You may love a country market; see if there is a visit included during the week on board. The images of itinerary highlights on each barge page on our website may also help!
Pick Up and Drop Off Points
This can be important depending on the rest of your holiday plans. Many barges pick up and drop off in Paris but in the south and south west the rendezvous points may be Toulouse, Bordeaux, Narbonne, Beziers, Montpellier. Some of these, such as Toulouse and Bordeaux, receive direct flights from London, Paris and other major European cities. However some of the smaller towns such as Beziers will require a train trip to get to them.
Most of the barges that operate in France are owned and managed by scrupulous and professional companies and independent owners. The barges we represent and are presented on our website are all owned by people and companies we know, and are impeccably managed. But if you are in doubt, ask us!
You may not know your fellow passengers in advance, especially if you have booked one cabin on board a barge with five or six cabins! Other guests may be from all over the world – Australia, England, USA, Canada (these are the most common). We find generally the people who choose this type of holiday are fairly like-minded and enjoy the same things – that’s why they chose it, after all! However if you don’t want to be sharing wit