How do I choose the right barge cruise for me?!
Travelling on a barge cruise in France is something that many people dream of enjoying, but what happens when it comes to the crunch and you’re ready to live the dream? You’ve saved up the pennies, organised the leave, got the dog into a kennel, and talked the grandparents into looking after the kids (or you ARE the grandparents and you’ve released YOURSELVES from looking after the kids!) … now how in the heck do you choose which barge to book? Which region to cruise in? And now you actually think about it, what do you actually DO on a barge cruise?!!
We receive these inquiries every day, and I’ve been a specialist agent for the barge cruises for 20 years now – so I have all the answers!
Barges are categorised as First Class, Deluxe, Ultra-Deluxe and Ultra-Deluxe Plus. More about that later. However the first thing to remember is that across the board, the cuisine, wine, excursions and level of service are consistent on every barge – and all exceptional! The private chefs on each barge are carefully chosen for their experience in the industry, innovative cooking and obviously the ability to work in a small space! The meals they produce in those little galleys are simply mind-boggling. So whatever category barge you choose, you can rest assured that you will be absolutely blown away by the wonderful food!
Premium wines are served on board and these wines are painstakingly chosen by the crew (tough job!) from local domaines, many of whom you will never have heard of but all of whom are highly regarded in their region. Many have won awards or are renowned among wine experts. It’s a fabulous way to experience French wine because every single lunch and dinner of the week is accompanied by two different wines – red, white or rosé. In addition, there will always be at least one tasting a week as an excursion off the barge – often a superb experience at a local chateau, or meeting the families who have produced generations of amazing wine!
Service… well, the standard of service is that of a 5 star hotel – even if you are staying on a smaller 3 star barge! The crew are made up of different nationalities, always English speaking, always exceptionally experienced and focused on pampering their guests. My guests always comment that the crew “makes” the cruise – and that is absolutely true! Their warmth, humour and kindness is part of the experience which you leave at the end of the week holding close to your heart.
Excursions each day are diverse, informative (accompanied by the excellent tour guides that are part of the crew on every barge) and include visits to chateaux, wine tastings, local markets, exquisite little country villages and historic sites. Again, all of the excursions are designed with a great deal of thought and local knowledge by people who know the most interesting and exciting locations!
So whilst your choice of barge may be based on budget, you can be reassured that absolutely every one of these components of the cruise are the same across all of the barge fleet – of an exceptionally high standard, and guaranteed to make your cruise unforgettable!
The different barge categories are more fully explained on our website. You can have a read at at our “Barge Categories” page and this should help you get a picture of what these barges will offer in terms of space. Put simply, usually the barges are categorised based on cabin size, salon size and the level of luxury of the amenities on board.
Some people love a big cabin and bathroom; others see it as a place only to sleep and shower – whichever the case I would definitely say that most of your time is NOT spent in your cabin! There are too many wonderful things to experience outside! Some of the barges really are like a beautiful floating 5 star hotel – but the First Class categories are still beautifully appointed and absolutely charming. I hesitate to use the word “charming” because it has not escaped me that some travel writers use that term when what they actually mean is “dated” – that is DEFINITELY not the case here! When I say charming I mean beautiful polished wood panelling, lovely paintings, extra-comfortable salon and outdoor furniture, finest quality linens and toiletries, and so on.
So… when you are trying to narrow down your options, I would start with the following:
- Decide what budget you’d like to stick to and the level of luxury you are prepared to pay for. On our website you can see the prices from flipping through the categories and getting an idea of the price ranges in each category. On each individual barge page is a section with current pricing. These are in euros or US dollars. For our Australian customers, we convert at the current currency exchange rate at time of booking.
- You may also want to choose a bigger or smaller barge depending on how large a group you want to be part of.
Now which region? That is one of the toughest choices. ALL of the cruise itineraries, without exception, are absolutely beautiful. It is worth taking the time to flip through our guide to the regions and see if anything really stands out as being more “you” – are you very active and want lots of cycling and walking along towpaths? Are you a history buff and want lots of historic sites? Are you mad about wine and want to be in a famous wine region? All of these factors may influence your choice.
Whichever barge and cruise itinerary you choose, it is hard to describe the enchantment of cruising along one of the peaceful waterways of France – walking and cycling along quiet country paths; relaxing on deck as you pass through magnificent countryside, past little villages and hilltop castles; enjoying a glass of outstanding local wine and attentive crew members checking on your every need!
I’m passionate about barging for many reasons, but especially because it is one of the most enjoyable and authentic ways to see the different regions of France. The barges carry a very special and unique ambience which ensures that you enjoy the week from the first moment you step on board. One of the things that ‘make’ a barge cruise is the crew; their extraordinary knowledge of the region they operate in, and their focus on the guests to ensure that they have an exceptional holiday. It’s the little surprises they provide, such as appearing on deck with a yummy pre-lunch aperitif, or diverting to a special place that is not necessarily on the itinerary, but turns out to be an amazing sight or experience, that make a cruise even more special. I also love the feeling of soaking up the countryside and life on the canal, as I walk or cycle on the towpath every day. And of course, the food and wine are always superb!
If you still can’t decide which cruise you’d like to do, please give us a call or drop us an email! We have been on all of the barges in our fleet and can give very specific advice on each of them!