When choosing a barge cruise, the different regions the barges operate in may have an influence on your decision. The UK barge cruises are limited to one region in each country; in England, the River Thames; in Ireland, the River Shannon; and in Scotland, the beautiful Caledonian Canal through the Great Glen between Inverness and Fort William. However, in France there are a number of different regions to choose from. Here is a brief summary about the most popular regions in France for barge cruising!
Upper Loire/Burgundy/Champagne: These regions in the northern parts of France boast some of the richest French history and an ancient wine trade that has given rise to some of the best wines in the world. The Medieval Dukes of Burgundy and Champagne left a wonderful legacy in the stunning architecture of their castles and palaces. There are many charming little villages, colourful markets and beautiful towns that made their fortune from the wine industry, such as Beaune and Dijon. If you are into wine, Champagne and the traditions and culture that grew in France as a result, these could be the regions for you! The magnificent countryside is a highlight. In Burgundy particularly there are unlimited opportunities for walking and riding along the towpath, which is not only a relaxing and peaceful way to see the scenery but also good for the waistline after all those beautiful meals!
The Canal du Midi is in the south of France and being so close to the Mediterranean means quite a different “feel” to that of the north of France – a warmer climate, bright sunshine, wonderful seafood and the countryside so beloved of the Impressionists. The Canal du Midi is busier that Burgundy’s more peaceful waterways, but also offers gorgeous little villages and sites long the route. The magical walled city of Carcassonne, one of France’s most famous historic sites, is on some of the cruise itineraries, along with the beautiful towns of Narbonne and Beziers. A different and delightful feature of the canal here is the “avenues” of plane trees along the waterways – although as you may have heard, many trees are being pulled out and replanted, be assured there are still plenty of beautiful stretches along the route for walking and riding!
Gascony is in the south west of France and is the area closest to the famous wine making region of Bordeaux. Whilst the barge cruises do not actually cruise through Bordeaux, this is a sublime city to spend a few days in pre- and post-cruise. As is the stunning “pink city” of Toulouse! The cruise route itself is truly off the beaten track and encompasses lush forests, beautiful countryside, lovely villages, ancient abbeys, exciting cuisine and of course those wonderful Bordeaux wines! It’s the quintessential “La France Profonde”, as the French say – traditional agricultural France away from the tourist hordes!
Alsace in the far north of France has spent a long and fascinating history being “swapped” between France and Germany – and as result, the culture and architecture are a fascinating mix. Some of France’s most beautiful towns and villages are in this region and the cruise route is particularly scenic, taking you away from the more frequented “touristy” areas. The cuisine is rich and varied and the cruises offer delicious wines from Alsace and nearby Burgundy. A stay in the city of Strasbourg with its colourful “Petite France” quarter is a highlight and the villages along the cruise route particularly charming. And for the engineers, a “lift” on the Arzviller boat lift is a huge thrill! One of our favourite cruise regions and well worth a visit if you have “done” other parts of France!