Why a Luxury Barge Cruise Should Be on Your Bucket List


By Rose Palmer


ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Travel writer Rose Palmer shares her barge cruising experiences with European Waterways. Listen here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Spreaker, PodBean, SoundCloud, or Facebook.

I recently returned from my second barge cruise with European Waterways and I would happily do more. That’s saying a lot because I normally do not repeat my travel destinations. The world is big, and my bucket list is long, so I always have somewhere new I want to discover.

But a barge cruise checks off so many of my favorite boxes that I have become addicted.

Both of my barge cruises were in France – one on the Burgundy Canal and one in the Loire Valley on the Canal de Briare. The French countryside is crisscrossed with an extensive network of canals that were started in the 17th century. Before planes, trains, and automobiles, these canals were the primary transportation conduit for moving goods across the country and especially into Paris.

Today, these canals are used for recreation purposes and European Waterways has become an expert at providing a unique canal cruise offering. The company has 12 barges throughout the many regions in France as well as itineraries and boats on other waterways throughout Europe.

A canal barge cruise is unlike any other cruising experience you may have already done. The setting is intimate, and the service is extremely personal and attentive. On my Burgundy Canal cruise on the La Belle Epoque, there were only five guests even though the capacity was twelve, with 6 crew members taking care of all our needs. On my recent trip to the Loire Valley on the Renaissance, we had only four guests even though there were cabins for eight, and four crew members.

The low guest-to-staff ratio is one of my favorite things about a barge cruise. It means we got to know each other as individuals. It didn’t seem like I was being waited on, but rather that I was being taken care of by a good friend – a friend who was hosting me in their home, showing me all their favorite local spots and sharing their best family recipes. By the end of the week, I felt like I was saying goodbye to family.

As you may imagine, the barges are not large, but I found the cabins and the public spaces to be sufficiently roomy and luxuriously appointed. My cabins on both barges were quite comfortable for two people and the bathrooms were larger than some I have had on ocean-going vessels.

The whole top deck was devoted to indoor and outdoor spaces for the guests. There were sitting, dining, and lounging areas both inside and out, and a hot tub on the deck for a relaxing soak if desired.

When we were cruising, I liked to lounge on a deck chair and just watch the countryside roll by. The barge moved very slowly down the canal, and I felt my pulse and heart rate slow down to match the pace of the boat – it was total relaxation.

Other times, I would take one of the bikes and pedal on the towpath alongside the canal while the barge cruised on. The biking was level and easy and when I had enough, I just got back on the barge at one of the many locks that the boat had to pass through.

  • Biking alongside the Renaissance barge-Rose Palmer
    Biking alongside the Renaissance barge-Rose Palmer

Along with a few hours of cruising, each day also offered a unique excursion in the area. European Waterways prides itself on putting together itineraries with bespoke experiences you won’t find anywhere else. The sites they pick are in general not the ones that large groups of tourists will flock to. Yet they were interesting and provided a unique perspective on the history and the culture that I could not have discovered any other way. I liked that our tours were always private, and for the most part, we seemed to be the only people present.

We also had special events that were curated just for our group. In Burgundy, we had lunch with the Count and Countess de Taisne. The Count and Countess graciously opened up their private home to us so we could see what a real, lived-in, historic chateau looks like (it is not like a museum). They also treated us to a wonderful lunch and delightful conversation.

My favorite experience in the Loire Valley was discovering the life and talent of artist Rosa Bonheur. Rosa was the foremost female artist of the mid-19th century and was renowned for her lifelike animal paintings. Her fame faded with time, but she is slowly regaining recognition again. Our group toured her home and studio which is now a museum, and also had an amazing lunch in what had been Rosa’s private salon.

This being France, a barge cruise would not be complete without touring a winery or two or three. I learned all about the intricacies of making Champagne, Chablis, and Sancerre wines. Of course, the tours also included a good amount of wine tasting.

Wine also played a big role in the daily menu on board. Each lunch and dinner came with a different red and white wine that complemented that specific meal. With each wine, we got a short presentation about its origins and flavor profile. Even if you are not a big wine drinker, just a small taste of these high-quality wines will be a treat for the pallet.

Then there was the food – oh – so – much – really – good – food. We were the recipients of fresh, in-season ingredients prepared by the hands of a chef that created art on a plate for all the senses. There wasn’t a single dish that wasn’t delicious. And because this is France, dinner also included a cheese course, my favorite.

European Waterways promotes their barges as luxury floating hotels, but I think they are much better than that. For a week it was my floating luxury castle with someone else doing all the work for me and pampering me like a queen. It doesn’t get much better than that!

More: www.EuropeanWaterways.com

Rose Palmer believes that life is a patchwork of experiences. Traveling the world is one of her deepest passions which continues to add to her ever-growing quilt of life experiences. She likes to focus her traveling lens on art, architecture, history, nature, and soft adventure with a touch of luxury. Rose shares her award-winning stories and photos on her blog www.Quiltripping.com.  

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Rose Palmer believes that life is a patchwork of experiences.

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