Being the international traveler that I am, I was kind of shocked when I first heard about luxury barging in France. I was shocked because I never heard of it before! As I learned more about this unbelievable way to see France (and other parts of Europe) at a much more relaxed and intimate pace, my curiosity was definitely piqued.
It is no mistake that I am not a typical “cruise” person. But, the Barge Lady Cruises/ European Waterways are anything but typical when it comes to exploring places off the beaten tourist path. Think a luxury hotel on water, with a small group of guests (the average barge accommodates 6-12 people), stopping along in new towns each and every day, all while moving at a very modest 4mph for a one week journey. Basically the exact opposite of a Caribbean cruise with thousands of people aboard a massive ship.
My trip aboard the L’Art de Vivre barge (translation: the art of living) included a full week of exploring Northern Burgundy in France in all its glory the last week of August. What’s nice is you know the general itinerary for the week when you book your trip, so I was well aware of most of the fun in store for before we left. Here’s a link to our itinerary for the week. Our adventure began with pick-up in Paris and a chauffeured connection about 2 hours south to Auxerre. Once we arrived at our beautiful barge, we kicked-off with a champagne toast with majestic Auxerre in the background and then we leisurely got settled into our new quarters for the week.
The barge itself is very well-kept and cozy, and I never felt stuck or claustrophobic (which I have felt before on those large cruise liners). You are able to move freely about the space and really only spend a few hours each day cruising through the locks and canals, which in of itself is so fun to watch and experience. I was usually found sitting on the deck with a latte or some kind of beverage in hand, taking in the breathtaking views and enjoying the quiet stillness around me.
Each day a 3-4 hour excursion was planned off the barge. These excursions are included in the cruise and you are chauffeured to the site by the captain, who also serves as the tour guide! Our captain/tour guide Matthew was absolutely exceptional with his knowledge and made touring through Burgundy so much fun. Here’s a quick summary of the excursions included in our trip; a visit to a limestone quarry and a sparkling wine tasting in a cave, visiting the famous Auxerre Cathedral and free time exploring the cobblestone streets of the lovely town, a grand cru wine tasting in Chablis and a visit to Domaine Laroche, a visit to the town of Vezelay, where both the town and its 11th century Romanesque Basilica of St Magdalene are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites and lastly, visiting the private Chateau of Bazoches. What I absolutely loved is that none of these excursions felt rushed or too heavy on the history and touring part. It was a nice balance of being with the group and getting an understanding of where we were, but also enough free time to roam and do our own thing.
Back on the barge, the rest of the day is yours for whatever it is you might choose; relaxing and reading a book, going for a bike ride or walk along the towpath that is parallel to the canal, sitting on deck and taking in the scenery, chilling in the hot tub, or taking a nap in your cabin. The options are endless and there is no pressure to do any one of the above; you make what you want from your trip on board. This is also something I loved; not having to commit to any one thing in particular and just doing whatever I wanted each day.
Because I love being active, I went for a bike ride pretty much every single day (the bikes are stored on board so you can use them at any time). And, these bike rides were hands-down, the best bike rides of my entire life! Why you ask? There are many reasons; the flat, paved towpath that follows the entire canal route the whole week, the fact that there were hardly any other people around, you don’t have to worry about cars or stoplights, the absolutely gorgeous views out in nature and silence! You can imagine as someone who lives in the heart of downtown Chicago, I truly appreciated every single one of these reasons. I jokingly called myself the Tour de France each day.
There was another huge reason for my daily bike rides; the sheer volume of unbelievable food and wine I was consuming on a daily basis! Being vegetarian, I was a bit nervous of how the food on the trip was going to be and work out for me. And let me just tell you, there is absolutely NOTHING to worry about, no matter what your dietary restriction. The chef on board can absolutely accommodate whatever your needs are, and quite honestly, will definitely exceed them. Every single meal I had was beyond words; beautifully and artfully presented, imaginative and absolutely delicious. Not to mention our Hungarian chef Robert, after learning how much I like spicy food, went out of his way to even prepare an Indian meal for me one day! Wow, talk about stellar and personal service. Also, Kat, our hostess, explained in great detail the lovely selection of white and red wine at each meal, as well as the large selection of cheeses we were delighted with each evening. Here’s just a highlight reel of some of the unbelievable food, wine and cheese from the week. And, exactly the reason I needed to go for 2-3 hour bike rides each day!
Overall, it’s hard to put into words what a wonderful week this was. It was rejuvenating, relaxing, fun, adventurous, beautiful, welcoming and amazing. I absolutely recommend you look into Barge Lady Cruises and find an itinerary that makes you really excited (truthfully, they all sound awesome to me and I want to go on all of them, ha ha). It’s the perfect way to explore an area of France (or Europe) that you most likely would not have visited on your own and it’s a way to see some quaint places that are not on the tourist map. It was a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) if you ask me and was just the getaway I needed.
After returning from this exceptional trip, I was asked a lot of the same questions (and from messages I received on social media while on my trip), so I thought I’d do a little Q&A here to help with some of the most frequently asked questions.
What does the star rating mean? Is a 3 star barge not as good as a 5 star barge?
Quoting the Barge Lady Cruises website here, “All barges have been rated based on a star system, which is modeled after a hotel rating star system. The higher the star, the bigger the cabins and more amenities on the barge. It is important to note that the service, cuisine, daily excursions and overall experience remains comparable across the board. The star system is helpful in establishing a budget and setting expectations with regards to cabin size and barge amenities.” It’s true; everything about the entire trip really is 5 star luxury and next-level. Do not let a 3 star rating deter you from joining a trip. Our trip was actually a 3 star and as you can see, exceptional in every way possible.
Is this a good trip for families? For kids?
Absolutely! What’s great is that you can even charter your own private barge for just you and your family/friends. I’d love to do this one day and bring my parents, brother, sister-in-law and nephew. The crew is absolutely accommodating to all age groups and I think this would be a family trip for the books.
Did you ever get bored? Was there enough to do?
Before my trip, I was a bit unsure of how the days would go, so I brought a book to read, a journal to write in, some magazines and of course had my smartphone (there is wifi available on board). I think in total I read like 20 pages in my book, never wrote in my journal, didn’t even touch one of the magazines and used my phone on board only to share on Instagram! My point being; I was never bored. Ever. I’m also the kind of person that loves to take in my environment and just relax, so it’s not to say that you couldn’t read, write, etc. I just chose to spend my time reveling in the gorgeous French countryside.
What was the highlight of your trip?
As you can see from all the photographs of the scenery, our excursions and the delectable food, there was no shortage of fun to be had. But, what made this trip truly stand-out was the incredible crew. Every single person from the pilot Pierre Yves, to our captain Matthew to our chef Robert and the hostess Kat, they each made this trip so personable and memorable. The care and consideration they showed toward each one of us was beyond what I could have imagined. I was really sad to say goodbye to them on the last day because I felt I had developed a great connection with each of them. In this day and age of less personal connections, it was so heartwarming to be greeted and treated with such respect and consideration. Hats off to this crew who worked so hard day and night for our comfort and enjoyment. They were definitely the highlight of the entire trip!
It’s hard to capture everything I experienced and felt during this trip of a lifetime. I hope I’ve been able to convey even a small portion of how much I truly enjoyed my time on the barge. I look forward to my next adventure with Barge Lady Cruises and I hope you’ll consider it now too!
Please Note: While this post is in collaboration with Barge Lady Cruises, all opinions are my own.