Last Updated on December 11, 2021 by Jim Ferri
French riverboat cruises can be a wonderful vacation experience…
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
By Marcia Levin
The phrase “barging in France” has a melodic sound. As one who disembarked barely two weeks ago, the word melodic doesn’t even begin to describe the wonderful vacation experience a French barge cruise can be.
This was my second barge experience. The first was on the Thames, from Windsor to Oxford aboard a barge named Actief. That was 15 or 20 years ago and I loved the slow pace, relaxing atmosphere and a chance to explore the countryside.
This year’s version was aboard L’Impressionniste, which cruises France’s Lower Burgundy Canal and is part of the European Waterways fleet of riverboats and barges.
Getting On Board Our French Barge Cruise
Guests arrive in Paris and are a met at a centrally located hotel, the Westminster, where a member of the crew picks up guests and luggage, and in a large Mercedes van drives about three hours to where the riverboat is docked. Champagne and canapés – and a crew of six – greeted the seven of us who were passengers.
The riverboat sailed from Fleurey-sur-Ouche (the word Ouche means “canal” in French). Built as a Dutch cargo barge, it accommodates 12 passengers in a completely modern format.
Cabins are not terribly roomy – actually rather on the small side – but each boasts a bathroom, air conditioning unit, two beds (some doubles are available) and sufficient storage for your six-day French barge cruise.
The inside lounge is modern, reflecting the colors of Impressionist paintings and with comfy leather loungers and rich wood paneling. The comfortable outside deck – complete with hot tub – has a covered area and another open area. And with outstanding terrain passing by: beautiful hills and farmlands of the rich Burgundy countryside, one of the best places to visit in France, there’s much to see and enjoy.
I found most passengers spend time on deck of our riverboat. The Wi-Fi on deck is usually effective for checking news, email, etc. but there are no television sets on board.
Where Our We Going?
The barge covers less than 40 miles on the six-day itinerary. It glides at a slow pace through lock after lock, some 35 en route to Escommes, the termination point before we return to Paris. Some passengers disembark and walk for a few locks before re-boarding, while others cycle (bikes are part of the onboard amenities), and ride from lock to lock.
Through the course of the week on our French barge cruise we visit Clos de Vougeot, home of the Chevaliers du Tastevin, that has several wine tastings in two scenic, historic towns, and learn the differences between white Burgundys and my fave, the reds. We learn to sniff, swirl and slug it down and leave happy.
We also spend a day touring the charming town of Dijon, capital of Burgundy with a population of about 130,000 – the greater Dijon region of Burgundy encompasses about 250,000.
Another day includes lunch and a tour of the Abbaye de la Bussiere, followed by lunch in the Abbaye’s restaurant. The building is associated with Relais et Chateau and is a four-star property.
Another day we tour Beaune, including the Hotel Dieu Hospice dating back to 1443 and an area winery for another tasting.
And When Do You Eat on French Barge Cruises?
It seems the answer is “all the time” but in truth it is simply WHAT we eat, and the answer to that is magnificent! This is, after all, a French barge cruise.
Breakfast is scheduled from 8 to10 a.m. and includes cooked-to-order eggs, omelets, French toast or buffet style cereals, breads, cheeses, meats, juice and coffee. A bowl of fresh fruit, straight from area farms, is always available as are soft drinks and liquor.
Breads are delightful and our cast of characters show a special fondness for a white bread with poppy seeds.
Lunch is served at 12:30. One of the most popular lunches in the week is actually served buffet style and includes freshly made quiche, cold meats and cheese, salads and dessert. Other lunches include the area specialty, beef bourignon done to perfection.
Dinner are three course affairs: served at 7:30, the meal feature such entrees as beef filet, fish, rack of lamb, chicken, wondrous cheeses and desserts and two options for wine. Each course is served with an explanation from the chef.
Summing Up Our Cruise
French barge cruises are usually all-inclusive experiences. All transportation, tours, meals, liquor, even those bottles of water that can cost up to $3 each on a cruise ship, are included.
Yes, the pace is slow, and French river cruising is not for Type-A personalities who cannot disconnect, relax or enjoy the beauty of the countryside. For anyone else looking for a relaxing, culturally interesting and gastronomically satisfying experience, go barging.
If You Go:
All photos courtesy of European Waterways Ltd unless otherwise noted.