Category : Barge Cruise Reviews
Thank you to our guest writer, Ginny Blackwell, as she tell us about her first barge cruise. I don’t think it will be her last! Ginny is the owner of International Property Shares, and provides opportunities for people to own fractional shares in charming homes in France and Italy.
As I stepped aboard the Athos barge a week ago, I looked forward to visiting the Minervois region of southern France again, but in the slower, more luxurious way that a canal barge offers, one lazy bend of the canal after another. My family always thinks of this corner of the world as “home” since our family spent a year here in 2003 so our children could really master speaking French.
You may know that life in the Languedoc very much follows the seasons. As April sunshine warms the vines and new green buds appear, the hotel barges which have been dry docked since fall, begin preparing for the summer season. All the wood work is sanded and varnished, the interiors freshly painted, and the hull gets cleaned, sorted and readied for the barging season.
With helpful travel tips from Beth Hanson, owner of CanalBargeCruises.com, I tried not to over pack but to come prepared for any kind of weather: 2-3 pairs of pants, neutral colored tops with a variety of scarves to dress things up, a dress up outfit for the captain’s dinner, and a good raincoat in case of grey skies. One good thing to remember is that the Mediterranean wind is fairly constant in southern France.
My first impressions
What a beautiful barge! The Athos is 30 metres long with 5 en-suite cabins and open dining area/salon with large windows offering plenty of light. It also has as a full kitchen, living quarters for the crew and, of course, the deck where we lounged about a good deal of time. As we entered to drop off our bags, I could appreciate all the special touches: fresh flowers greeted us in each cabin as well as specialty chocolates and toiletries, the walls were bright and freshly painted for the season, champagne was chilling on the bar with candles lit for our first meal together. “Hmm- this is going to be fun!” I thought.
So many surprises!
FOOD: Hang onto your hats here because I have NEVER had more inspired and 5-star meals, one after another. If our first day’s menu doesn’t leave you pining for more, then nothing will! Sunday, April 3rd: Scallops with sweet potato and pea puree followed by pork belly with braised red cabbage and star anise puree, a choice of two cheeses (Valencay and Cantal) followed by the most delicious lemon and almond tart ever.
Each of our meals was paired with wines from the Languedoc region and either Mariana or Joueja, our two hostesses, explained their features and why they were chosen. For the first evening, a Chateau La Voulte Gasparet was paired with the scallop entree followed by a Chateau Ollieux Romanis, Cuvee Classique 2012.
CREW: One of the barges moored right next to the Athos smiled over at us and said, “You have one of the best crews on the Canal du Midi.” I couldn’t agree with him more! Our two hostesses, Mariana and Joueja, our tour guide Mathieu, top notch cook Emma and Captain Julian, worked seamlessly together as only people can with a shared vision and purpose. It was easy to see that they genuinely enjoyed each other as well as their work.
KNOWLEDGE: I am not typically one of those people who enjoys guided tours, preferring to discover things on my own . . or to fall asleep on deck with a book in hand. That said, spending ½ day each day with our light-hearted and knowledgeable tour guide, Mathieu, was one of the Athos barge highlights. Each evening he would show up after cocktails and before dinner to let us know the program for the following day. Some of the must-see visits included Carcassonne and Minerve where we heard a graphic depiction of medieval life during the Cathar era. But we also learned about how to distinguish between Roman and Gothic architectural features, how one flood changed the course of the Aude river as well as the course of history for Capestang, a former port city. On a lighter note, we saw the secret mixing chambers of Nouilly Prat vermouth and learned some tactical moves to win a game of petanque (boules).
FELLOW TRAVELERS: I think my favorite memories in life are those where you’ve just plain had fun with those around you . . and laughed and joked a lot. This was certainly the case with our group of 5 passengers: Dan and Victoria from Sydney, Australia and Sophie and Dan from Denver, Colorado and me. We swapped travel stories and photos, played a wine board game after dinner, knocked down quite a few afternoon beers as well as enjoying the quiet and relaxing beauty of life along the canal.
THE ATHOS JOURNEY: from Argelliers to Marseillan (including the six locks of Beziers). If you are looking for a unique way to be pampered from the minute you arrive and yet still have plenty of time to quietly soak up a week of slow relaxing travel, don’t hesitate to book a French barge canal trip on the engineering marvel of the Canal du Midi, even as early as April. There’s something to be said for having the canal to yourself.
Take it from me, the Athos journey is really wonderful, an A+cruise.”
Does this whet your appetite for a barge cruise aboard Athos. Whenever you’re ready to consider a barge cruise, we would be happy to help.
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988
Thank you Jeff and Linda Williams for your review of the barge Saint Louis
“We had the delightful chance to experience great weather and the wonderful scenery and hospitality of our hosts, Peter and Wendy Carrington on the deluxe barge Saint Louis in September of 2014. We had resisted booking conventional cruises or even larger river cruises because of the number of passengers and the resulting need for standardization of itineraries. When we learned about the Saint Louis we were attracted to the fact that it takes only six passengers and allows for considerable flexibility of itineraries and meals. All services are included in the fee. Every day included a few hours of gentle canal cruising and a guided tour of the local countryside. An eight passenger Mercedes van was used for the daily excursions as well as for picking passengers up at both ends of the cruise. Each day we were offered some suggestions for the excursions and we could opt to come or not or to modify it.
Beth Hanson, our booking agent, contacted us some time before the cruise began, asking for any food allergies or preferences and conveyed this information to Peter, who accommodated all our requests if at all possible. This included preferences for drinks. The open bar was available at any time and every lunch and dinner was accompanied with two different local wines chosen specifically to compliment the dishes being served.
It is hard to describe adequately the level of service Peter and Wendy provide. Wendy is a true artist in arranging beautiful place settings for every meal, including breakfasts. I think every meal had different linens and color schemes. Peter is a talented chef, who provided a wide range of fine French cuisine using local food items. Every day he made an early morning run to a different local boulangerie for fresh croissants and bread and some time each day he or Wendy shopped for fresh food. One afternoon he climbed a hill where he knew borage flowers grew that he used to decorate the evening dessert! Nothing was left to chance in creating the gourmet meals.
Speaking of special service, my camera battery charger stopped working on the first day and I was afraid that I would not be able to take any more photographs, but Wendy offered to look for a universal charger that might work. She shopped for it while we were enjoying our daily cruising and would not even accept money to reimburse her expenses! That is what I call going above and beyond.
Peter and Wendy had only recently taken over hosting the barge cruise, which they had been planning on doing but they had to move their date ahead due to health problems with Barbara, the wife of the former proprietor. I am sure they were on a steep learning curve that was accelerated when Minnis, their regular pilot and tour guide also suffered a health issue. Tim, an experienced barge pilot, was brought aboard and while there were a few minor glitches with learning the specifics of the Saint Louis, Peter and Wendy calmly managed to maintain the serenity of the cruise. They even had a French TV camera crew filming a documentary for a whole day. I am sure they were like the proverbial ducks, smoothly gliding along while paddling furiously under the surface, none of which was visible to the casual observer.
They really seem to enjoy people and to providing the very best possible experience for their guests. While the price may be more than equivalent time spent on larger vessels, the value is exceptional for anyone who appreciates being treated to a slow paced glimpse of luxury in a beautiful part of France.
Book ahead because this experience is contagious.” Jeff and Linda Williams, Canada, September 2014
Review of barge cruise on first class Luciole in Northern Burgundy
Culinary delights await passengers on board deluxe Esperance on the Canal du Midi
Review of barge cruise on deluxe L’Impressionniste in southern Burgundy wine region
Whenever you’re ready to go barging, we’re ready to help. Happy travels,
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988
“The whole trip on the barge Luciole was wonderful, and we were blessed with beautiful weather.
We were met in Paris – how convenient!
Anna met us with the van at the Hotel Mansart at the appointed hour and we left for Clamecy, stopping on the way to pick up a family of 3 in Auxerre. There were 11 passengers total, a wonderful mix of people, all well-traveled and all Americans, except for the couple and their older daughter from Australia. Too bad I didn’t get to practice my not-very-good French, but we did that in Paris. As it turns out, the owner, John Liley, was on board for a few days – he said he liked to captain the boat, and also give Francisco, the captain, a break. It was great to meet him and learn a little about the history of the Luciole and barging in France in general.
“I can’t say enough about the crew.”
Captain Francisco is friendly and engaging, Anna is a charming and knowledgeable tour guide, George and Susie, our hosts, are fun loving and always there to help, Mark is an amazing chef and Tom, the matelot (deck hand) is very cute and friendly. I miss them all. Mark prepared wonderful meals – everything was delicious and beautifully presented. I’m slowly withdrawing from enjoying all the wines and cheeses we had. It was an added bonus to learn a little bit about all the food and wine we were served. The set-up is nice – buffet breakfast and lunch, with passengers seated at 3 individual tables, and dinner all together at one long table. Susie always did something intricate folding the napkins :). The Captain’s dinner, with Francisco and Anna, on our last night was wonderful.
“The Nivernais Canal is lovely.”
We enjoyed walking along the path and meeting some of the lock tenders. (I got to steer the barge! It’s hard work!) The flowers were still beautiful, though the sunflower fields (there are so many!) were about done. The days flowed smoothly, with time to enjoy visiting/reading/just relaxing on the sun deck, walking the paths by the side of the barge, the leisurely meals and the interesting tours at all our afternoon/overnight stops.
“The accommodations are well thought out.”
“The beds and linens are very comfortable. The space is very well organized and my friend Gail and I had room for all our things. The bathroom, though small, was clean with plenty of big towels and nice amenities. The cabins and bathrooms were cleaned and made up every morning. One of the couples experienced plumbing problems with their bathroom, and John and the whole crew worked hard to repair it, without disrupting the rest of the passengers’ enjoyment. The couple were temporarily moved to another cabin. That was the only glitch in the trip (that I know of, at least.)
New Friends and Memories
“The passengers all exchanged email addresses at the end of the trip, and one of them has already shared some pictures. Gail and I ended this memorable vacation with 4 days in Paris. We both agree this was a nice way to finish the trip and “come down” from our Luciole experience.
“Thank you, Beth, for recommending this wonderful experience and for all your help and guidance in planning and organizing it. I am having fun sharing all this with friends and family, and will happily recommend any interested friends to contact you. Now it is time to get back to the “real world.”
Nancy W – August 2014
Beth’s note: Thank you, Nancy, for taking the time to share your experience on board Luciole. We wish you and Gail many more happy travels with lovely people and special memories.
Would you like to go barging on Luciole? Whenever you’re ready, I’m here to make the process easy and enjoyable from booking to boarding.
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988
Why do I like the barge Esperance so much? As well as totally admiring and respecting the owner, Captain Mathias Gilles, it is because of the rave reviews I get when my clients return from their barge trips with comments such as:
“The excursions were wonderful! A little bit of something different every day. And our guide Marion was the best!” From Monica V, September 2013
“We loved the barge and crew! The crew was totally professional and at the same time totally engaging.” From David A, October 2013
But the comment I hear the most is:
“We loved the barge and crew. We are convinced that Mathias is the best barge captain anywhere on the planet, and Joe’s cooking was to die for. We did not expect the food to be as superb as it was.” From Judy D, September 2013
And so it is my pleasure to highlight the chef, cuisine and wines of this very special barge cruise on Esperance.
One of Captain Mathias’ many talents is the table setting for each dining experience. His sense of style and joie de vivre are impeccable.
Barge Cooking Demonstrations
Chef Joe is not only a fabulous chef, his personality is warm and welcoming. Cooking demonstrations? You bet! The open kitchen on Esperance invites guests’ participation and conversation.
Canal barge cruising and local wine pairing
Local wines from Languedoc abound in grape varieties and blends making them very diverse and interesting. Pairing with the food is an art practiced on board Esperance.
For more information and to book this barge cruise which cruises on the Canal du Midi, please contact us.
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988
Gosh, I love my job when I receive glowing reports from clients who return from their barge cruises.
The 12 passenger deluxe barge, L’Impressionniste, continues to get rave reviews for its cruise through the Valley of the Ouche in Southern Burgundy. Take a look at these unedited reviews:
“I’m sure no one ever celebrated a 55th wedding anniversary in a more beautiful, caring, environment. The staff became a part of “our family” for the week, and the sun smiled happily down on all our activities.”
“We returned from Paris yesterday and I wanted to send along a big “thank you” for a truly wonderful barge cruise.
“Beth – we just got back to the Westminster and have had a joyous barge trip! The crew and passengers were outstanding. Fine food, fine wine, fine service and fine people. We couldn’t have asked for better…oops! Weather could have been better. We had cold and rain but it didn’t slow anyone down. Fantastic time! Thank you!” J and D
“Barging through the Burgundy valley has always been on my bucket list. Thanks to all involved, from Beth who helped us with our reservations to the barge crew for making the experience a wonderful and memorable one for me and my wife.” Ken N.
“The service was excellent. I swear they washed the windows and port holes daily. When we asked for a napkin folding demo, they jumped at the opportunity and were always accommodating to each passenger’s needs. Unbelievably beautiful French countryside and smaller towns/winery visited.” Alice N.
“The barge cruise and vacation were absolutely superb, wine and food were on a par with a 5 star hotel and so was the Hotel Westminster. We met wonderful people and we are going to get together with two couples in July who live nearby! As a conclusion, everything was super and all the connections worked smoothly. Thank you so much for organizing this trip for us !” P and P
Contact us today to book your cabin or charter on L’Impressionniste.
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988