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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
Perhaps you’ve seen the ads on television, with the large, stately vessels floating along a scenic European river, and you think to yourself, “that sounds like a lovely, relaxed way to see Europe.” And you would be right!
Then you hear about barge cruises on the canals, and wonder, “what is the difference?”
It’s like comparing apples and oranges – they are both delicious. I often say a barge cruise is like being welcomed into a charming boutique country inn and a river cruise is like staying in a fine, elegant hotel. I hope this information helps you decide which is the best cruise for you and your interests. Or, like some of our clients, they do both and “vive la difference!”
Features of a canal barge cruise
- An intimate, personalized experience with 4-21 passengers and friendly crew
- Cruise on scenic man-made canals through small villages, vineyards and pastoral countryside covering approximately 50 miles
- Canals are excellent for walking and biking while the barge is floating along – bicycles provided
- Customized itineraries for private charters are gladly provided
- Barge trips are 6 nights, usually starting on Sunday or Saturday
- Everyone dines together at one table with one menu, creating a festive, homey atmosphere
- Often operated by the owners who are captain and chef and have put their heart and soul into your barge cruising experience
- Small group excursions allow for private visits to savor local culture
- Prices range from $3,500 – $8,000
Enjoy browsing our website with 40+ canal barge cruises to choose from.
Features of a river cruise
- With an average of 130 passengers, you can socialize with a diverse group
- Cruise on large rivers with moorings in river towns
- Walking and biking are possible only when the ship is moored. Some ships provide bicycles.
- River cruises are 7-21 nights and can cover many miles in several countries
- Dining is similar to an excellent gourmet restaurant
- A broad overview of many cities and sights
- Operated by an English speaking, multi-national crew
- Often a selection of excursions to choose from
- On excursions, passengers are typically divided into groups and transported to sights on buses
- Prices start at $3,000 per person and vary by stateroom category and season.
Features of both canal barge cruises and river cruises
- Guided excursions including entrance fees are included. There may be optional excursions available with a supplement, i.e, hot air ballooning, golf, etc.
- All meals and wines are included (some half board plans are available on small charter barges). Barge cruises and some river cruises offer an open bar.
- Dietary restrictions are gladly accommodated.
Ready to go barging or river cruising? Contact us today to experience the unparalleled beauty and experience of a vacation on the water, with all the individual attention of a personalized, and personal-sized, canal barge cruise or elegant river cruise.
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988
Did you ever think about the history of the canals that meander through the French countryside? Created by human labor, these channels were produced through human perseverance and ingenuity in days when traversing wilder countryside was possible only by rugged pathways or old Roman roads. A good day’s travel was measured in tens of miles, not hundreds, as it is today. The waterways we view from the decks of a Burgundy canal barge, with the eyes of a tourist or pleasure cruiser, were historically created for the critical purposes of commerce and communication.
Take, for example, the Canal du Nivernais, or Nivernais Canal, in northern Burgundy. It was begun in 1784 in order to aid in the floating of lumber from the Morvan National Park to Paris. There are 110 locks and three tunnels along its 180 kilometer (110 mile) route – which makes it a fascinating waterway to traverse from a touristic perspective, but must have been extremely difficult to design and build with the limited technologies available more than two centuries ago. Over the years, the Nivernais Canal contributed significantly to the economic development of the valleys of the Yonne River through which it flows.
Between Auxerre and Clamecy, you float through lush countryside, with daily excursions to northern Burgundy’s highlights including:
- Auxerre, the bustling market town on the Yonne River
- Burgundy wine village of Chablis with wine tasting in a charming wine cave
- Pretty medieval town of Noyers
- Hilltop artisan village of Vezelay with sweeping views and the Basilica of Mary Magdelene
- Chateau de Bazoches, fascinating home of the Marquis de Vauban, France’s great military engineer
From your vantage point on the barge or when walking and biking the towpaths, you will see curved stone bridges, vineyard vistas and bucolic pastures. Pretty villages dot the landscape inviting you to explore.
The important mercantile history of the Nivernais Canal with its heritage and beauty adds to the charm of a barge cruise along this remarkable canal. Ready for an historic adventure?
Contact us today to book your cruise on the Nivernais Canal.
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988
You’ve made plans to take a barge cruise! How exciting! The reservations have been made, the dates confirmed and now you need to figure out the really hard part.
What do I pack for my barge cruise? Feel free to download our Suggested Packing List to make it easy.
Because limited space is available on a barge cruise, it helps to choose items you can use more than once. Planning your wardrobe around one or two colors will allow each item to be used in several different ways. A neutral color like black or beige will allow lots of different looks by adding different colored tops.
First decide how casual or dressy you like to be, then adjust what you pack accordingly. Choose 2-3 pairs of pants, jeans or shorts, (depending on the season) and a skirt. With these basic elements, you can add tops, both short sleeve and long, a sweater or blazer, and a variety of scarves, belts or jewelry to change the look.
Be sure to bring a rain coat that can be layered over the sweater for extra warmth if needed. Bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes, some sandals that can double as slippers, and a dressier pair of shoes for evening, preferably with low heels. Add nightwear, a bathing suit, and a sun hat and you will be ready for anything.
Remember to bring small sizes of your toiletries packed in waterproof bags, and perhaps a small collapsible umbrella, a small flashlight, and travel alarm. Don’t forget a converter and plug adapter if you bring your own hairdryer or other small U.S. appliance. Don’t forget your camera with plenty of batteries or the charger (with the adapter plug and converter) and several memory cards.
We highly recommend purchasing a money belt if you don’t already have one. They are worn under your clothing and hold your passport, ATM and credit cards, large bills, emergency contact information, and irreplaceable tickets.
Packing light is always a good idea, as it’s no fun to haul a heavy suitcase around. With airlines charging for checked baggage and overweight baggage, it’s also a money-saver. Most of us don’t use everything we bring along anyway, so why bring it? That will leave more room for the lovely remembrances we like to buy when we travel.
We can help make your barge cruise one of the most memorable experiences of your life!
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988
Greetings from Beth Hanson, the owner of CanalBargeCruises.com. My husband, Jack, and I are all about canal barge cruises in France and Europe after cruising with our own barge for eight years.
Writing a blog is a bit daunting, but I’m ready for the challenge to share my experience and knowledge with you. Why? Because I love barge cruising. And I know a barge load of information about barge cruises from the barges themselves to the canals and sights visited along the way.
So where do I start? When I look back to the days when we owned and operated our own charter barge, I get so nostalgic I want to hop on a plane and head back to the amazing adventure Jack (my husband and partner) and I had from 1988 to 1996 when we cast fate to the wind and cruised the canals of Holland, Belgium and France on our own 4 passenger charter barge. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and I still pinch myself when I think of the most amazing experiences we had. Now that’s a blog!
Now, it is my job and pleasure to match wonderful people with wonderful barges so everyone can create their own experiences.
I’ll do my best to impart helpful information. Thanks for tuning in and subscribing to my blog so we can take this journey together. Welcome aboard, and thank you for letting me barge into your busy life.
Ready to go barging?
Here’s to your good health and happy travels,
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988