Barge Meanderer cruising on the Canal de Briare
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Friday, February 3, 2017

New Hotel Barges for 2017!

New Hotel Barges in France and Scotland for 2017!

Cruise the Cote d'Or wine region of Southern Burgundy! 
6-passenger Deluxe GRAND VICTORIA
The 6-passenger Deluxe Grand Victoria6-passenger Grand Victoria, cruising on the Canal de Bourgogne. which started cruising in June 2016, was previously an 8-passenger barge, the Absoluut2. It has been completely refitted and designed with stunning modern decor throughout. There are three 180 sq ft staterooms with luxurious bedding, and an elegant salon and dining area with large picture windows plus a large demonstration kitchen where passengers can hone their culinary skills and engage with the chef. We have met the new owners, Edward and Cindy, who are enthusiastic and passionate about offering a unique personalized experience on board. We will see the barge again in early April at the Burgundy Boat Show.

For more information, see:

Explore the Languedoc Region with a Cruise on the Historic Canal du Midi! 
4-passenger First Class SARAPHINA
The SARAPHINA cruising on the beautiful Canal du Midi,4-passenger Saraphina, cruising on the Canal du Midi. in the south of France, will be offering half or full board charters for 3 to 6 nights in 2017. Breakfasts and dinners are served onboard and lunches are enjoyed ashore at local restaurants. Unique in design, with "shabby chic" decor and vintage furnishings, it has two cabins with ensuite bathrooms, one 183 sq ft and one 140 sq ft. The Saraphina offers outstanding service, cuisine and wines with a health conscious approach, complete with optional yoga instructions. We've known the owner Finnegan for many years, and enjoyed working with him when he was the captain and manager of the ultra-deluxe barge Roi Soleil. He will now be your host on the Saraphina along with his wife Emily, also a barge crew veteran. We look forward to seeing them and the Saraphina again in April at the Canal du Midi Boat Show.

For more information see:

Spring Tulip Cruises in Holland and Summer and Fall cruising in Alsace! 
8-passenger Ultra Deluxe AURORA
Another new vessel this year is the Aurora cruising in Holland in the spring8-

passenger Aurora, cruising through Holland and Alsace. and in Alsace in the summer and early fall. The captain is John Baker, who we've known for years and worked with when he was the owner of the 8-passenger barge Absoluut2. There are four 260 sq ft suites with ensuite bathrooms, an elegant salon and dining area plus a deck with covered dining area, a jacuzzi and upper deck with putting green. We were familiar with the Aurora many years ago under a different name and thought it was one of the most beautiful barges afloat! We will be visiting John and the barge in Amsterdam in early April.

For more information see:

Experience the Magnificent Scottish Highlands! 
12-passenger Deluxe SPIRIT OF SCOTLAND
Scheduled to be launched this June is the Spirit of Scotland 12-passenger Spirit of Scotland, cruising on the Caledonian Canal. cruising on the same route as the Scottish Highlander in the Scottish Highlands near Inverness. The barge has six 130 sq ft cabins with ensuite bathrooms, a large salon and dining area plus separate bar, covered deck and spa pool plus rooftop sundeck. We knew this barge many years ago when it was cruising primarily in Germany under the name Serenite. We will have our website for this barge ready soon.

8-Night Cruise and Chateau Package in the South of France! 

Also new for 2017 is a special 4-night cruise being offered by the 6-passenger EMMA 6-passenger Emma, cruising on the Canal du Midi. on the Canal du Midi followed by 4 nights at La Tour du Chateau, a beautiful chateau on the banks of the canal -- an all inclusive package with all meals, accommodations and daily excursions, along with a cooking class and winery tour.

For more information see:

La Tour du Chateau 
6-passenger Emma, cruising on the Canal du Midi.
La Cité de Carcassonne 
6-passenger Emma, cruising on the Canal du Midi.
La Joie de Vivre 
6-passenger Emma, cruising on the Canal du Midi.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New Hotel Barges in France

New Hotel Barges in France
Last fall, Don and Sally Dillin, two of the owners of Special Places Travel, took their annual trek to France where they were greeted by the gracious owners of some wonderful new barges. After their visits, we are pleased to announce that we have added some terrific barges to the outstanding fleet of barges we offer. These owners and crew will warmly welcome you on board and share their extensive knowledge of the region and its traditions, with daily visits to historic sites, cuisine that is locally sourced and exquisitely prepared and then carefully paired with up to 20 different wines during the week, often wines unique to the region.

Cruise the Cote d'Or wine region of Southern Burgundy! 
8-passenger Ultra Deluxe FINESSE
Launched in May 2016, the luxurious Finesse6-passenger Finesse, cruising a lovely stretch of the Canal de Bourgogne. is the second barge built and managed by the Roger and Louisa Gronow, the owners of the successful Ultra Deluxe barge Enchante on the Canal du Midi. Like the Enchante, it has a modern salon with comfortable sofas, dining area and open demonstration kitchen. There are four large twin or queen-bedded suites on the lower deck, all with an ensuite bathroom. Outside there is a spacious sun deck with a spa pool, dining table and comfortable seating. The Finesse cruises on a unique route on the Canal du Centre and Saone River in Southern Burgundy and includes excursions to Dijon and Beaune as well as a private wine tasting and lunch at a top winery. The barge accepts both individual cabin bookings as well as charters. One meal on shore plus transfers from Lyon to the barge and return are included.

For more information, see:

6-passenger Deluxe MAGNOLIA
The Magnolia is operated by its French owners6-passenger Magnolia, cruising through the southern Burgundy region. Magali and Nicolas Rancelot, barging veterans of over 15 years, who offer full board or half board charter cruises on the Burgundy Canal between Dijon and Escommes. For half board cruises five meals are at passenger's expense at selected local restaurants and at a private home. When we were on board the owners took us to one of these restaurants for dinner, a converted canal lockhouse that now has a small restaurant. The barge has two double-bedded cabins plus a suite with twin beds or a queen bed, each with an ensuite bathroom, as well as a large salon with sofas, arm chairs and a dining area. On deck is a spa pool, lounge chairs and an outdoor kitchen for al fresco meals. The tour guide provides a daily excursion to some of the most famous sites in the area. Transfers from Dijon to the barge and return are included.

For more information see:

6-passenger Deluxe RENDEZ-VOUS
The brand new Rendez-Vous was launched6-passenger Rendez-vous, cruising through the southern Burgundy region. in the summer of 2015. The owners also own the very successful Ultra Deluxe 8-passenger barge Prosperite. The Rendez-Vous offers full board charter cruises for up to 6 passengers on the Burgundy Canal south of Dijon. The barge has an open concept salon with a comfortable sofa and arm chair, dining area and demonstration kitchen. There are three cabins with a queen bed or twin beds, each with an ensuite bathroom. On deck there is a hot tub, lounge chairs, dining table and two loveseats with large umbrellas. Excursions with the barge tour guide include visits to Dijon and Beaune as well as winetasting at nearby vineyards. Two lunches on shore and transfers from Paris to the barge and return are included.

For more information see:

Cruise on the historic Canal du Midi! 
6-passenger Deluxe MIRAGE
The Mirage is offering full board cruises6-passenger Mirage, cruising on the Canal du Midi. for three or six nights for charters of 2-6 passengers as well as individual cabin bookings on the Canal du Midi, between Carcassonne and Castelnaudary. The barge is owned and operated by a delightful French couple, Pascal and Mimi Chauvin. A unique feature of this cruise is that Pascal will offer charter passengers an optional flight in his classic Comet biplane over Carcassonne. They have decorated the salon in the style of a 1940's aviator lounge, with comfortable seating, TV, dining area and an open galley. The barge has two cabins with a queen bed or two twins and one cabin with a fixed queen bed, each with an ensuite bathroom. On deck is a spa pool, dining table and lounger chairs. Breakfast and dinner are served on board while lunch is taken at some of the owners' favorite local restaurants. When we were aboard last September the owners took us to one of these restaurants in the old city of Carcassonne, Daily excursions include visits to Carcassonne and Narbonne as well as wine tasting. Transfers from Narbonne, Carcassonne or Toulouse airport to the barge and return are included.

For more information see:

4-passenger First Class LOUISA
The British owners of the Louisa,4-passenger Louisa, cruising on the Canal du Midi. David and Jenny Tremain, offer 3 or 4-night full board charter cruises on the Canal du Midi in the Carcassonne area. Their cruises are perfect for those who want to experience a barge cruise but don't have time for a 6-night cruise. David is the pilot as well as tour guide for your daily excursion while Jenny is the chef. There is one cabin with king bed and one with twin beds, both including an ensuite bathroom . The open plan salon has comfortable seating, a dining area, TV and open galley. All meals are on board, usually on deck, weather permitting. Transfers from Carcassonne or Toulouse to the barge and return are included.

For more information see:

Explore the vineyards of the world renowned Bordeaux Region! 
24-passenger First Class MIRABELLE
The Mirabelle is the only barge24-passenger Mirabelle, cruising through the Bordeaux region. we offer that cruises in the Bordeaux wine region. It offers both individual cabin bookings ( for a minimum of 12 passengers) and private charters. All meals, wines and open bar are included on board, along with a daily excursion to each of the five wine regions guided by their wine expert. When we were on board last September we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with accompanying wines prepared by their French chef. There are 11 twin-bedded cabins and one cabin with double bed, each with an ensuite bathroom. There is a deck at the bow with tables and chairs plus a large upper deck with lounge chairs. Transfers from Bordeaux to the barge and return are included.

For more information see:

Champagne Cruises in the Spring, and Southern Burgundy in the Summer and Fall! 
6-passenger Deluxe SAROCHE
The Saroche is not a new barge for us6-passenger Saroche, cruising through the Champagne & Burgundy regions. but has new owners for 2016, Jason Ashcroft and Dawn Coles, who previously owned and operated the popular 6-passenger Who Knows in Burgundy and Champagne. Jason and Dawn are offering full board cruises on the Saroche for both individual cabin bookings and charters in Champagne on the Marne River and a nearby canal until July and then on the southern Burgundy Canal for the rest of the season. Jason will lead the daily excursions which include a day in Reims while in Champagne and a day in Beaune while in Burgundy. The Saroche has three large cabins with queen bed or two twins and ensuite bathrooms. There is a split level salon/dining room with wood burning fireplace and a large sundeck with hot tub, dining table, lounge chairs and an awning over part of the deck. One meal on shore and transfers from Paris to the barge and return are included.

For more information see:

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tulip Cruises in Spring 2017

Tulip Cruise in the Springtime

If you are interested in experiencing the natural beauty of Holland, you may be interested in a Tulip Cruise in the early spring.The excursions on the Tulip Cruise center around several charming cities and towns of Holland that are full of history. Some of the excursions will include a visit to the famous Keukenhof Gardens, a 70 acre showcase for the Dutch floral industry. Please keep in mind that the gardens close by mid-May. Other excursions may stop at the world's largest flower auction in Aalsmeer, where some 10 billion flowers are sold every year, or may include a trip to the reconstructed historic village of Zaanse Schans with its working windmills, clog makers, cheese farm and mustard mill. You may also stop in Gouda, made famous by its well known cheese, pipes and candles or the town of Delft, famous for its pottery. If you are into classical music, a visit to St. Bavo's Cathedral, where both Mozart and Handel played on the magnificent Muller organ in the main square, is a must.

Make sure to review the different itineraries for both of the barges currently offering Tulip Cruises, so that you can choose the one that is right for you.

These barges offer Tulip Cruises for the Spring of 2017:
NOTE: In addition to the 7 day/6 night Tulip Cruises, both of these barges offer cruises from Holland through Belgium and into France at the end of the Tulip Cruise season.  
Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have, so that we may help you select the best option for your barge cruise in France and the rest of Europe.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Barge Cruises Under $4,000 For 2016

The 2016 hotel barge cruising season has officially launched! After months of tackling the winter maintenance and refits, tweaking menus and perfecting itineraries, the owners and crew are eager to welcome you on board.  If you are in the planning stages for this year's vacation, there are still some great options for you to consider. Here is a comprehensive list of all barge cruises under $4,000 per person in France and Europe for individual, double occupancy cabins or charter groups.

Most cruises are for 7 days/6 nights but there are a few barges listed below that offer a short week cruise.  All offer you an opportunity to relax and rejuvenate your body and mind, as your personal crew tends to your every need and your personal chef creates exquisite cuisine. Most cruises offer full board meal plans with all meals included, while a few offer half or three quarter board options.
Regardless of which barge or route you choose, every region in France offers a beauty all its own, with exquisitely preserved medieval villages, ancient castles, abundant vineyards and magnificent landscapes.  While cruising the serene canals and rivers of the historic French countryside, you are immersed in regional culture, wine and cuisine.  Most barge cruises are in France, but there are also a few unique and wonderful cruises in Venice, Italy, the Scottish Highlands, Ireland, England, Holland and Belgium and Germany.
Take advantage of some of these great values currently being offered, or visit our Special Offers page periodically to keep up with different barges throughout the season offering sale prices.
Cabin bookings under $4,000 per person in France and the rest of Europe:
  •  The 8-passenger First Class barge Savoir Vivre, cruising on the Burgundy Canal, is the only barge in France that includes in its price breakfasts and lunches aboard the barge as well as dinners off the barge at select local restaurants. Individual cabin bookings for cruises throughout the year are priced at $3,750 per person (based on double occupancy).  Value season charter rates for 8 passengers is $28,000, ($3,500 each) and the regular season charter rate for 8 passengers is $30,000  ($3,750 each).
  • The 18-passenger Deluxe barge Phenicien cruising in Provence along the Rhone River and Canal du Rhone a Sete, offers both cabin and charter bookings. The owners are currently offering cabin bookings during its value season for $3,640 per person (double occupancy required and minimum of 6 passengers required to cruise).  Charter rates for 12-18 passengers range from $3,275 to $3,930 per person.
  • The 24-passenger First Class barge Mirabelle cruising in the famed Bordeaux region in southwestern France on the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers and the Gironde Estuary, also offers both individual cabin and charter bookings.  Value season Cabin bookings are priced at $3,750 per person (double occupancy with a minimum of 12 passengers to cruise).
 In other countries:
  • The 20-passenger First Class barge La Bella Vita, cruising on the Venetian Lagoons, Po River, and Bianco Canal in Italy, offers both cabin and charter bookings. Value season pricing for individual bookings (stateroom) are $3,790 per person (double occupancy required with a minimum of 7 passengers to cruise).
Charter bookings under $4,000 per person in France:
  • The 4-passenger First Class Libje is the only crewed barge cruising in Brittany in northwestern France. The owners offer a 6 night, three quarter board charter rate for 4 passengers at $13,000 or $3,250 per person. 
  • The 4-passenger First Class Bonheur, cruising the Burgundy Canal in Southern Burgundy offers a 6 night three quarter board charter rate for 4 passengers at $16,000 or $4,000 per person.
  • The 6-passenger First Class barge Caroline, cruising the picturesque Canal du Midi in Southern France is offering six night three quarter board charter rate for 6 passengers of $23,940 ($3,990 each). Four night half board charters for 6 passengers are very competitively priced at $15,960 ($2,660 each). 
  • New for 2016, the 6-passenger Deluxe Magnolia on the Burgundy Canal offers both half and full board charters at very competitive rates.  Half-board charter for 6-passengers at $17,000 or $2,834 per person and Full Board charter for 6-passengers at $22,000 or $3,667 person, makes the Magnolia an exceptional value!
  • Also new for 2016, is the 4-passenger First Class barge Louisa on the Canal du Midi offers full board charter cruises for 3 nights at $6,600 or $1,650 per person and a 4 night cruise at $8,800 or $2,200/person based on 4 passengers.  The Louisa is perfect for travelers who want to experience the luxury of a barge cruise but have a limited time schedule.
NOTE: All individual cabin booking prices are quoted per person and are based on double occupancy. All prices are quoted and payable in US Dollars. For all half-board or three-quarter-board cruises, barge crews will be happy to provide you with  recommendations for restaurants ashore, and also provide transportation to and from the restaurants.
Please Contact us at Special Places Travel, with any questions you may have regarding the best choices for a barge cruise that fits your vacation needs and interests in France or the rest of Europe.

Exploring cave paintings in Dordogne, pre- or post-cruise on Canal du Midi

Before a Canal du Midi cruise ....
Cave painting in the cave at Lascaux, in the Dordogne region of southern FranceIf you have several days to a week to explore France before embarking on a cruise on the Canal du Midi in the South of France, one of the highlights of the region are the caves of Dordogne, to the west of the Canal du Midi.

Many of these caves contain pre-historic cave paintings and are fascinating. We've visited Lascaux II, in Montignac, which is a reproduction of the original neighboring Lascaux cave with its extensive cave paintings. The original Lascaux cave is not open to the public, not only to protect it, but also because they are attempting to resolve serious problems with moisture in the cave which threatens the integrity of the cave paintings. Lascaux II itself is still worth a visit, as it provides a good deal of background and education on cave paintings, cave exploration, and the challenges of preserving cave paintings for future generations. The story of how the reproduction was made is, in itself, a fascinating story, and one of the interesting components of the visit to Lascaux II. (For more information about Lascaux, see

Other caves in this region where you are seeing "the real thing" do require reservations and the number of visitors per day is usually tightly controlled, to reduce the potentially damaging effects of visitors to the caves. Flash photography is strictly forbidden in all caves. Cave paintings are usually illuminated with low-level tungsten light, which allows reasonable viewing of the paintings to the eye. If a cave allows photography at all (some do not), probably the best way to capture it without flash is to use a smart phone with the flash turned off.

For a good listing of caves, and discussion, see:

We suggest going to the websites of each cave you'd like to visit to make reservations, or telephoning the contact directly to determine the best way to ensure a visit while you are in the area. Watch especially the operating times, as your best chance is to visit the most desirable caves is to arrive before opening time, and be the first ones in the public visit that day.

Driving through the hilly Dordogne region is quite a treat, but also keep in mind that the small roads through the hilly terrain do make driving time from one location to another longer than you might expect. Still, the whole region has quite a lot of charm, and the cave visits are the icing on the cake!

Then, after your drive through Dordogne, enjoy another lifetime memory -- a cruise aboard a barge on the Canal du Midi! Contact us for more information.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Half Board & Three Quarter Board Charters Offer Meals At Local Restaurants

Why Choose Half -Board vs Full Board Options On Your Barge Cruise?

The great thing about a barge cruise is that your per person cost includes everything for your week long vacation, except your airfare and a suggested 5% gratuity. A few barges offer the option of a half board or three quarter board vs the standard full board option. This means that some of your meals will be enjoyed ashore at your own expense. Although the meals aboard all of the barges are exceptional, choosing these other options is a great way to lower your up front cost, and also have the opportunity to experience the flavor and essence of the local cuisine.  

A unique opportunity is available aboard the 8-passenger barge SAVOIR VIVRE, currently cruising in Burgundy. The barge is considered a full board barge, but passengers enjoy one meal ashore each evening at a pre-planned destination. This is a great way to experience some of the area's favorite restaurants, and the best part about it is that this cost is included in the per person price.

For the 2015 season, prices for a Full-Board Charter for 8 aboard the Savoir Vivre is $28,000 for VALUE season ($3,500 per person) and $30,000 for REGULAR season, ($3,750 per person).  Individual cabins may also be booked at $3,750 per person, based on double occupancy, with a minimum booking of two cabins.  If you have any questions about this wonderful opportunity, feel free to Contact us. 

The barges listed below offer both Half Board and Three Quarter Board Charters for the 2015 season: 
  • 6-passenger WHO KNOWS -- Burgundy, Half Board Charter for 6 $20,400 ($3,400 per person)
  • 6-passenger WHO KNOWS -- Champagne, Three Quarter Board Charter for 6 $23,400 ($3,900 per person)
  • 4-passenger BONHEUR -- Burgundy, Half Board Charter for up to 4 for $15,000 ($3,750 per person)
  • 6-passenger CAROLINE -- Canal du Midi, Three Quarter Board Charter for 6 $23,940 ($3,990 per person)
  • 4-passenger LIBJE -- Brittany (Half-Board Charter for 4 for $11,450 = $2,862.50 per person)
NOTE: All prices quoted in the blog and on our website are in US Dollars and apply to the 2015 cruise season. All rates are subject to change based on the discretion of each individual barge.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have, so that we may help you select the best option for your barge cruise in France and the rest of Europe.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

For The Ultimate in a Barge Cruise...Go Ultra Deluxe

Dining salon aboard La Nouvelle Etoile

Passenger cabin aboard La Nouvelle Etoile

Demonstration kitchen aboard Prosperite
If you want to travel in luxury on one of the top barges in France, we suggest an Ultra Deluxe barge.
These days, barges are generally categorized into First Class, Deluxe and Ultra Deluxe accommodations. The most obvious difference aboard ultra deluxe barges are the size of the cabins and the amenities provided. Traveling in spacious quarters provides greater comfort and sitting areas, ultra deluxe barges also offer larger, roomier bathrooms with double sinks and some even have bathtubs.

Ultra deluxe barges cruise through different parts of Europe, and offer many itineraries, so it really depends on your interests. Some barges are charter only, which means that you must reserve the entire barge for your cruise, and others offer both individual booking and charter options. Chartering provides greater privacy for your group and allows you to have more input into the meals prepared for you by your own personal chef, and the itinerary of planned excursions along the route. The elaborate menus aboard ultra deluxe barges are beautifully presented on formal table settings and paired with carefully selected wines. 

Other amenities that are typically offered aboard Ultra Deluxe barges are:
  • Beautiful and relaxing sundecks with parasols or canopies that create some shade from the summer sun.
  • On some barges, a relaxing jacuzzi or a plunge pool on deck where you can take a dip to cool off at any time.
  • Indoor and outdoor dining and lounging areas that can be set up for you at a moment's notice so that you can enjoy alfresco dining on pleasant evenings.
  • Your own crew who will attend to your every need with high degree of efficiency and professionalism.
  • Your own personal chef who will create fresh, memorable and delicious meals using local and regional specialties that are purchased on a daily basis at local markets along the route.
  • On some barges, an open kitchen is available where you can watch the chef prepare your meals or even give a cooking class.
  • Top quality wines, sometimes even including Grand Cru and Premier Cru, are paired with each course.
  • A fully stocked bar with all of your favorite beverages.
  • The Prosperite has a 24/7 snack refrigerator that is always full of delicious treats and your favorite drinks, so you always have a snack available if you get hungry between meals.
  • La Nouvelle Etoile is wheelchair accessible and has an elevator for those with physical limitations.
  • La Nouvelle Etoile has a washer and dryer for passengers use, as well as satellite TV and internet in your own room with computers for passenger use in each cabin.
  • WiFi is now available on many barges for those who want to stay connected.
  • Public areas may also have CD/DVD's, library with reading material, writing desks and modern entertainment systems to keep you informed and entertained.
  • On board bicycles offer the opportunity to get some exercise on towpaths that follow along the canal route.
A relaxed elegance defines the ambiance and level of hospitality aboard these luxury vessels, and the experience is one that you will not forget. If you are interested in an Ultra Deluxe barge cruise experience, make sure to read more about these beautiful barges on the links provided below. Information about the barge, cruise routes, pricing, menu ideas and the many photographs will definitely convince, and entice you.

Ultra Deluxe Barge Accommodations
The 4-Passenger barge Alouette (CHARTER ONLY) cruises in the south of France (Southern Burgundy to Provence in early April, then moves to the Canal du Midi for the summer then back to Burgundy in late October.
The 6-Passenger barge Fleur de Lys cruises in the heart of Burgundy on the Canal de Bourgogne, the Saone River and the Canal du Centre.
The 6-Passenger barge Roi Soleil (CHARTER ONLY) cruises on the Canal du Midi in 2013
The 8-Passenger barge Amaryllis (CHARTER ONLY) cruise in the heart of Burgundy on the Canal de Bourgogne, the Saone River and the Canal du Centre.
The 8-Passenger barge C'est La Vie cruises on the Burgundy Canal in Northern Burgundy.
The 8-Passenger barge Enchante cruises in the south of France on the Canal du Midi.
The 8-Passenger barge Horizon II cruises on the Canal de Briare in the Upper Loire region.
The 8-Passenger barge La Nouvelle Etoile cruises in Holland, Belgium, Germany and France (Burgundy, Champagne and Alsace).
The 8-Passenger barge Princess cruises on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin in Alsace, the Canal de l'Aisne a la Marne and Canal Lateral a la Marne in the Champagne region.
The 8-Passenger barge Prosperite (CHARTER ONLY) cruises on the Canal de Bourgogne in Southern Burgundy.
The 8-Passenger barge Renaissance cruises on the Canal de Briare in the Upper Loire.
The 12-Passenger barge Adrienne cruises in the Cote d'Or wine region on the Canal de Bourgogne, the Saone River and the Canal du Centre.
The 12-Passenger barge Napoleon cruises on the Rhone River in Provence.
The 12-Passenger barge Nenuphar cruises in the Northern Burgundy area on the Canal de Bourgogne.

Please do not hesitate to contact us  with any questions you may have. With thousands of satisfied  customers, we can help you select the best option for your barge cruise in France or the rest of Europe.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Many Reasons To Consider A Barge Cruise

If you are reading this article, then you belong to the category of individuals who are looking for a unique vacation experience. Cruising is not a new concept to any of us, and many of us have either experienced one firsthand, or know someone who has. When you think of cruising, the first thing that may come to mind is a trip on a large ocean liner with thousands of other people, or on a river cruise with a hundred or more other people. A barge cruise, on the other hand, is a very different experience.

Just imagine a charming, week-long opportunity where you can travel as an individual, a couple or a larger group with family and friends, through the quaint, historic villages of Europe. Nowadays, you can enjoy this type of experience in many countries, including Ireland, Scotland, England, Holland, Belgium, France, and Germany, with most barges centered in France. A barge cruise allows you to experience the country and its people by cruising through the countryside, enjoying intimate excursions that will take you to interesting sights in the area, and sampling the delicious foods and wines of that region prepared by your own exceptionally talented on-board chef

A bit of history … In the 1600's, France began to develop a canal system as a means to transport grain and to reduce food shortages. Some of the earliest were the Canal de Briare completed in 1642, the Canal du Midi was completed in 1681 and the Canal de Bourgogne in 1832. By the 18th century, more than 500 wine barges were in use on the canals of France, towed by men or horses. By the mid-1900's, the use of barges for transport of grain, coal, and other goods was eventually abandoned in favor of other means of transportation.

In the late 1960's, with hundred of barges no longer in use, a few creative, entrepreneurial individuals saw the potential in their lingering beauty and were inspired to convert these historical gems into luxury, floating hotels, with lengths ranging from 80 to 128 feet.

Today's accommodation options aboard barges fall into either First Class, Deluxe or Ultra Deluxe accommodations. The difference is primarily in cabin size and amenities provided, which offers you some flexibility in the cost.

All of the barges offer top level cuisine, wines and exceptional service, and all have cabins with private, en-suite bathrooms. The number of cabins aboard each barge ranges from 2 to 11 cabins with passenger capacity of 4 to 21 people. Most of the cabins are double occupancy; however a few offer single cabins for those traveling alone. In the event that the barge you are interested in does not offer a single cabin, it usually offers a single supplement which is added to the cost of your cruise, and is essentially a pro-rated cost for a single person booking a double cabin.

Some barges are exclusively available on a chartered basis, which means that you have the entire barge to yourself and your friends or family, but others may offer both individual and charter bookings. Charters offer an ideal alternative for companies looking for a unique meeting place to discuss business projects, or for families or groups of friends celebrating milestones in their lives who want to share these milestones in an especially memorable way on their private charter. Those couples or individuals who prefer the opportunity to book individual cabins will meet and enjoy the company of passengers from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and sometimes from other countries, as well.

The true beauty of these floating country homes is that they have been completely restored and transformed by talented craftsmen. The interiors may reflect upgraded wood flooring and décor that includes modern portholes or the installation of large, beautiful windows that allow you to enjoy the passing vistas. Comfortable cabins, bathrooms and public areas have been adorned with handmade tiles, unique wall coverings, fabrics and lovely furnishings. Many barges are owner-operated which means that the owners are on board with you during the cruise. Owners usually function as the captain aboard the vessel, so they can oversee the day-to-day events. All of the barges are lovingly maintained, but there is something extra special about an owner-operated barge which is evident when you come aboard.

On many of the barges, the common areas offer relaxing sundecks with parasols or canopies that help create some shade from the summer sun. Upgraded galleys offer modernized areas where your private chef will create fresh, memorable and delicious meals using local and regional specialties. You may also find: a jacuzzi (or plunge pool) where you can cool off at any time during the cruise, dining and lounging areas both inside and out, a fully stocked bar, a 24/7 snack refrigerator so that you are never without something delicious to eat, and one barge even has an elevator for those who have physical limitations. Make sure to review the information provided for each barge prior to booking, so that you are well informed about the amenities provided, along with the layout of the barge itself.

Wines and cheeses from the area accompany each meal, and beautiful breads, croissants and pastries are purchased and enjoyed daily. The chef purchases fresh fish and produce at local markets along the way as the barge makes its daily stops at the different locations along the route. Ask the chef if you can come along with him or her if you wish to experience this for yourself!

Except as otherwise indicated, the total cost of the cruise includes your cabin, your meals and wines, an open bar, excursions and transfers from Paris and back to the barge for most barges in the Burgundy region and on routes near Paris, or between the barge and a convenient transportation center for barges cruising in other regions.

If you are the type of person who wants to experience more of the restaurant scene in each local town, some barges also offer half-board options. This means that you can enjoy some meals ashore at your leisure and at your expense. This is a great way to reduce your cruise cost, especially if you would like to focus more on other activities.

Most barges cruise on local canals and some cruise on larger rivers. On a canal cruise, the barge is raised or lowered at the many different locks along your route, and you can easily step off the barge to do a little exploring, either on foot or on one of the bicycles provided on board. You can step off the barge to get some exercise on the canal towpath and meet up with the rest of the group at the next lock. A river cruise offers interesting excursions, but walking or biking is usually only possible when the barge is moored at the beginning or the end of each day.

Barge cruises are usually a seven day/six night adventure – anything less will make you feel rushed. However, if that is all that time allows, there are four day cruises available on some barges.

There are many different barge routes that cruise throughout Europe, but the most popular are offered in France. Imagine yourself cruising through the heart of the Burgundy wine region, or in Brittany near the northwest coast, or east of Bordeaux, or exploring the more central Upper Loire Valley that borders Burgundy, or the areas of Champagne and Chablis. Or visit Alsace-Lorraine in the northeast that borders Germany or the warmer Languedoc-Rousillon or Provence regions in the southeast of France.

Whatever your reason for considering a barge cruise, remember this – it's a very addictive experience. There is something inherently comforting about about having all of your needs taken care of for an entire week by your own personal staff. Before you know it, you will be joining the ranks of the many satisfied barge cruisers who have come before you and continue to come back year after year. For many, barge cruising has become a way of life and a favorite vacation option, and the large choice of barge routes and destinations available continue to offer that magic formula for rest and relaxation that will keep loyal travelers happily entertained for years to come.

If you are considering a barge cruise in France or anywhere in Europe, please feel free to contact uswith any questions you may have. With thousands of satisfied customers, we can help you select the best option for your barge cruise vacation in France or the rest of Europe.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Theme Cruises Offer Unique Vacation Options

Imagine Yourself Taking An Adventure Cruise

Whether you choose a barge cruise to experience a unique adventure as an individual, couple or a charter for your group of family and friends, you may want to consider a specialized theme cruise that focuses on some of the more popular interests, such as cuisine, walking, hiking or other more adventurous activities.

The 6-passenger barge, Elisabeth is offering a few delicious options. The Chocolate and Wine itinerary will have you enjoying a delicious menu of local and regional specialties accompanied by a spectacular array of chocolate desserts – and if that's not enough, additional handmade chocolates will be available for you after every meal, as you wind down with an after dinner drink. Even the wines have been carefully selected to complement the menu. This itinerary is offered for individual cabin bookings as well as charters.

The Elisabeth also offers a honeymoon or anniversary charter for two, where you and your guest will be pampered by a crew of three who will take care of your every need. A special wine, chocolate and romance itinerary has been designed for this cruise with a bonus of red roses and champagne to be enjoyed in your cabin.

If you are interested in an active walking cruise, the 12-passenger La Belle Epoque, the 8-passenger L'Art de Vivre, and the 8-passenger Magna Carta, all have organized walking tours with a professional guide for charter groups. La Belle Epoque also offers walking cruises for individual passengers on selected dates at no extra cost. Uncover the beauty of each city as you visit and learn about the quaint, historic villages, local castles and vineyards that dot the country. Other theme cruise possibilities on these and other barges include golf, tennis and special wine appreciation charters. Please contact us for sample itineraries for these cruises or make sure to visit our Specials page.

The 14-passenger Luciole offers an Activity Cruise for those interested in chartering a barge with more fun activities like tree walking, horse back riding, cave climbing and kayaking. Any and all barges can arrange for a charter geared towards children's activities, if you like. For the more adventurous individual, hot air balloon rides are also an option on many of the barges, but come at an additional cost.

If you are an avid golfer, then the 10-passenger Shannon Princess in Ireland offers a special golf charter that includes a chance for you to play at three of Europe's best golf courses: The K Club in Kildare, the Adare Manor Golf Course in Limerick and the world famous Lahinch Golf Course, as well as a local course.

Whether you choose to get out and explore the world on a theme barge cruise, or simply choose to participate in a more conventional cruise for rest and relaxation, both options will offer you a cultural, historical and gastronomic feast!

The Specials page of our website offers additional information on all of the theme cruises we currently offer. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have, so that we may help you select the best option for your barge cruise in France and the rest of Europe.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New Hotel Barges and Updates: Burgundy, Holland, Alsace, and Brittany!

An Introduction To Some Of Our New Friends
We are pleased to introduce you to several terrific barges, and some new friends, newly added to our roster of barge cruises.

8-passenger APRES TOUT
Cruise the Cote d'Or wine region of Burgundy! 
Having formerly managed an entire fleet of 6-passenger Apres Tout, cruising a lovely stretch of the Canal de Bourgogne. deluxe and ultra deluxe barges, the new owners of the Apres Tout (previously Le Premier) are experts in the world of barging. The Apres Tout is a classic French barge which has been renovated to offer the most luxurious accommodation for six passengers, for a glorious week of cruising in the southern Burgundy area. Cruising between St Jean de Losne and Pont d'Ouche passengers enjoy visits to Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, Dijon, the Clos de Vougeot, and Chateauneuf en Auxois. Apres Tout offers a cruise to delight the wine connossieur and the history buff, as well as those with an appreciation for fine food and relaxation. The Apres Tout will also escort you to the famed Michelin starred restaurant, the Abbaye de la Bussiere, for one of your cruise's evening meals, included in the cruise fare. Relax with a glass of wine in the hot tub on deck as you cruise through the beautiful Cote d'Or wine region, or bike ahead on the towpath along the lovely Canal de Bourgogne.

For more information, see:

12-passenger PANACHE
Tulip Cruises in Holland ... then on to Alsace! 
Formerly known as the Marjorie II, 12-passenger Panache, cruising through the Alsace region. the Panache made its new debut in Holland in the 2012 tulip season, and is cruising in Holland again in 2013. Cruising along the Haarlem-Leiden Canal and the Amstel River, the deluxe barge Panache takes in the splendor of tulip season in Holland from the 1st of April through the 3rd week of May, before moving to France to cruise the rest of the season in the Alsace region. While in Alsace, passengers are treated to a fabulous cruise between Strasbourg and Mittersheim, on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin and the beautiful Canal des Houillères de la Sarre, a canal threaded through a series of large tranquil lakes and quiet forests. Enjoy some delicious Riesling wines on a tour of a vineyard in the Vosges mountains, and traverse the stunning inclined plane of Arzviller boat lift, a true marvel of engineering.

For more information see:

4-passenger LIBJE
Finally, we welcome the 4-passenger Libje, which bears the 4-passenger Libje, cruising in the Brittany region. distinction of being the only hotel barge cruising in Brittany. Explore this fascinating region, rich with Celtic heritage. You are welcomed aboard this quaint first-class barge like family, and treated to an amazing introduction to this fascinating region. Enjoy France's most picturesque town, the quiet village of Rochefort en Terre and visit the standing stones at Monteneuf, an ancient megalithic site from prehistoric times. The chateau and village of Josselin are one of the highlights of the cruise, where you can sample some of the local fare, such as galettes or crepes. The barge and her owners, Ian and Jane, are both charming and hospitable, and will happily share their private corner of France with all who would like to join them. Local beers, well selected wines and delicious meals prepared by Jane, will highlight a wonderful week aboard this cozy barge. The Libje offers full board and half board cruises. 5 dinners not included with half board.

For more information, see:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Special Places Travel Tours France

Cruising aboard the MeandererThis past May, June and July members of the Special Places Travel team spent time in France, touring the countryside visiting with barges and their crews. After driving approximately 1,100 miles, and stopping to see 33 barges, Special Places Travel is up to date with all of the details of these beautiful canal and river barges. We toured northern and southern Burgundy, enjoying hospitality and graciousness at every barge that we visited. We were treated to a great dinner and breakfast, while being hosted by George and Susan aboard the Meanderer. We would like to offer a special thanks to Phil and Hannah, former owners of the Maria, for a wonderful birthday meal and celebration, and we wish them continued success with their new endeavor Congratulations!

Cruising aboard the Bonheur in BurgundyOn this trip we were happy to have met Paul and Annie Roberts, a charming young couple, and owners and operators of the lovely barge Bonheur. Bonheur is a 4-passenger First-Class barge, which offers a half board cruising experience. Guests will enjoy breakfasts, lunches and three dinners aboard the barge, as well as three meals ashore at local restaurants (taken at their own expense). The Bonheur is a lovely boat, with a spacious salon with comfortable sofas and a wood burning stove. The cabins are well appointed, with queen sized beds or two twins. We were very impressed with the love and care that the Roberts have put into their barge, and the charm and friendliness that they expressed at our meeting. We are pleased and excited to offer the Bonheur for charters up to four passengers.

Cruising aboard the Savoir Vivre in BurgundyAlso on our tour of Burgundy, we were fortunate to befriend James, the owner of the sprite new barge, the Savoir Vivre. This newly built barge is sleek, and mindful of contemporary style and comfort, with an attention to design and efficiency. the Savoir Vivre's cabins excel in comfort. Along with captain Francois and his partner June, who are operating the Savoir Vivre, we dined at La Ferme de Rolle, a very intriguing restaurant, in the highlands overlooking the Ouche valley. Popular with the locals, La Ferme de Rolle is a real treat, with its rustic charm and delicious fare, this restaurant is a true glimpse into the cuisine and character of life in Burgundy. La Ferme de Rolle is also one of the restaurants that passengers visit while on a cruise aboard the Savoir Vivre and their unique dining out itinerary.

Dinner and conversation aboard Le Phenicien in ProvenceFrom Burgundy, where we left a few clouds behind, we drove to Provence, and our sun soaked rendezvous with the Le Phenicien in Arles. Welcomed aboard by owner Bertrand, and his crew Michel, Nicola, and their super talented chef Thierrey, we joined a group of passengers cruising on the Rhone River. Le Phenicien can host up to 18 passengers and cruises between Avignon and Aigues Mortes on the Rhone River and the Canal du Rhone a Sete. The meals served aboard Le Phenicien are truly an epicurian delight.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Top barges in France: Ultra Deluxe ...

Top barges in France: Ultra Deluxe ...When all-out elegance and spaciousness is on your agenda, the ultra-deluxe barges in France will certainly deliver. These 12 hotel barges offer the largest cabin sizes along with top wines, cuisine, service and amenities. All can be chartered for a customized cruise week and many also offer individual cabin bookings:

  • 12-passenger ADRIENNE -- Champagne and Alsace
  • 4-passenger ALOUETTE -- Canal du Midi (charter only).
  • 8-passenger AMARYLLIS -- Burgundy (charter only).
  • 8-passenger ENCHANTE -- Canal du Midi or Provence
  • 6-passenger FLEUR DE LYS -- Burgundy (charter only).
  • 8-passenger HORIZON II -- Burgundy
  • 8-passenger LA NOUVELLE ETOILE -- Holland, Belgium, Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace and Germany
  • 12-passenger NAPOLEON -- Burgundy and Provence
  • 12-passenger NENUPHAR -- Burgundy
  • 8-passenger PROSPERITE -- Burgundy (charter only).
  • 8-passenger RENAISSANCE -- Upper Loire
  • 6-passenger ROI SOLEIL -- Canal du Midi and Provence (charter only).

Contact us to answer any questions you may have, or for individual consultation on your best choice for barge cruises in France and the rest of Europe.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cuisine Aboard Barges: Chef Hazel Shares A Recipe For A Great Winter Warmer

Hazel Young, owner and chef of the barge, Aboard the barge Fandango: ingredients for French winter squash soup.Fandango, and author of the cookbook, "A Week On The Water", has suggested that we share a recipe of hers with our friends. Hazel writes,

"As I love 'terroir' regional cuisine and have a barge recipe book with dishes that are easy for passengers to recreate, I had the idea to send you a couple of snaps of what I'm making in my galley at this time of year, I also make this for the passengers in the Autumn and early Spring when one can buy French winter squash."

"You can not go out to a gourmet restaurant in Burgundy at this time of year without being served as the first dish, or 'amuse bouche', a variation of creamed French winter squash soup. Depending on how fancy the restaurant, the smaller the glass or bowl is!"

Aboard the barge Fandango: preparations for creating French winter squash soup Ingredients:
2 lbs Potimaron Squash, or Butternut Squash
2 Leeks
7 Cups Water
1 Bay Leaf
1 Tbls Vegetable Stock Paste
Several Cloves of Garlic (to taste)
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
2 Tbls Creme Fraiche
Olive Oil

My version of cooking this seasonal delicacy is a little more time consuming but really delicious as it brings out the full potential of sweetness in the vegetables. Perhaps in the U.S. you may find butternut squash more easily than this sweet 'chestnut' flavoured 'potimarron' squash. It looks like a small pumpkin and is common in France, although it is twice the price of ordinary pumpkin.

Slice the squash, and remove seeds (use a whole one if not exceeding 2lbs ) cut off the tough outer skin, which can be dangerous if using a sharp knife, or roast with the skin on and it will easily peel when cooked, my preferred method.

Put chunks in a roasting dish wtih several cloves of garlic, according to taste, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in a medium heated oven for an hour until caramelized.

In a cast iron or soup pot, pour in one quarter of a cup of olive oil and over a very low heat, roast two well washed and thinly sliced leeks until caramelized , this will take at least 15 to twenty minutes but can be done while the squash is roasting.

Add the caramelized squash and garlic to the leeks, pour in 8 cups of water, add a tablespoon of dried vegetable stock, salt and pepper to season, a bay leaf and bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for twenty minutes.

Remove bay leaf, use electric hand held mixer if you have one, blend until smooth. Add three tablespoons of cream before serving or heat the cream separately and use as a decoration when the soup is served in bowls. If the soup has become too thick for your liking you can add milk or water, and of course adjust the salt and pepper."

We here at Special Places Travel thought it would be a great way to warm up after an east coast snow storm, so we gave Hazel's recipe a try. A very delicious, velvety smooth soup, with an earthy sweetness. The only thing missing was the the view of the Canal du Midi off the deck of the Fandango.

Thanks, Hazel!

Bowl of butternut squash soup, created from Hazel Young's recipe!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Enjoy A Cruise Aboard The Clair de Lune!

Enjoy the scenery of the Canal du Midi aboard the peniche hotel barge, Clair de Lune. Take a tour of the salon and cabins, and get a glimpse of some of the vineyards and medieval castles that await you along France's oldest canal.

For more information about the 6-passenger Clair de Lune, cruising on the Canal du Midi in the south of France, see: or contact us.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Here's What Clients Wrote About Their Cruise

Here are a few of the many comments we received from our passengers during the last cruise season:

8 passenger barge C'Est la Vie at a mooring in Burgundy.C'est la Vie was welcoming, top class, comfortable, excellent food, excellent wine, wonderful conversation with a personable, knowledgeable crew. Service was friendly, attentive, top class. Our meals and wines without question were the BEST.. wonderfully matched. Our excursions were well chosen ... with an incredible tour guide who spoke fluent French and had a photographic memory for detail.... again the BEST. We would do this again in a heart beat!

Thank you.

-- Vanessa H., Vermont. Aboard C'est la Vie August 2011

For more information about the 8-passenger C'EST LA VIE, cruising in Burgundy, see: or contact us.

Cruising aboard the Emma on the Canal du Midi in the south of FranceEmma is magnificent. Service could not have been better. Meals and wines were EXCELLENT. Emma was an extremely peaceful journey on a finely maintained canal. This ranks at the top of any of our 61 ship experiences, no hassles and plenty of "frills". The warmth of our hosts was a high point! Emma spoiled us for the next two weeks which we spent in a car travelling in Italy. The cruise is peaceful, and yet invigorating, complete enjoyment of God's creation, warm fellowship.
-- LaVerne and Blaine B., California. Aboard the Emma, September 2011

It was absolutely wonderful! Over the years, we have had some really fantastic trips, much more dramatic, etc. but never have we spent a more enjoyable week than this gentle 65-mile cruise with our friends and a crew that could not do enough for us. The scenery, the food, ah....
-- A&J V, aboard Emma, on Canal du Midi

For more information about the 6-passenger EMMA, cruising on the Canal du Midi in the south of France, see: or contact us.

Cruising aboard the Hirondelle in BurgundyThe barge trip was phenomenal. What we experienced was so much more than what we expected. The barge was impeccable, clean, well decorated, easy to move around in. The staff were fun, attentive and knowledgeable. The food could have come from a 5 star restaurant.
-- M&J D, aboard Hirondelle, in Burgundy

For more information about the 8-passenger HIRONDELLE, cruising in southern Burgundy and the Upper Loire region of France, see: or contact us.

Cruising aboard the Athos on the Canal du Midi in the south of FranceRanked in the top 3 of trips taken in Dick's (74-year) lifetime. Just a wonderfully memorable voyage. The accommodations on the barge were great, the crew was very attentive to our needs and the food was like dining in one of the finer French restaurants every night (thank you, Travis!). The cruise met or exceeded all expectations of what a barge cruise should be. This was our first barge cruise and we hope it won't be the last.

The service? Unbelievable. Much attention was given to meet our every need and you can't ask for or expect more than that on a vacation trip.

The meals and wines were better than any vacation we've ever been on. The crew described the wines before serving and Travis (the chef) described meal preparation, ingredients and what to expect at each meal. All in all, wine and meals were expected to be and were fantastic!

The excursions were very interesting and informative. Lydia's narratives were wonderful and she had a nice sense of humor to add to them. Thoroughly enjoyed all excursions and one of the reasons I selected this particular cruise (the cruise was a surprise to D. until the van pulled up to the Athos on 10/11) was the fact that Chrysler air-conditioned vans followed the barge which facilitated greatly our getting to the various sites for our excursions comfortably and efficiently. Carcassonne was a highlight of the excursion choices.

We liked the barge route very much. As we traveled in mid-Oct. it was important that we chose a cruise in the south of France. We had blue skies every day (no rain) and the only weather problem was a few days with wind that chilled the air unseasonably but that is a small disappointment. It was very interesting to see the lock operations and to see the barge cross a river on a bridge was really unusual and unexpected.

High points of the cruise? Food, scenery, wine, service, excursions - Carcassonne a particular highlight, and the stress-free nature of this cruise.
-- D.K. & D.P, aboard Athos, on Canal du Midi

For more information about the 10-passenger ATHOS, cruising on the Canal du Midi in the south of France, see: or contact us.

12-passenger Savoir Faire, cruising in Burgundy.
The service on Savoir Faire was excellent, the staff was very attentive to our needs. Most importantly, everyone was friendly and knowledgeable. We had amazing meals and wines!!! And don't forget the cheeses. The food was easily the best of all the cruises I have been on. We found our excursions very interesting and educational. A photographer's dream. The cruise route was exactly what we had asked for. We enjoyed ourselves very much. The barge, the food, the tours, the staff--everything was wonderful, thank you!
-- Linda R., Washington. Aboard Savoir Faire, May 2011

For more information about the 12-passenger SAVOIR FAIRE, cruising in Holland during the Spring Tulip Season and in France the rest of the year -- including Burgundy and the Champagne region -- see: or contact us.

6-passenger LE PAPILLON, about to enter a lock to allow passengers off for a bike ride during its cruise in Burgundy.We really enjoyed the barge route, everything was perfect. We loved just relaxing on the deck. I highly recommend this trip for anyone who would like to experience France in a slow relaxed way. You will enjoy the food and wine as well as see many of the smaller villages along the canal. The best week we have had in a very long time!
-- Bob and Lisa D., Texas. Aboard Papillon, September 2011

For more information about the 6-passenger LE PAPILLON, cruising in Burgundy, see: or contact us.

4-passenger Alegria, moored in a shady spot on the 300-year-old Canal du Midi in the south of France.Our cruise on Alegria was a trip of a lifetime. Olivier and the crew did everything possible to make it a memorable experience. We would recommend it to anyone. Everyday was an adventure! The barge, the cabins, it all more than met our expectations. Gladys was a fabulous cook!
-- Christine M., California. Aboard Alegria, October 2011

For more information about the 4-passenger ALEGRIA, cruising on the Canal du Midi in southern France, see: or contact us.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Barging In Burgundy - Cruise Aboard Le Papillon

Barging In Burgundy - A Once In A Lifetime Opportunity
Did you ever think about the perfect vacation and what that would be? Well here’s your answer – barging in Burgundy on Le Papillon. This experience is the epitome of what you would expect from a hotel barge. It’s an intimate setting for six lucky guests supported by a dream team staff of four. You couldn’t imagine a better situation.

Our dream vacation started on July 5, 2009 arriving at the gangplank of Le Papillon from Paris chauffeured by Michael, who would be our guide for the week. Sarah, Haley and Cedric were there to greet us with champagne, show us to our berths, and then invited us to relax on deck while the finishing touches were made to dinner. Our mooring was right across from a typical stone cottage we would find time and again on our trip down the Canal de Bourgogne, complete with climbing roses over the front door. The weather was perfect while we sipped our aperitif, and shortly Haley invited us down to the dining salon for dinner.

The table was set for six, with beautiful linens (which would change daily from meal to meal), fresh flowers on the buffet, candles, multiple wine glasses and more, making us feel as though we were royalty. Once seated, our appetizer was served, and Sarah, the chef, poked her head around the corner of the kitchen to tell us what we were having and wished us a cheery, “Bon appétit!” in her lovely British accent. Exquisite in presentation and taste, from the appetizer of Chevre chaud au salade mesclun to the entre of Carre d’agneaux, to a stupendous dessert of tarte tatin, with a sampling of two “lovely, melt in your mouth” local cheeses as described by Haley, and plenty of Chablis and Burgundy to accompany the feast, we were simply blown away by this meal, the first of a week-long sampling of some of the finest food we have had.

How could the evening get better? A digestive on the deck, then a short walk under an almost full moon to the small hamlet of Fleury sur Ouche topped off the night, before we headed to bed. In our cabins there were many thoughtful little touches, flashlights in case of emergency, fresh flowers, scented soaps, Ferrero Rocher chocolates (which mysteriously replenished themselves every day), crisply ironed sheets, comfy pillows and warm comforter. We drifted off to sleep to the sounds of crickets and water lapping at the boat through our open portals.

Monday morning, we were awakened early by birdsong and a rather loud rooster, which was good, because it was our first full day on board and we were excited to see how the day would go. Greeted by sunshine and blue skies, we sat down to a delicious breakfast of fresh squeezed orange juice, fruit, yogurt, bread and croissants from a nearby bakery, granola and lots of café au lait. We got underway around 9:30 and made our way through the first of the forty-one locks we would travel through in the course of the week. Larry and I debarked and walked along the canal, knowing we would need to exercise to keep even with the caloric intake we expected to consume during the coming week. It was beautiful – lots of wildflowers adorned the sides of the path and we waited at each lock for Le Papillon to catch up. We hopped back on before the last lock of the morning then headed in for lunch.

Lunch was leisurely and delicious – curried chicken salad, cucumber salad with tomatoes, fennel salad with feta, lentil salad and fresh green salad. Sarah made everything fresh from local produce which was evident in the flavor of everything we tasted. Two cheeses and two wines later, we left the barge with Michael and headed to Cote d’Or for a lesson in distinguishing vineyards, wine classification and a little wine tasting. We drove through the beautiful Burgundian countryside, and stopped at the edge of a vineyard, learning the difference between grape varieties grown in the region and what identifies a particular appellation. Then we were off to Chateau du Clos de Vougeot, headquarters of Le Chevaliers du Tastevin and formerly a monastery built in the 11th century by the monks of Citeaux. We breezed back into the village to sample some local wines, working our way up to a Premier Cru and finishing with a Grand Cru.

Back to the barge in time for a little more cruising to our final destination for the day so Larry and I hopped on the bikes and forged the way. We met up with the barge at Gissey sur Ouche, another quaint little town along the canal. A cocktail, a shower, then dinner was served. Could Sarah possible top what she had served the night before? Ah yes, and she did the same every night we were on the barge. Cold pea soup with mint, poached salmon with hollandaise, sautéed spinach, basmati rice and then our cheese course. We barely had room for the chocolate sou"és that came out next, but somehow we managed to eat every last scrap of the dessert. Not a crumb was left in any dish! Coffee on deck as the dusk settled in around us, listening to the sound of water running through the lock that we’ll go through tomorrow – what could be more idyllic? Off to bed serenaded by birdsong. Did I mention those chocolates that kept replenishing themselves?

Tuesday was a long, lazy day and we were up early to take a trip into Dijon for the weekly market and to visit historical sites. Sarah escorted us around the market talking about local produce, meats, and cheeses, then Michael gave us a fascinating tour of the city. His knowledge of history was extensive, and he gave us a detailed, “Cliff Notes” version of the lineage and rule of the Dukes of Burgundy. Pretty complex, a few double crosses here and there, alliances by marriage, the Bold, the Fearless, the Good and much more. We had to fall back on the guide book later to sort it all out. We walked around town with Michael noting points of interest and took turns rubbing a little carved ochuette (owl) on the side of the 13th century church for good luck and a long, healthy life as long as you used your left hand!

Back at the boat, we were greeted with a lunch repast of treats from the market – hard sausage, country pate, goose liver pate, tomato and mozzarella salad, tabouleh salad, luscious cherries, fresh bread, our requisite two cheeses and of course, a white and red wine. After lunch, we set sail and Larry and I started out walking, then switched to the bikes and rode to the next stopping point at Pont d’Ouche. We took side trips up into the villages we passed, getting a little glimpse into life in the French countryside.

Our dinner this evening was at a restaurant, La Ferme de Rol, tucked into the hillside about a 25 minute drive from our mooring. At our urging, we asked Michael to join us as he felt like a natural part of our group. We had fun trying out the specialties of the house from escargot, to a well-known ham, mixed grill and pork tenderloin. A wonderfully diverse cheese tray and various desserts topped off the meal along with a couple of bottles of wine. Ken, one of our traveling partners, rode shotgun looking for wild boar and deer on the way back to the barge as twilight settled in. Sarah, Cedric and Michael hung out with us while we chatted about the day’s events. A perfect ending to another amazing day on Le Papillon!

Wednesday (how can it be Wednesday already), dawned cool with mixed clouds and sun but that didn’t dampen our spirits (or our appetites). We cruised in the morning, and Larry and I walked about two hours before hopping back on board. We moored along the canal with a stupendous view of Chateauneuf – a landmark we had been seeing all morning as we made our way down the canal. Before we headed out for the afternoon trip to Beaune, we feasted on the most delicious, rich quiche of swiss chard, a fresh pea, carrot and bean salad with homemade mayonnaise (made daily), wild rice salad with cucumbers, walnuts, raisins and tomatoes, fresh artichoke hearts, and cheese, wine and bread. A little fresh flower was tucked into our napkins – just one of the many ways Haley decorated our table for each meal.

Beaune, our destination for the afternoon, was a fascinating place and our first stop was at the Hotel Dieu, a hospital for the poor built by a wealthy couple, Nicholas and Guigone Rolin, in the mid 1400’s as a way to redeem their souls before leaving this earth. In addition, they bequeathed vineyards to the hospital as a means of supporting the operating expenses. The wine from the vineyards is auctioned off every year to this day, the benefits going to the hospital. The most incredible artifact of the day was a beautiful painting by Roger Van der Weyden depicting the Last Judgment. A polyptych, painted in the 15th century, it was displayed above the altar to remind the sick of their mortality and to encourage them to repent their sins while they still had the chance. Very moving and certainly made me take notice of the difference between heaven and hell as depicted in the painting!

After touring the Hotel Dieu, we poked around Beaune, bought some wine and headed back to Le Papillon for a cocktail on deck, wondering what delectable dishes we would be having tonight. Not disappointed, Sarah served us escargots forestiere, roasted quail, celeriac and mashed potatoes, petit pois, and polenta aux herbes. We finished with two delicious cheeses (how could there be so many varieties) and a gateaux gingembre with crème anglaise with framboise. We were so full, the group decided to take a walk and we set our sights on the Chateauneuf! It was a lovely stroll, although the road up to the village was steep and we had to keep focused on the objective. We were rewarded with wonderful views, and as the sun set, the last rays of daylight lit up the chateau and surrounding country. As we headed back to the barge, we joked about the crew worrying about their guests getting lost in the dark in the French countryside. They were surprised we walked all the way to the chateau and I think relieved that we made it back in one piece. We enjoyed a cognac and then headed off to bed.

Thursday, we cruised in the morning along another beautiful stretch of the canal, with lots of Charolais cattle everywhere, neat gardens, flowers tucked in and around quaint old houses. On foot once again, we enjoyed the abundance of wildflowers, and felt like we saw so much more by walking. Larry continued to take pictures of each “ecluse” and hopefully we can put together a poster of them when we get home. We met up with the barge at the last lock before docking, then sat down to another fantastic lunch. Poached eggs over toast with a red wine and mushroom sauce, mixed salad, and homemade peach ice cream for dessert. Cheese and wine of course, was a highlight of lunch.

Our destination after lunch was - Chateauneuf! Fortunately, we had not gone into the village on our walk, knowing we would be visiting it today. Michael gave us an extraordinary tour of the chateau, we walked around the village, enjoyed the views and had a wonderful afternoon, swinging by one of the reservoirs that feeds the canal on the way back to the barge and driving into Pouilly, to see where the canal exits the 3 kilometer tunnel that’s under the city.

We had a special treat in store for us tonight, Armel and Roland were our entertainment before dinner. They sang and played French and Belgian songs for us. Roland was an amazing piano player and had a great voice, and Armel, was sexy and sultry as she went through their repertoire of music. A perfect touch for cruising through Burgundy and we enjoyed their performance immensely.

Dinner was later because of the entertainment, and since it was John’s birthday, we celebrated in style with birthday hats and balloons. Chestnut soup with croutons and duck pate, followed by fish with sauce verte and fresh tomato salsa and rice pilaf, our cheese tray, then birthday cake with crème fraiche and warm berry sauce. To end the meal we had a champagne birthday toast to John by all, including the crew – a perfect way to celebrate such an auspicious day.

Friday, and sadly our last day, we felt like we wanted to mutiny and take over the barge living on it for the rest of the summer, eating Sarah’s delicious meals. But alas, we knew we couldn’t do that so we tried our best to lock in every memory of that day. We started early, heading out at 6:15 am for a hot air balloon ride over the Burgundy countryside. It was our party’s first ride, and Haley and Armel came along to experience one of the most amazing events any of us have had. We jumped in the basket, and with a few blasts of hot air and we were o! the ground in seconds. The ground crew unhooked us and we were off What an amazing thing to view the world from a hot air balloon. Your whole perspective changes as all that is familiar gets smaller and smaller while you float along on the wind currents. The cows below didn’t particularly like us and they would look up and bellow, then race off in a panic. We glided along for an hour until our expert pilot set us down precisely between two wheat fields on a dirt road. The farmer wasn’t too happy, and he came out to tell us so, but the balloon did not damage the wheat and we all helped to pack it up and get the basket and balloon back on the trailer, celebrating afterwards with a little champagne!

When we returned to Le Papillon, we had breakfast, then launched for our final trip on the canal through the tunnel. It was a little creepy, damp and dark, but Cedric guided the barge through it without a hitch. We were glad to see daylight on the other side and we moored at our final destination – Pouilly en Auxois. It was a little sad knowing this was our last spot, but nevertheless, we took off on one last excursion to Fontenay Abbey. Once again we were treated to an astounding setting, beautiful grounds and buildings restored at various stages in its history by the Aynard family. They have done an incredible job of restoring the abbey over the years and we spent a couple of hours wandering through the buildings. On our return trip, we stopped at Semur en Auxois to walk through the medieval city admiring the architecture and remains of the fortifications. Then we loaded up into the trusty VW van and made our way back to the barge.

Our last night was bittersweet, knowing this would be the end to a wonderful week of friendship, learning about French history and culture, enjoying gourmet meals and being spoiled as guests of Le Papillon. But we threw ourselves into the festivities, enjoying our final stupendous meal, starting with a delectable crab cake, then duck with sautéed radishes, haricot verte, patate douce, our cheese course and ending the meal with pannecotta au citron. More champagne, conversations with the crew, then we reluctantly headed off to our cabins to pack and get ready for an early departure the next morning.

Looking back on our week on the barge, we were soothed by the warm hospitality of the crew who saw to our every need. We delighted in the comforts of the barge itself, intimate and cozy with a great deck to sit on and simply watch the scenery go by. We enjoyed the walking and bike riding, spending time together without the intrusions of the everyday stresses of life – work, caring for aging parents, household chores and more. We appreciated the fresh foods we ate, and the expert way they were made into something extraordinary three times a day for us. We left Le Papillon with hugs, kisses on both cheeks and a moist eye, knowing we would miss the leisurely pace and the feeling of being truly cared for by this wonderful group of people. As the van pulled away from Le Papillon for the last time, we all fell silent, each remembering special moments that we tucked away into our memory banks for future reference when we returned to our lives back in the states.

So … if you ever dreamed of a vacation where you don’t have to worry about anything, with a perfect setting, just the right amount of activities, delicious food, great companionship and the most wonderful people to care for you – Le Papillon is for you!

How can we ever adequately thank you for providing this incredible opportunity to us? We can only say thank you from the bottom of our hearts for this chance to experience the Papillon and for Larry and I to have a chance to reconnect again, spend some quality time together and remember what being in love is all about.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
C and L

[Many thanks to the owner of the Papillon for sharing these comments with us!]

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