Barge Meanderer cruising on the Canal de Briare
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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 d├ęcor 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.

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