One of the main reasons for traveling is to relax. That’s why cruises are so popular. People really love to just sit back and have a completely relaxing vacation, where someone else takes care of the details. You just get on board and have a great time. You eat amazing food, you drink amazing wine, you go on amazing excursions, and it is all planned by someone else.

Sound refreshing? Believe me, it is.

Don’t get me wrong, I love planning my own holidays too, but there are definitely times when I wouldn’t mind letting someone else do it. If you’re the type of traveler who doesn’t want to plan the details, but you still want to have a fantastic time, meet new people, and see inspired places, then I have to tell you that a canal barge cruise through the French canals is exactly what you’re looking for.

We recently had an opportunity to go on a Burgundy barge cruise in France on board the beautiful Finesse, that we booked through European Waterways. Not knowing what to expect from this week-long adventure on the canals of southern Burgundy, we packed our bags and got on board.

I was sold on the concept from the second I stepped aboard and was handed a glass of Champagne by one of the charming and friendly hostesses, Ang and Cat.

On a luxury barge cruise, not only can you unpack once and then travel around the region in complete style and luxury, you also get to see beautiful scenery all along the way. It’s the best of all world, rolled into one week-long trip.

View our video of the canal barge cruising experience:

To my relief, the Finesse canal barge was not a rundown piece of scrap metal, as one might expect from watching barges carry cargo down the river her whole life. This barge was 100% luxury. Complete with a large umbrella’ed dining table on the front deck from which to enjoy a long lunch, and a perfectly temperatured hot tub from which to watch the stars at night after a thoroughly enjoyable 4-course master-chef created meal.

Before I get carried away, I should probably explain exactly what a barge cruise in Europe looks like. They aren’t just in France (also in Italy, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, etc) and there are many different canals snaking all throughout Europe that they cruise along. A canal cruise is similar to those big river cruises you see everywhere, but they’re actually smaller, more intimate, and more exclusive. Instead of 100+ passengers, a barge hotel typically carries between 4-12 passengers.

Let me share with you the facts about a canal barge cruise. See for yourself if this is something you might be able to get onboard with (pun intended).

A six-night barge cruise includes:

  • All gourmet meals – at least 3 courses for lunch, 4 courses for dinner, with a cheese course and dessert (see below for more information about the amazing food).
  • Professionally chosen regional wines at each meal that are specifically paired with your meal (see below for more information about the incredible wines).
  • A fully inclusive open bar. Fancy an appertivo or digestivo, or a mimosa with breakfast? All included.
  • Bicycles to explore the towpaths. There is plenty of time to walk or ride alongside the boat on the flat, paved paths.
  • A sundeck to laze on, with sunchairs and loungers, plus a spa or pool to relax in when it’s hot outside.
  • Daily escorted excursions to wineries, castles, markets and charming French towns. We even got to see a wine harvest taking place right in front of our eyes (see below for more information about the excursions).
  • A few hours’ or relaxing, slow cruising each day through the lush countryside. Plus experience the excitement of transferring through multiple locks along the way.
  • All local transfers are taken care of for you, so you’ll be whisked to and from the boat without having to book a ride.

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The ultimate luxury all-inclusive hotel barge cruise experience
Luxury barge cruising in France with European Waterways

ON BOARD THE FINESSE - a LUXury floating hotel

Living onboard a luxury hotel barge is really not unlike having a room in a luxury hotel, except that it feels more like home. One of the best parts about hotel barging is that you can unpack your suitcase one time and not have to pack up until the end. But all throughout the week you’re moving around from place to place, seeing new things and watching the countryside pass by as you float along.

Although the configuration is different on every barge, on the Finesse there were four large staterooms to accommodate a total of 8 guests. I was expecting somewhat cramped quarters. It’s a large boat, but how large can the rooms really be? I was actually really surprised, and I’m sure you will be too. The rooms are 265 sq ft. We live in central London — our cabin on the Finesse was bigger than our room (and bathroom) at home.

The room has a queen size bed that I believe can be turned into two twins, if required. There’s a large dresser so you can unpack, plus a vanity and seat to get ready in the morning. The bathroom is also quite large, with a double sink and a full-size shower stall.

Finesse Bedroom
Finesse Bathroom
Finesse outdoor dining
Finesse Dining Room
Finesse living room
Finesse Hot Tub

 

delicious GOURMET FOOD

Have you ever eaten lunch and dinner at a Michelin-star restaurant every day for 6 days? Well, prepare yourself, because that’s exactly what you’ll be doing on a luxury barge cruise.

When board the Finesse, we were introduced to our chef, Mike. From the very first bite of the canapes he created for our welcome, we knew we were in for a real treat.

Mike fed us so well, we were near tears when we had to leave the boat and go back to cooking for ourselves. He made some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. He is a master at sous vide cooking, he created the most velvety carrot and cauliflower purees, he delighted our eyes with perfect tarts and souffles. It was masterful, delightful, stunning.

Chef Mike’s Gourmet Meals

Check out this video for mouthwatering photos of Mike, the Barge Chef’s, delicious food. We ate all but one meal onboard and couldn’t wait to see what he served us next.

Professionally Chosen Wine List

Professionally chosen wine

Southern Burgundy Wines

The Finesse cruises through the canals in southern Burgundy, along the wine regions of Côte de Nuits, Beaune, and Chalonnaise. Burgundy wines are made entirely from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

I was worried that the variety of wine served on board might be repetitious because of that, but the selected wines were all quite different.  Each of the wines paired nicely with the food that was being served, from light and crisp Chardonnays, right through to full-bodied, jammy Pinot Noirs (or, at least, as jammy as Pinots can get).

daily escorted excursions

Each day, there is an escorted excursion from where the hotel barge is moored. On the Finesse, which south along the Saone River and the Canal du Centre in southern Burgundy, the excursions take you to beautiful sights among the vineyards and in the charming town of Beaune.

The best part is that you don’t have to worry about a thing. The trip is planned for you, the van is there to transport you, you always spend just the right amount of time off the boat, and none of the excursions are too strenuous.

We also loved that our tour guide, Arnault, was on the boat with us. He doubled as the deck hand, helping the captain through the numerous locks, and as our driver. He was highly knowledgable in the area, and was especially great at explaining the wine regions and helping us understand where we were in the vineyards at all times.

Highlights of burgundy

Chateau de Germolles

Château de Germolles
We visited a 14th-century chateau, a former residence of the Dukes of Burgundy. The chateau is currently being lovingly restored by the owners and their live-in managers. We walked through the house, admiring the historical details, and learning about its restoration.

Chateau Clos de Vouget

Château du Clos de Vougeot
In the 12th century, monks from the Cistercian Abbey grew vines at Château du Clos de Vougeot. A wall still remains to define the prestigious appellation. We learned about the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (Brotherhood of the Knights of the Tastevin), and looked around the property.

Chateau Chamirey

Château de Chamirey
Located in a very beautiful vineyard in the town of Mercurey is Chateau de Chamirey. Our excursion here was for a wine tasting of their Les Ruelles and La Mission wines. They also have what looks like a very nice restaurant where you can have a wine-paired lunch, though we weren’t able to stay.

Hospices de Beaune

Beaune
The town of Beaune is the centerpiece of the Burgundy wine region. There are many things to do there, which we took advantage of. We visited the Hospices de Beaune, where poor patients used to be care for, we visited the farmer’s market, and picked up some tasty cheese for later.

Slow cruising - onboard activities

Along the Canal du Centre,
there are many locks that the barge must go through to rise up to the level of the canal. Turns out it’s quite mesmerizing to watch the captain thread the barge into the tiny lock and then rise up several meters before being released again.

Walking the canal

Walking & Biking

Because of the abundance of locks the boat must go through, there are some places you can hop off the boat and walk or bike along the canal. Then just hop back on at the next lock, or a few locks later.

Chef Mike's cooking lesson

Cooking Lessons

There is time while cruising to learn a few things in the kitchen from the chef. You can even request a specific cooking lesson, if you want. Mike taught us how to make the perfect cheese souffle.

Finesse Living Room

Reading & Relaxing

As we didn’t spend more than 4 hours a day cruising, it was just about the perfect amount of time to read,
take a nap, talk with the crew and enjoy the scenery. We played a few games, read, and soaked up the sun.

Professional & Friendly crew

Finesse crew

One of the absolutely best parts of taking a barge cruise for us was the crew and the other passengers. There were 5 crew members, each with their own distinct job, and they are all really fun to talk to. Each of them made the week special in their own way.

The Other Guests

Whether there are 8 guests or just 4, the other guests will probably be like-minded travelers.
Whether there are 8 guests or just 4, the other guests will probably be like-minded travelers.

I think most people who join an 8-person canal cruise, without knowing who the other guests are in advance, are a bit nervous about who they’ll get. We were convinced we’d be on the boat with a family of 6, with 4 young children, who didn’t speak English. That would maybe be the worst case scenario for us.

I spent way too much time worrying about it. Because once we got onboard, we were so pleased to meet our barge mates. They were a couple from Australia that we had wonderful conversations with every day at lunch and dinner, and enjoyed touring around with during the day.

My thoughts on other passengers is that the most likely scenario is not the worst, but the best. They are very likely to be just like you, because like-minded people are choosing to go on a luxury, all-inclusive barge cruise in France.

How to book a luxury barge cruise

We booked our barge cruise through European Waterways, one of the premier companies for barge cruising in Europe. They offer a large array of different style boats, and they cruise through 16 different canals, including the popular Canal du Midi, in France, and the Canal du Centre (which we were on), in Scotland, Holland, Italy and Ireland. And they have a fleet of 18 different barges. I trust them to be 100% professional and to provide the kind of vacation you’re looking for.

European Waterways website

To book a canal cruise with European Waterways, visit their website and check out their various cruise options. I spent quite a bit of time on the site, looking at the boats and the canals in France, before I chose the Finesse. Each boat is different, and each area offers different highlights.

Once you’ve chosen a specific cruise, you can check availability for the week you want on the website here.

Canal cruises go from Sunday to Saturday. You can either book the entire boat for yourself and your friends/family, or you can just book a few spots and cruise with strangers. Don’t worry, they won’t be strangers for long!

European Waterways canal cruises start at around $4,500. The cruising season is from March through October.

Prices for a 6-night cruise aboard the hotel barge Finesse are from $6,750 USD /pp (£4,490) , in a twin/double cabin, including all meals, wines, an open bar, excursions and local transfers.

You can also call European Waterways toll free from the USA to book a cruise or talk to a specialist at 1-877-879-8808  (from the UK: +44 (0) 1753 598555).

Website: europeanwaterways.com

CONCLUSION

Now that you’ve seen how amazing a canal barge cruise can be, I’m sure you’re already planning yours in your head. I cannot recommend this experience enough. We had a fantastic time and we came home fully relaxed and refreshed.

If you have any questions about barge cruising, feel free to send us an email. We’re happy to help you make a decision.

(A big thank you to the Finesse, it’s crew and European Waterways for helping to make this experience a wonderful one. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own honest reflection on our travel experiences.)

33 thoughts on “Why You Should Take a Canal Barge Cruise in France

  1. Maxine says:

    Wow this sounds like an incredible experience! And that food looks amazing! Sitting in a hot tub and floating past the amazing scenery sounds like absolute heaven! Great read 🙂

  2. Mei from Travel with Mei and Kerstin says:

    What a nice experience! I must admit that we had never thought about taking a canal cruise through Burgundy, or any other places in Europe actually, because we’ve always prefered the flexibility of road trips. But honestly I wouldn’t mind to have a trip all planned for us once in a while. And this kind of canal or river cruises would be perfect! Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      I like the flexibility to road trips too, but there’s something to be said for just getting on board, unpacking once and still getting to everywhere you would have on the road trip. It’s pretty convenient.

  3. Carrie says:

    The 8-person ships seem like just about the right size. I’m generally anti-cruise since the ships are horrible for the environment and dump hundreds of people at a small dock for a day, but this seems like a much more low-key and sustainable alternative. And I love the fact that they give you bikes!

  4. Janine says:

    This sounds amazing! I’ve never felt compelled to go on a cruise- to me it just seems like being trapped in a resort– what can you even see or do? But this seems perfect! How lovely to have a comfortable place to relax and unpack, but also be able to explore on land each day!

  5. Carol says:

    What an amazing experience! Not really a fan of cruises, but this may be something I’d book. 8-person canal cruise seems like a good idea. Though, I have to say, I have a family of 4, so we’d be taking half the capacity already ;p

  6. Megan Jerrard says:

    A canal barge cruise through the French canals sounds wonderful – I’ve always thought of myself as an adventure traveler, but I’ve recently found I really enjoy the opportunity to sit back and relax and slow the pace down a bit! I’ve heard wonderful things about European Waterways and it sounds like they lived up to their reputation – it’s funny because you don’t usually associate the word barge with luxury, but this totally is!

    Six nights sounds like the perfect amount of time to kick back and relax (I do love that you only have to unpack your suitcase once on these types of trips) and enjoy the views and some gourmet food. So many cool activities and daily excursions too. Thanks for sharing your experience – our next trip might be a barge cruise!

    • Laura Lynch says:

      I love adventure travel too, Meg. But as you say, once in a while it’s nice to just relax and let someone else do the planning (or the adulting, as some of my friends say.)

  7. Ozzy says:

    Impressive! I don’t think I have ever come across a detailed review of an European barge cruise. It seems exclusive, relaxing and delicious all at the same time. Six nights on a barge cruising through the canals would probably be one of the most relaxed vacation ever! With so many activities to choose from – cycling around the areas would for sure be amongst the best.

    I look forward to being in the lap of luxury canal cruise sooner than later!

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Well, I’m glad I can show the fantastic benefits of a barge cruise, then, if no one else is doing it. Definitely worth it, and it is quite exclusive, so you really feel like you’re having a unique experience.

  8. Annika says:

    Wow! I’ve never heard of this concept but it sounds amazing. Floating to different destinations while eating gourmet food and enjoying luxury accommodations… sign me up! Thanks for exposing me to this unique travel experience.

  9. Vanessa says:

    I’m so excited that you got to tour around Burgundy. I’m obsessed with Burgundian wines and food (like gingerbread!) these days, so this would be the prefect destination for me! I’m so impressed by how spacious they rooms are. I too would expect really tight quarters but they are actually bigger than a lot of standard hotel rooms, so even if you did want to spend more quiet time away from the other guests, you’d have a spacious area to escape too (hopefully with wine!)

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Vanessa, I didn’t know nearly enough about Burgundy wines before we went on the trip, but I definitely left knowing a lot and having tried tons of different ones. I can see why you’d be a little Burgundian obsessed!

  10. Drew says:

    What a trip Laura! I didn’t know that there were barge trips through Burgundy. This is a way more interesting way to explore the region. Drinking local Burgundian wine and eating multi-course meals for lunch and dinner? I would be okay with that! The barge looks comfortable too, which would be my initial hesitation. Look like you had quite the week!

    • Laura Lynch says:

      It was a fantastic trip, Drew. And I agree, it’s a great way to see and experience Burgundy. I think it’s sort of a unique perspective from the canal that you wouldn’t even know existed from the landside, because you can’t see the canals from the cities. I really enjoyed it.

  11. Victoria says:

    This looks so amazing!!! I would love to go on a river cruise and this looks even more relaxing! And France is so beautiful

    • Laura Lynch says:

      The river cruises look great too, but the barge cruise is just so personalized and I love the small passenger numbers. Agreed, though, France is so so beautiful.

  12. Donna Meyer says:

    This post reminded me how much I have long wanted to take a barge trip through France. Many years ago, I lived for a few months in a beautiful hilltop village not far from the Canal de Bourgogne. I saw several tourist barges slowly making their luxurious way along the water then and have wanted to do it ever since. Thanks for this lovely tour and all the practical info, Laura.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      You’re welcome, Donna. I only hope to inspire others to take a barge cruise, because it’s really a great way to travel. It would be really fun to watch the barges go by everyday from your house!

  13. Jane M says:

    Wow, this looks so beautiful. I’m always looking for a holiday I can take with my 76-year-old Mom. She loves to travel but she also loves her luxury comforts! This looks just perfect. Thanks for sharing!

    Jane M

  14. Carola says:

    This is definitely out of my price range. But I was sold before I saw that. It really does look like a guesthouse on a boat. What an amazing way of traveling, just seeing the landscape slowly move past!

    Happy continued travels!
    C

  15. Vicky and Buddy says:

    I’ve heard so much about river cruises lately, but hadn’t heard of canal barge cruises! I love how intimate it feels. I’d be a bit hesitant about who the other guests might be as well, but like you said, they’d most likely be like-minded travelers. I’d love to take a canal barge cruise in Italy!

    • Laura Lynch says:

      I’m sure the canal cruises in Italy are amazing. I think it’s natural for us to worry about who the other guests might be, but in the end it always works out.

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