Like many who love to travel, I yearn for those special experiences that connect me to a culture in a new way, experiences that provide a different perspective on a common location. I try to search out those opportunities that take a trip from normal to memorable and from ordinary to unique. I just discovered slow travel on a luxury canal barge cruise with European Waterways in France and have fallen in love with this truly extraordinary way to experience this destination.
It turns out that Europe, and France in particular, is crisscrossed with canals that at one time were used to transport all manner of goods. Today, those same canals are used for recreation, which makes them ideal for slow motoring through pastoral countryside, and can provide easier access to historic sites and interesting activities that might otherwise be less accessible to a foreign traveler.
Just like any cruise, a converted barge is a floating hotel that provides all the necessary amenities. In my case, those amenities came in high-end luxury and included a roomy cabin, lots of gleaming mahogany, bicycles for guest use, a hot tub for additional relaxation and a fully stocked bar.
The meals were decadently delicious, both to the palate and to the eye, and were always perfectly paired with top-shelf red and white French wines. Needless to say, there was also an abundance of fresh croissants and classic French desserts as well.
The beauty of this barge cruise though was the ultra-small footprint which meant a total group size of 12 or less. Such an intimate setting also inspired extremely attentive service from a staff of six, who, as in my case, quickly discerned my likes and anticipated my wishes. With such a small group, it was easy to bond with both the other passengers and with the crew, so that by the end of the week I felt like I was leaving behind my new French family.
For this stage in my life, I found the barge cruise to be a well-balanced mix of planned activities and free time. Part of each day had a tour to a nearby sight, with the rest of the time slow cruising on the Burgundy canal. Our tours were always privately guided, with some of them offering curated experiences exclusive to our group. We enjoyed a tour of a chateau by a 26th generation count who in this case truly was the “king of his castle”. We toured a UNESCO abbey, had lunch with a count and countess in their historic home, and saw wonderful examples of French Renaissance artistry. Of course, since this was the Burgundy region of France, there were also winery tours with plenty of wine-tasting.
For me, this barge cruise was as much about the food, wine and activities as it was about the journey.
As the boat moved ever so slowly down the canal, for those six days, my life also slowed down to keep pace. I was traveling in a world where my views were endless bucolic countryside, occasional quaint villages and tree-lined canal banks. It was quiet. It was peaceful. It was regenerative. And for me, it was utterly blissful.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- European Waterways offers a high-end, extremely small group cruise experience with 12 or fewer participants per barge.
- There are included excursions that are specially curated for the barge cruise participants.
- Food and wine pairings are a big part of the experience.
- Everything was included in the cost of the cruise except for optional tips to the crew.
- The service was very attentive but also unobtrusive.
- Guests need to be able to walk down the stairs to get to the cabins below deck, and down the gangplank to get on and off the barge.
- Wi-Fi and cell phone connectivity in the countryside may be spotty.
All photo credits: Rose Palmer
The author was a guest of European Waterways.
Get the full scoop on the author’s cruise on the Burgundy Canal on her blog, Quiltripping.
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