FAQs – All About Hotel Barging in France
Taking a hotel barge holiday or vacation in France is one of the most enjoyable, most relaxing ways to appreciate this beautiful country with its thousands of years of history, heritage and culture. So, what’s it all about?
5 Minute Briefing :: Hotel Barge Canal and River Cruises
Explore France from the inside – being treated like royalty!
- Yes, it is very relaxing – as well as being very interesting, rewarding and stimulating. It is most certainly not boring, nor on the other hand is it a constant round of noise, challenge and excitement. Many people take the opportunity to catch up on some reading, chat to fellow guests or simply day-dream . . .
- As much or as little as one wants.
- Aboard the hotel barge, there is the constantly refreshing vista of passing countryside, village and town, differing with every bend in the canal or river. This interest is punctuated by bridges and locks, which the barge seems impossible to squeeze through, but does, thanks to the skipper and crew’s amazing manoeuvring skills. Many hotel barges allow, welcome or encourage guests to join the captain in the wheelhouse for a ‘skipper’s eye view’ – and even to take the wheel for the easier sections.
- Of course, also on board there is the possibility of savouring wines and spirits of the region, fresh local produce and fine cooking.
- Off the barge, there are many historic towns and villages located by the waterway that can be visited and explored by foot or by bicycle.
- Away from the barge, many cruises provide visits to local places of interest that include stunning villages, castles, chateaux and vineyards – some of them on a completely unique and exclusive basis – for example meeting the wine-grower in person, visiting the vineyards, seeing the equipment and of course tasting the product!
- In addition, some barges are pleased to organise bespoke activities to suit guests interests – golfing, visits to historic sites and battlefields, visits to Michelin restaurants, hot air ballooning, horse riding, etc. etc.
- The majority of hotel barges operating in France are owned and/or operated by British or American people or companies. Captain and crew will all speak both English and French. Even on French managed boats, all will speak English. Nearly all boats will have the potential for other languages – a recent example being an all-Spanish guest cruise where one of the crew spoke fluent Spanish (as well as perfect English, French and Czech!).
- You will no doubt come into contact with French people who you will find to be friendly, welcoming and polite. Often they will be delighted to ‘try out’ their English . . and they will be even more delighted if you ‘try out’ a few words of French.
For the majority of hotel barges that travel the canals you can stop to explore the surroundings practically anywhere and everywhere, as your mood takes you and circumstances allow. The same is obviously not as true for the boats that cruise larger rivers.
- In the case of canal cruising hotel barges, there is a level tow-path alongside that is perfect for cycling or walking. Get off at a lock, walk or bike to the next one and get back on board again. It’s very easy and very enjoyable, and nearly all boats have well-maintained bicycles for guest use.
- Not in the slightest. The inland waterways are nearly always flat calm and the hotel barge is large, heavy and sedate.
Barges are large flat-bottomed boats that were developed to maximise capacity (for carrying goods) and suit the calm shallow inland waterway rivers and canals. During the last 50 years commercial traffic has changed, requiring even larger vessels that almost exclusively ply the larger (northern) waterways. Built solidly to last, and providing a very safe, stable ‘ride’, numbers of barges were converted for cruising hotel use, starting in the 1970s, as well as new vessels having been built specifically for this use.
- Hotel barges are thus spacious and sedate, cruising at not much more than a fast walking pace. There is plenty of time to appreciate the passing scene – be it countryside, village, town – or to cycle ahead to the next lock or mooring.
- A number of hotel barges are owned and operated as part of professionally managed fleets; significant numbers of boats are owner-operated and they provide their services first-hand as captain, hostess or chef.
- Hotel barge chartering is a well-established and significant element within the waterway tourism economy of France.
- Barges, their skippers and crews are governed by a number of safety regulations and licences, including regular survey inspections.
- In the main hotel barges have been fitted out to meet the highest standards of appearance, comfort and facilities. They are also very regularly updated and improved to maintain that quality.
- Guest cabins (bedrooms) (staterooms) will have double or twin beds (specify when booking), wardrobe/closet space and en-suite bathrooms or shower-rooms. A few single cabins are available. Because of the variation in hotel barge size, accommodation and the planning of the one into the other, room sizes vary from modest to generous. If this factor is important, make it known on the enquiry form.
- Nearly all hotel barges are air-conditioned.
- Public spaces include attractive saloon areas (lounge, sitting room or ‘salon’ in French) with large windows, dining areas and, of course, outside sun decks with comfortable chairs to take in the scenery, bask in the sunshine and eat ‘al fresco’ (‘en plein air’, in French).
- What a question – this is France! The distinguished English chef Rick Stein made an entire, highly acclaimed, series of television programmes based around hotel barging and the cuisine and produce local to hotel barge cruise routes.
- As we have noted elsewhere, hotel barges vary and a few offer self-catering or bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The vast majority pride themselves on the quality and reputation of their on-barge cuisine, often far superior to the local three and four star restaurants. The vast majority also pride themselves on the quality and variety of the local wines and spirits they have on-board. The general standard of hotel barge food and drink is of the very highest quality, combined with the ultimate in personal service.
- Most barges provide all meals, from breakfast to lunch to dinner, on-board.
- Some barges vary this by mostly taking guests out for one or more evening meals to a recommended high quality local restaurant (this is included in the price).
- Some barges exclude evening meals, which guests organise and pay for themselves, probably based on guidance from the captain and hostess.
- Nearly every barge can cater for dietary interests and requirements, for example vegetarian, kosher, low-carbohydrate, or gluten-free. All barges that can do this will require advance notice at the time of first enquiry or booking.
There are hotel barges throughout France, from north to south, and east to west, including one in ‘Celtic’ Brittany.
- Cruising routes include Paris and Champagne, Alsace-Lorraine, Provence, and Aquitaine and Bordeaux. There are many barges that ply the wonderful wine regions of central France and Burgundy, and that travel the historic and picturesque Canal du Midi.
- You will have noticed that many routes pass through wine regions . . .
- There are a few barges that offer short cruises or even weekends or single nights, but generally a cruise or charter lasts one week or six nights. Guests arrive, often on a Saturday afternoon, to be greeted by the captain, hostess and crew. Cruising then commences the following morning and finishes on the Friday following, when guests are taken to the airport or railway station from the ‘home’ or ‘destination’ port.
Most cruises are ‘one way’, between two ports and therefore offer two directions of travel, inward or outward. A few are ‘return’, home port outwards and then back to the home port. Some hotel barges cruise a variety of routes, adjacent or disconnected. For example, a number of boats cruise Provence early in the season, then travel the Canal du Midi, then return to Provence for the autumn/fall. Some barges cruise the entire length of the Canal de Garonne in Aquitaine, home port to destination one, then destination one to destination two, then returning in the opposite direction.
- From April to October. Earlier months can be delightfully crisp, clear and sunny. Later months enjoy a softer mellow warmth. In between, the high summer months advertise deep blue skies, hours of bright sunshine and heat that radiates off every old stone in every ancient village or historic chateau.
- You will see from our Master Directory of hotel barges that we have organised barges into a number of categories, ranging from Grand Luxe to Premier. Prices inevitably reflect the category, the cruise route and the time of year. They range from less than 3,000€ (euros) per person per week to more than 8,000€ per person per week for the ultimate luxurious French hotel barge holiday or vacation.
Whilst there are some hotel barges that are available on a self-catering or half-board (bed and breakfast) basis, the vast majority of hotel barge cruises are ‘all in’. The headline price includes almost everything – accommodation, food, drink (wine, spirits, beverages), visits and other activities, and transportation to and from the airport or railway station. Taking this into consideration, taking the level of personal service per guest that is provided, the quality of the food and wine, and the unique experience itself, the headline rate very often represents remarkable value, even if at first sight it might seem expensive.
- This would not be possible on larger barges, but smaller hotel barges – especially the owner-operated ones – often pride themselves on offering guests bespoke (or semi-bespoke) cruises and activities tailored to their guests particular interests.
- Many hotel barges are available for ‘charter’ of all cabins. This means that you and your group have the luxury accommodation completely to yourselves; it’s your own private cruising hotel. Partial charters (for example three cabins from the four that are available) are often possible, although a few barges are only available on the ‘full charter’ basis. Some (not all) barges will orchestrate booking groups of strangers (who almost always become firm friends very quickly) so as to fill cabins for a charter cruise.
- Larger boats (and some smaller ones) are invariably booked on an individual per-cabin basis.
- Nearly all barges require a non-refundable deposit at the time of booking with the balance being paid prior to the cruise. Cancellation insurance is strongly recommended.
Read a detailed descriptive ‘picture’ of a hotel barge holiday or vacation, based on a typical example – the Aquitaine-based ‘Saint Louis’.
Consult our Master Directory of hotel barges in France
– it aims to be the most clear, complete and up-to-date on the internet.
– to discuss your barge cruise vacation and ask any further questions.
We’re standing by to help you . . .
We feature information about 50 wonderful hotel barges, of various sizes and price/style levels, more than 100 individual cruises to choose from every week of the season, in 8 regions across France. Some book flexibly by the cabin, others exclusively charter the entire hotel barge. Quite a choice!
Every one of our hotel barge information pages has been carefully crafted and written by us, from our own unique first hand-hand experience – but we also understand that there’s nothing like speaking to a friendly expert to help see the wood for the trees and make the best possible decision about the vacation cruise of a lifetime.
So please, send us a Booking Enquiry form or just pick up the phone and give us a call.
We love France, we love the rivers and canals of France, we love hotel barging – and we love talking about all three!
+33 609 740 064 -or- +44 7590 287 178
We have been cruising and exploring France
aboard our own river boat since 2003.
– we also have expert colleagues in North America and Australia –
. . . friendly advice – expert guidance
There is no extra cost and we ensure best value for both fleet and owner-operated barge cruises.