Penny Liley, owner of Luicole
Penny Liley, owner of Luicole

In the first of a new series of interviews with barge owners, we speak to Penny Liley from the Luciole to find out why she loves her French world so much.  Here’s what she had to say…..

“Unlike some other barge owners, I didn’t grow up on the water and was originally a cook when I approached John Liley to ask if I could help him out for a few weeks on The Luciole.  29 years later I am still here and I just don’t know where that time has gone!”

Before embarking on her new life on the waterways, Penny had some other really interesting jobs over the years which included working in a night shelter for homeless girls in London, cooking at Eton College and cooking for the Grand Prix around Europe in 1977.  It was a varied existence but gave her some great tales to tell.

In 1986 Penny joined the Luciole, but the boat already had a lot of history.  Back in 1966 the Luciole was actually the first ever hotel barge (called Palinurus) and even features in the book Floating Island.  Ten years later she was operated as ‘Secunda’ by Inland Voyages, but it was 1985 when John Liley’s company had bought her from Continental Waterways that she became a true family run business.   Today the Luciole remains that way with two generations taking the helm.


The Luciole is based in the Burgudy region of France on the Nivernais canal, which remains one of Penny’s favourite parts of France (the other being the Chamonix Valley) and she says that this is the reason the Luciole is so special….

“To me, the Luciole operates on the loveliest waterway – no motorway in sight, no rushing train track, no boring bits of canal, very few other barges and a lot less midges than some other stretches of water!   We also benefit from not having the Mistral to deal with!  The Luciole is a relaxed barge with a fabulous high deck and large saloon windows to view the countryside.  You can honestly get away from it all!  Despite being here year after year I never tire of the views or the day trips!”

The Luciole has eight cabins which accommodate 14 passengers with a variety of double, twin and single cabins, all with en suite facilities. Penny believes that they are compact but comfortable.

“There are so many positive parts of being involved in barging and I love being a host.  One of the simplest pleasures I get is from seeing my guests happy.  I would describe the typical Luciole guest as being lovely, well-travelled, unpretentious, relaxed and trusting.”

During the off-season Penny keeps busy with bookings and getting prepared for the new season ahead.  There is so much to do – organising crew, refreshing the interiors, marketing, accounting.  She says that sometimes she feels like the jack of all trades and master of none but her many guests would testify that everything usually always runs smoothly on board!  Last Autumn was particularly interesting as Penny took the Luciole to Paris for her ten year check.  You can read more about her adventures here 

Being a cook, Penny finds it hard to choose her favourite meal served on board the Luciole.

“I honestly believe that anything can taste good, however simple or complex it is.  I have lots of favourites!  When it comes to wine, the decision is easier to make…..for a crisp white I love a Sauvignon St Bris and for a red I enjoysthe Irancy wines (with a touch of the Cesar grape), and of course not forgetting the rather fabulous Grand Cru ‘the egg’ Chablis from Brocard.”

After learning so much from Penny we finished with one final question….could she describe the Luciole in just three words.  Her response?  LOVELY OLD GIRL and that seems perfect!

Find out more information about the Luciole here

For many honeymooners, often the typical choice is to hop on a plane and travel long haul to a ‘paradise’ island.  Whilst this can be a great way to relax after organising a wedding, paradise might actually be closer than you think……what about taking to the water for a relaxing and romantic river or canal cruise in France?  Although honeymooning aboard a hotel barge might not seem like the most obvious way to celebrate married life, there are some truly breathtaking five star boats cruising through scenery that has to be seen to be believed.

hotel barge esperance
Honeymoon aboard Esperance

Staying on the hotel barge ‘Esperance’ for example, with its white décor, handmade tiles and solid teak furniture, is romantic and luxurious and meanders along the stunning and world famous Canal du Midi.  There are also the exquisite Belmond barges with extravagant features like a hot tub, chandeliers, a grand piano and four poster beds on board!  For a truly one in a lifetime trip, you could even try the elegant and unique 90 foot motor yacht, the Mattia which will take you for an unforgettable cruise on the Rhône.  Honeymoons are about doing something special and you don’t get more special than getting up close to nature, seeing flamingos, white horses, fields of sunflowers or visiting the historical and picturesque towns and villages that make up France.  You can do all of this whilst staying in a cabin fit for a king and queen!

Hotel Barge Esperance
Romantic saloon

On board Esperance, your host Mathias makes sure that your every need is taken care of.  Beginning with a champagne reception and continuing with the very best meals and wines throughout the week, it will be a culinary experience as well as a feast for the eyes.  You’ll even get the chance to watch the meals being prepared in the galley by the first class chef and can then dine high up to enjoy the views.  The trip will give you a half day sailing and then a half day of excursions ranging from wine tasting and vineyard tours, through to cycling and walking tours to soak up the sunshine and the romantic setting, right through to exploring medieval villages and chateaux.  You then return to your ‘honeymoon suite’ a 270 square foot master bedroom – roomy and dreamy!

Why not try something unique and romantic for your honeymoon?  The French waterways have all the perfect ingredients and will provide you with memories to cherish forever.

Relaxand enjoy as you cruise the waterways
Relax and enjoy as you cruise the waterways

Holidaying on a hotel barge in France is a truly relaxing and enjoyable way to see some of the glorious scenery that France has to offer. A way to soak up the culture and history whilst having your every need taken care of! Need more convincing? Here are our top five reasons to have a vacation on a French hotel barge this summer…….

1. A great way to explore On most hotel barge cruises you can stop almost anywhere along the canal to explore by foot or even by bike. It is easy to wander from lock to lock but many all hotel barges have great suggestions for longer excursions into towns and villages as well as trips to chateaux or vineyards. Most itineraries are very flexible.

2. Beautiful weather and scenery A hotel barge cruises at a very sedate pace giving you the chance to appreciate the stunning scenery as you pass. With locks and bridges to admire, chateaux and vineyards to photograph and an array of flora and fauna, there is always something to gaze upon. The hotel barge season runs from April to October – with late spring feeling warm and sunny and the summer months being hotter with clear blue skies.

3. A crew who treat you like royalty The majority of hotel barges are crewed by English speakers so don’t worry if you don’t speak much French! They love to host their guests and usually have a huge knowledge about the area and about France. The crew want you to relax and enjoy your holiday and are on hand to take care of your every whim!

4. Comfortable and high quality accommodation Most hotel barges have been fitted out to the highest standards with design, material and fabric that offers guests supreme comfort. It is up to you whether you simply book a cabin on a larger barge or get a group together to charter the whole hotel barge yourself. Once on board, cabins usually have double or twin beds with an en-suite or shower room and wardrobe space. The shared areas, such as the saloon and dining space usually have large windows and plenty of space on the sun decks to soak up the sunshine and dine al fresco!

5. Delicious food and wine For most hotel barges, the price is ‘all inclusive’ offering you the very best food, wine and service. Your daily meals are prepared by highly qualified and experienced on-board chefs, whose menus are easily comparable to dishes served in a Michelin Star restaurant. They all pride themselves on their choice of high- quality of local produce, wine and spirits so you are guaranteed to get a culinary experience to match the exceptional scenery.

If that has whetted your appetite, why not take a look at some of the hotel barges and routes currently available this summer. From time to time there are great offers too….