Girls enjoying croissants aboard their hire boat

Take to the water in October… Really?

As much as we like to think that summer extends as far as October, even in France the temperature becomes a little cooler. But that really doesn’t impact the opportunity to take a boating holiday, just pack an extra layer.

Autumn is beautiful in France, especially from the waterways because of your unique proximity to the countryside, flora and fauna. We could ramble on about the glorious autumnal colours for a paragraph or two, but you know what autumn looks like generally. We’re just saying that it’s particularly spectacular close-up and with the light bouncing off the river or canal as it does.

But we’re also saying that a self drive hire boating holiday with the kids for October half term would be an easy and relatively low cost way to have a holiday at that time of year and the setting would be spectacular.

Another bonus of an autumnal boating holiday is it’s just a little quieter, slightly less touristy, on the waterways. So you get that little bit more river (or canal) all to yourself! But will the kids enjoy it? We hear you ask. What’s not to enjoy…

A holiday that moves that you can move with too

Don’t worry about being stuck on a boat for a week with your brood. When you hire a self-drive boat, you’re captain of your own ship. Once you leave your departure mooring, where you go, how far you cruise and where you stop are largely your choice. Most boats also come with bikes (or you can request to have them), so the more energetic amongst you can cycle the towpath alongside the boat and meet the boat and its designated captain at the next lock.

A little bit of elbow grease, or science, still makes for a good holiday

That brings us nicely to working the locks. All kids like to think they know it all at some point (go on admit it, you did too way back when). Let them prove it and help you navigate the locks successfully. While most locks in France are automatic now rather than manual and others are manned by lock keepers, there’s still plenty of opportunity for knowing, learning or understanding how locks work. The power of water is one thing, the taming of it is a whole other ingenuity. We’re still fascinated by them now and we’ve been through a few hundred in our time. They learn something new, they can hop off the boat to see how it all happens and you progress on your way with a story to tell.

Discovering the real France without going on the French exchange

Kids either love or loathe the prospect (or reality) of the school French exchange trip. Either way no family holiday should be anything like it. But what a hire boat holiday offers for you and the kids is the opportunity to stop at some of the prettiest towns and villages, often those least-tapped by tourists, in the depths of France’s beautiful countryside. The challenge that will most likely stir as a result of this delight is how little English is spoken by the locals, but how friendly they are. This isn’t about your GCSE oral exam. This is about experiencing local life as the locals live it and you can only do that by giving it a go, whether you speak the lingo or not. But we bet you’ll have a tale or two to tell at the end of it.

Gems, memories and funny moments

We go on holiday to relax and forget about everyday life. But we also go to make memories and add to our life stories. A hire boat holiday, if you do it just once, will tick a box because you’ve ‘done’ that type of holiday, but it will also give the kids plenty of content for their ‘what I did this holiday’ homework. That might be the highs and lows of sleeping in close proximity to the rest of the family or the many Instagram opportunities abounding each day. If you do it every year, you’ll probably cruise a different waterway on a different type of boat discovering different places, sites and foods each time you do it. So the experiences and the moments just grow and grow.

There’s a boat to fit most families

Most boats are bigger than people think. Even those six foot plus in the vertical stakes praise boating holidays. If it’s just you and one child, there are boats for two (don’t be put off by the ‘couples’ categorisation), boats for the average 2.4 children family (sleeping four to six) and boats for large families (sleeping eight to 10+). If there are lots of you, how about hiring two boats to cruise together.

If you’ve ever even allowed the thought of a hire boat vacation to cross your mind, do everyone a favour and seriously explore it as a half term holiday option. You won’t regret it!

Summer is here and the summer holidays are upon us, but is your reading list ready?

Last week we wrote about defining your capsule wardrobe and packing it for your hotel barge holiday, which is easily adaptable for any boating holiday. What we forgot to mention was leaving room for a book or two, or ten.

14 July is an important date in our calendar because it is the Fete Nationale, more globally known as Bastille Day. In 2015, 14 July is world famous for being the release date of Harper Lee’s sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird.

Go Set A Watchman has already accrued much interest and acclaim from those who’ve had a sneak preview. The first chapter was made available on The Guardian with an extract read by Reese Witherspoon along with an animated version. If ever you were unsure whether a book was for you or not, there are so many glimpses into what this long-awaited sequel has to offer, you’ll feel like you’ve read the book before you’ve picked it off the shelf or unwrapped the Amazon packaging.

American cover of Harper Lee Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman is told from the perspective of Scout, the daughter of lawyer Atticus Finch. It’s set some 20 years after To Kill A Mockingbird. Reviews of the book label Finch, a ‘bigot’ and a ‘racist’ – a far stretch from his morally bound incarnation in To Kill A Mockingbird – as he takes an unpredicted turn towards sticking with the white status quo. Thought to have been written around the same time as To Kill A Mockingbird there are naturally some questions regarding its late surfacing as the author heads towards 90, but make of it what you will; it’s bound to be a bestseller.

Clearly this is not the only book hitting the shelves in time for summer downtime. So if you’re keen to avoid the hype, we’ve picked a handful of alternative reads to trigger your imagination and generally assist your drift from everyday life into the perfect relaxed summer condition.


Cover of The Beautiful BureaucratThe Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips is just for you if your holiday is an escape from a mindless job. However mindless you think your day job is, take some respite in the intrigue that dullness creates for Josephine. Day to day data entry leads to intrigue then to anxiety and curiosity. Taking a step back from all this mindlessness she finds herself in a complex and secretive world in her endeavours to save those who matter to her. Be prepared to be surprised as you attempt to spot the twists and turns.

Cover of The Small Backs of ChildrenThe Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yukanavitch will throw all your assumptions, preconceptions and self-awareness into a spin. Driven by an iconic photo from war-torn Eastern Europe the story unravels to demonstrate the power of friends and networks, the pull of tangible experiences, virtual or present. Reassess who you are, your love and your losses in the context of stricken times.

Cover of The Sunlit NightThe Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein is the tale of two solo travellers from New York state attempting to discover and comprehend solitude. If you believe in love, its bonding power and its ability to serve up contentment then you’ll appreciate the essence of this novel. If you’re sceptic, perhaps you’ll simply delight in a world with a bird’s eye view, a strikingly described Norway and storytelling that will, at the very least, determine your next holiday destination.

Cover of Foul the book about corruption in FIFAFoul: The Secret World of FIFA by Andrew Jennings is a more topical read now than when it was originally published in 2006 given the events in the FIFA empire in early 2015. The result of four years’ investigative sports journalism is packed with exposé and whistle-blowing (no pun intended). The finest back page journalism delivers compelling firsthand storytelling, which makes it so much more than a book about football.

Cover of Threads - the life of John CraskeThreads: The Delicate Life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn is a biography effusing a journey of discovery and research. Craske, a fisherman of the Victorian and Edwardian eras painted and embroidered his way through illness. Depicting the sea, boats and coastlines through his works, he is most renowned for his large embroidery The Evacuation of Dunkirk. But this book carries more than his story; it also bears the story of the author’s meanderings to fulfil her research and her own experience of grief. Historical, biographical, impactful.

Cover of a collection of 19 new short stories from American novelistsNew American Stories edited by Ben Marcus collates 19 short story authors and their wares to demonstrate the lifeblood and variety of short story writing in the 21st century. In his introduction, Marcus proudly defines the value of the collection as something “you could build a civilization with”.

While this diverse collection of novels certainly isn’t your typical chick-lit beach reading list, we hope to have opened a few literary doors that perhaps you may have left closed previously. It’s our aim to read something out of our comfort zone this summer and see what we discover. But whatever you read, from this list your own, devour every twist and turn, and if it’s any good spread the word!

What to pack and how to create a capsule wardrobe for your hotel barge vacation

If you’ve planned a boating holiday this summer you may be wondering how much you can take on board and then exactly what to pack. Have you hit the shops already? Or are you mooching through the summer sales to fill your bag?

We may be in France but you don’t have to exercise Parisian chic unless you really want to. The style aboard a hotel barge tends to be comfortable smart casual. There’s no expectation that you dress for dinner, but if you wish to spruce up your attire or change, then please do.

Now, what to pack…

If you don’t already work from a capsule wardrobe, now is the perfect time to work such magic on your closet. Creating a capsule wardrobe is the easiest way to wear the things you feel great in while streamlining your closet. It’ll give you the freedom to pick something quickly and feel styled and confident. In a boating context it will enable you to pack light and allow for layering – the best way to keep warm or cool on board.

So when it comes to packing for your trip consider the following three pointers:

  1. Basic and versatile
    For a seven night trip pull out 10-20 basic and versatile items (clothes, shoes, scarves and jewellery) that can be worn in various combinations. Lay your items out on your bed – how many tops could be worn with any of the trousers, skirts or shorts? You want to avoid having set outfits and to aim for being able to interchange tops with bottoms.When you think about shoes, what have you got that is comfortable, not too high (stilettos and boats don’t really mix) that could work with multiple outfits? Ideally you want shoes that look stylish with a pair of jeans but are dressy enough to work with a skirt one evening. It would be remiss of us to exclude the boat shoe from our packing – comfy, flat, suitable for pottering around onboard, cycling or walking along the towpath and wandering around towns and attractions when you stop off.
  2. Repeat but mix
    This is all about mixing and matching. Even with just two tops, two bottoms, one scarf and one necklace you can create up to 12 different looks by wearing different tops with different bottoms, adding or excluding an accessory. If you’ve got long hair, thinking about hair up or hair down can also change a look completely too.
    A plain top and capri pants will provide a comfortable and casual daytime outfit that can be ‘upcycled’ by adding a blazer and scarf or piece of jewellery for dinner out. The boat shoe would compliment both of these outfits as would a low heel.
  3. Accessorise
    Choosing accessories is the perfect way to create new styles while keeping your packing minimalist. Pack 2-3 scarves and a similar number of necklaces, some statement, some subtle, and you’ll be amazed how different your outfits can look with these small space items.

In the words of personal stylist Lindsay Punch, “The benefit of creating a capsule wardrobe is to define your favourite clothes and ensure you wear them, rather than save them for best. Remixing them regularly and shopping less often but more intentionally keeps your collection perfectly suited to your style and the size of your suitcase.” Lindsay has dressed some of the biggest names in the world. She spent many years at Ralph Lauren and Harrods before flying solo as a personal shopper and independent stylist.

Back on board , feel free to ask us or your chosen boat owner-operator for their packing tips according to your destination and itinerary.