Merry Christmas from French WaterwaysJoyeux Noel!

The big day is nearly upon us. We cannot wait.  We have decorations ornately on show, Christmas gifts have been purchased, the tree is up and the cards have been sent. For many, Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, bringing friends and family closer. As you can imagine, there is a lot of emphasis on the food and there are many charming traditions that French families partake in. Here is a very brief snapshot of what Christmas is like for a typical French family.

Christmas Eve

Whether you live in France or are holidaying over the festive period, attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve is an incredibly popular ritual. Many attend with their children (leaving someone behind to play the magical role of Père Noël). Le réveillon de Noël refers to the late party of Christmas Eve and is a supper that is served after midnight mass. Those with younger children would tend to eat before mass at midnight. Christmas Eve, as in many Catholic countries is the main day celebrated over the Christmas period and both adults and children will open their presents on 24 December.

Children leave a pair of shoes by their fireplace (or front door if they don’t have one) as they leave for midnight mass. When they return their little shoes will be filled with sweets and gifts magically placed there by Père Noël.

Nearly every French home will display a nativity scene and the figures will have been passed down from generation to generation. You can buy your very own nativity scene from some of the stalls at France’s Christmas markets.

French Christmas Food

As you would expect, there are a number of regional culinary delicacies, which have their own take on a traditional Christmas menu.

On arrival guests might be greeted by a glass of Kir Royale, followed by sumptuous canapés such as blinis topped with caviar or foie gras served on a crostini.

Entree

Once sat around the table, an impressive fruit de mer is served. Quite the showstopper, a large seafood platter is placed in the middle of the table and will be full of raw and cooked shellfish including smoked salmon, prawns, mussels and oysters. Accompanied by a crisp white wine such as Chablis or Muscadet – the perfect friends to fish and seafood- the feast certainly starts in style. A lot of French families will also serve escargot, snails cooked in garlic butter with baskets of French bread to soak up the butter.

Plat principal

Often, it is traditional for one of the members of the families joining the host to bring a dish that is unique to their own region of France. Whether it is a type of cheese, cured meat, wine or perhaps the mustard, their contribution is added to the extensive meal. The kitchen is always the central hub to any French gathering and at Christmas the oven certainly works over time roasting many different types of meat from goose, capon (a large chicken) turkey stuffed with chestnuts, guinea fowl and even lamb.

Turkey is rarely served as the only meat on offer, a choice of red meat will also be presented and vegetables such as buttered green beans finished with garlic, sautéed potatoes and courgettes will join the party.  As you can imagine, being in France you will be well and truly spoilt for the choice of wine that is on offer. With this particular type of meal, think of a good robust red wine – a classic Bordeaux immediately springs to mind… simply divine.

Salade et fromage

Following that huge plate of traditional fayre, the French like to serve a green salad follow by an assortment of cheeses. A cheese board will likely include a goat’s cheese and several regional soft and hard cow’s milk cheeses. The cheeses will have been out of the fridge for several hours so they are served at room temperature with the softer cheese suitably runny.

Dessert

For those with a sweet tooth, the pièce de résistance is La bûche de Noël or Yule log, a butter cream cake in the shape of a log. The dessert can be bought in patisseries or if the host is feeling particularly creative, they are easy to make and children can add their own festive flair by topping it with homemade edible Christmas trees, snowmen and holly. Dusted with some icing sugar and served with a good Cognac, or Calvados if you are in Normandy.

So what’s more to say other than Joyeux Noel and bon appetit!

Excited doesn’t really express our delight at having more than a handful of new hotel barges on our site. We’re always looking to expand our collection, so we hope you like these additions!

After a summer of cruising, we had a busy autumn meeting friends old and new – the owner-operators of our hotel barges. So without further ado, let us introduce you to the newest members of our hotel barge collection.

Saraphina

https://www.french-waterways.com/boats/saraphina/

Stunning, modern interior of hotel barge Saraphina

Hotel barge Saraphina is a traditional 1920s Dutch barge beautifully converted to be your cruising base for a three or six night tour of the Canal du Midi.

From Portiragnes to Carcassonne you’ll experience a brimful itinerary including visits to an olive oil factory, a Cistercian abbey, medieval towns, lunches ashore in restaurants chosen for their fabulous cuisine. Not forgetting plentiful flat towpaths for cycling on the Dutch bicycles provided.

The barge’s two cabins are positioned at opposite ends of the vessel. And the spacious, central saloon and dining space looks on to an open kitchen. Watch and learn while you devour homemade fine dining.

Finnegan and Emily are your experienced hosts on board Saraphina focused on your relaxation and enjoyment along this winding stretch of the Canal du Midi on your whole charter cruise.

 

Saroche

https://www.french-waterways.com/boats/saroche/

Hotel barge Saroche sun deck and hot tub
Hotel barge Saroche is new to us and new to its owners too. Jason and Dawn spent years welcoming guests aboard Who Knows. Now, at the helm of this classic Dutch Luxemotor barge they bring a choice of Champagne and Burgundy cruises to small guest groups of 4 to 6 people.

Their Champagne cruise is available during the early half of the season. Naturally, it leans heavily towards the wine industry of the region in its itinerary from the view of the famous Epernay vineyards to the wine tasting. On land, you’ll benefit from a private tour of Billecart Salmon Champagne house and visit Conde en Brie chateau. There’ll also be time for wandering and shopping in historic Reims.

Join them later in the season for their Burgundy cruise through the Ouche Valley. Savour, what is for some, the pinnacle of French white wine production in the village of the same name: Puligny Montrachet. Wind your way through 12 taste variations on this theme. For a slice of history and an alternative foodie take away, enjoy a day in Dijon and discover mustard recipes and combinations that’ll throw a whole new light on your use of this condiment.

Typically a charter-only barge, cabin bookings are considered upon requests for certain weeks of the year – so do enquire if you are travelling alone or as a couple.

 

Caroline

https://www.french-waterways.com/boats/caroline/

Hotel barge Caroline deck for al fresco dining and sunbathing

Hotel barge Caroline is probably the most family friendly barging experience. If you’re travelling with children, this is the one for you.

Caroline is also unique for the ¾ board that it offers – three of your evening meals are taken in local restaurants of your choice and exclusive of the barge fees. So you get chance to live life as a local while you’re travelling too.

You’ll be warmly and expertly hosted by Ute and Uli on this Canal du Midi cruise from Beziers to Carcassonne. To settle you in, there’ll be a Champagne reception then a gourmet four course dinner once you arrive at your evening’s mooring.

Day trips include excursions to Olonzac, where you can become consumed by its vibrant farmers’ market before devouring some of its produce over a locally sourced lunch. On other days you’ll have the opportunity to explore the Roman coastal city of Narbonne and the historic fortified city of Carcassonne.

Like Saroche, this is mainly a charter-only barge, but by-cabin bookings are considered depending on the time of year.

 

Mirage

https://www.french-waterways.com/boats/mirage/

Double cabin on hotel barge Mirage

Hotel barge Mirage brings boutique living to the waterways of France. In years past, Mirage was a B&B barge. Now newly renovated for 2016, it offers full board cruising for six guests and hosts Pascal and Mimi welcome you aboard.

Let us set the scene: the spacious saloon has a tasteful aviation theme, the dining table was once at home on Atlantic ocean liner, Olympia. There’s even a piano and bass guitar on board – play your way along the Canal du Midi if you can.

Mirage might also pique your interest because it offers both three and six night cruises. The latter is available as whole charter or per cabin. Over six nights, cruise from Carcassonne to Castelnaudary savouring sights, sounds and gourmet food and wine. If time is tight, the three night cruise winds from Carcassonne to Bram. And if you want to add in something extra special, a vintage bi-plane flight over the region can be arranged too.

 

Hemingway

https://www.french-waterways.com/boats/hemingway/

Hotel barge Hemingway

Hotel barge Hemingway cruises the Canal du Bourgogne and the Canal du Centre offering a choice of itineraries. So where to start?

Cruise from Dijon to Chagny along the Canal du Bourgogne via a Meursault vineyard tour and tasting, a visit to Beaune and to ancient Nolay.

Alternatively, cruise from Fleury to Vandenesse on the River Saone and Canal du Centre via a Patriarche tour and tasting, a visit to Dijon and Chateauneuf-en-Auxois.

You can opt to add in a hot air balloon ride on either cruise too.

Freshly refurbished in the style of a luxury yacht, you’ll be more than comfortable aboard this three cabin barge. Come aboard on a per cabin or whole charter basis. All three cabins provide king size beds with Egyptian cotton linen of some of the highest quality.

Edward and Cindy welcome you aboard with their crew of seven to cater for your every wont. All meals are provided on board and like most hotel barges, there is an open bar for the duration of the cruise.

 

Emma

https://www.french-waterways.com/boats/emma/

Hotel barge Emma

Hotel barge Emma is distinctive on the outside for her arched windows. Inside you’ll find comfort amidst the quality furnishings throughout.

Choose from three one week cruises along the Canal du Midi: Toulouse to Carcassonne, Carcassonne to Beziers, or Beziers to Aigues Mortes, and delve into a superb list of excursions from historic town tours to local farmers’ market mooching and shopping trips.

Your meals will be accompanied by wines from the Languedoc Roussillon region and temperature dependent, you’ll dine either on deck or in the dining room.

Liz and René want your cruise to be memorable personally too, so they’re happy to see how they can tailor your cruise to your interests – just let us know what you’re looking for. Emma is available on a charter-only or per cabin basis, please enquire.

 

And there you have them. Six beautiful hotel barges to ponder over. But which will tempt you to the waterways of France in 2016…?