In the first of our posts making up the French Waterways essential guide to French liqueurs, we go beyond le vin to another level of alcohol. Stronger, richer and better for digestion but just as quintessentially French.

Liqueurs might make up a fraction of French alcoholic beverage production, but they form an essential backdrop to European history, culture and lifestyle. Cognac, Pernod and Cointreau are, after all, household names. And whose grandparents didn’t enjoy a tipple of crème de menthe after Sunday lunch?French liqueurs - our essential guide

Our step by step guide to French liqueurs:

A bottled history of French liqueurs

Liqueurs in France are thought to date back to the Middle Ages when monks distilled herbs and alcohol for medicinal purposes. Bénédictine is a case in point – the brandy-based concoction was reputedly first made in 1510 to fortify the Benedictine monks at the Fecamp monastery in Normandy.

Over two centuries later, liqueurs began their legendary association with after-dinner conversation when French writer François Guislier du Verges referred to them as “conversation drinks”. Du Verges praised the stomach-calming properties of the strong drinks and today, many French liqueurs are classed as ‘digestive’.

The heyday of liqueurs arrived between the middle and the end of the 19th century when absinthe took the literary and artistic world by the storm. Numerous painters – think Degas, Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec… – portrayed the often sordid world of the anise-based liqueur. In literature, Zola made numerous references to the ‘green fairy’ in his novels.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, liqueurs became almost anecdotal. Spirits such as whiskey, rum and vodka took their place both in homes and at bar tables. However, the recent revival of the cocktail culture has changed the fortune of liqueurs, now a fundamental ingredient in both classic and innovative cocktail recipes.

map of france

Liqueurs are often named for where they originated, and production is still centred in a particular region. You can take a cruise around French liqueur history and taste their digestive and fortifying power for yourself.

When a liqueur is a liqueur

For a liqueur to be classed as such (and not as wine or a spirit), it must contain at least 15% alcohol. In fact, most French liqueurs are stronger, hovering around the 40% mark, although the most ‘fortifying’ can reach 60% proof.

Another essential component of a liqueur is its sugar content. A liqueur isn’t a liqueur unless it contains at least 20% sugar. In the case of liqueurs known as crème (de menthe, de cassis, etc.), sugar must make up at least 40% of the drink’s ingredients.

Basic ingredients in French liqueurs

Along with sugar and alcohol, French liqueurs often come with a long list of ingredients. In some cases, they may run to over 70 – the closely-guarded secret recipe for Bénédictine is reputedly this long and the one for Chartreuse nearly twice as long again.

Broadly speaking, French liqueurs can be divided into four main groups according to their ingredients.

Anise-flavoured liqueurs

Perhaps the most infamous of the four groups, most of these liqueurs originate from southern France. Well-known brands include Anisette, Pastis and the classic Pernod. Absinthe, known as the green fairy or green goddess because of the puff of green mist that rises from the glass when the water is poured over a sugar cube into the liqueur, also has an anise base.

Discover and taste anise liqueurs for yourself as you cruise the southern French waterways.


Probably the king of French liqueurs as well as the quintessential digestive, make up the second group in this guide to French liqueurs. Made from distilling wine and maturing it in casks, Armagnac and Cognac are the best-known French brandies. Another national favourite, perhaps less known outside France, is Calvados apple brandy, sometimes made with pears.

No guide to French liqueurs would be complete without a section dedicated to herb-based liqueurs. This group encompasses well-known classics such as Bénédictine and vintage Crème de Menthe as well as other more unusual concoctions. Chartreuse in its yellow and green versions is also herb-based with around 130 different plants used to make it.

Fruit-flavoured French liqueurs

These rank among the most popular French liqueurs. In this group, oranges take centre stage, but other fruits, particularly soft fruits such as raspberries and cherries, also play a starring role. Cointreau and Grand Marnier are universally known and their signature brown bottles form part of the world’s best drinks packaging.

In the berry department, the raspberry liqueur Chambord from the Loire Valley and Crème de Cassis made with blackcurrants are possibly the most famous. However, other lesser known fruity liqueurs such as the elderflower St Germain from the French Alps Briottet’s wild strawberry Crème a la Frais des bois produced in Dijon are well worth adding to your must-try list.

And the rest…

Last but not least in our listing of French liqueurs, this group includes those made with coffee or quinine. Vermouth in its dry version is epitomised in the Noilly Prat brand. And there are some more unusual liqueurs made with ginger and honey, such as Domaine de Canton.

French liqueurs are served on all our hotel barge cruises – try them for yourself in the exquisite surroundings of our barges as you cruise the stunning French waterways.





There are no less than 41 UNESCO world heritage sites in France, a country that boasts the fourth highest number in the world. For fans of French culture and scenery, this ranking will come as no surprise; France enjoys, after all, a reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful countries.

With such a long list of prime heritage sites, it’s also no surprise to discover that plenty of the UNESCO world heritage sites in France are on or near the waterways. So when you’re on a boating holiday or river cruise in France you’re never too far away from some of the world’s best cultural and historical sites. Read on to find out where you can see sites from the water.

Canal du Midi CarcassonneUNESCO World Heritage sites along the Canal du Midi

Top prize goes to the Canal du Midi, because all 240km of the canal have UNESCO world heritage status. The Canal du Midi, built between 1667 and 1694 to link the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean, is an outstanding work of engineering, a feat recognised in its cultural status.

With no less than 324 structures – locks, aqueducts, siphons and the world’s first canal tunnel – the Canal du Midi has plenty worthy of note. Be sure to travel through the giant Fonserannes staircase where six locks and basins take boats up or down a height of 21.5m. And look out for the Beziers aqueduct where the Canal travels over the river Orb.

Also along the Canal du Midi is another of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France: the walled city of Carcassonne. This medieval fortress that includes 53 watchtowers and well over 2km of ramparts is one of the best-preserved citadels in the world.

Where best to see them

Get up close and personal with all the structures on the Canal du Midi as you glide through or under them in your boat. If you’re river cruising in July, don’t miss the firework display in Carcassonne marking Bastille Day. This is best viewed from the banks of the River Aube.

See why the Canal du Midi is a world heritage site for yourself on board Enchanté  or Saraphina.

Bordeaux FranceRiver Garonne’s UNESCO World Heritage sites

A cruise down the River Garonne takes you to one of the largest UNESCO world heritage sites in France: the Port of the Moon in Bordeaux. This crescent-shaped bend in the Garonne is literally bursting with architectural gems and historic monuments.

The Port of the Moon received UNESCO heritage status in 2007 in recognition of its historical importance since the Age of Enlightenment. Home to the second largest number of listed buildings in France, after Paris, Bordeaux is today one of the most interesting cities to visit in France.

UNESCO highlights in Bordeaux

Almost everything in the Port of the Moon is worthy of mention. Particular highlights include the Place de la Bourse, the Grand Theatre and the riverfront mansions with their Neo-classical façades. Don’t miss the Mirroir d’Eau (Water Mirror) whose play on reflections has made it one of the most photographed spots in the city. Another must-see is the Cité du Vin, a huge futuristic building offering a guided tour through the history of the world-famous Bordeaux wine, plus tastings.

Where best to see them

As you’d expect, the best views of the Port of the Moon are from the river itself. Here, you get the whole picture of the crescent shape in all its beauty. The vistas at night are particularly stunning.

See this UNESCO world heritage site for yourself when you cruise with Saint Louis or Rosa.

River cruises Loire FranceUNESCO highlights along the River Loire

The Loire is not only the longest river in France, it’s also one of the most picturesque. In recognition of its scenic beauty and its historic monuments, a stretch of the Loire received UNESCO status in 2000.

The section receiving the accolade lies between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes-sur-Loire, and forms the central part of the Loire Valley. For many people, this is French countryside at its finest – not for nothing is it also known as the Garden of France. The many chateaux that line the Loire are another part of the reason why this area ranks as one of the UNESCO world heritage sites in France.

This stretch of the Loire is literally oozing with historic monuments and a great place to see quintessential French chateaux. Don’t miss those at Amboise, Blois and Chaumont – include the International Garden Festival (20 April to 5 November) in your visit. And make a stop at Orleans, home to a lovely old quarter and one of the world’s most famous women, Joan of Arc.

Where best to see them

Definitely from the Loire itself. You can best appreciate the magnificence of Chaumont Chateau and the attractive row of houses on the riverbank below it as you glide past on board a hotel barge or self-drive hire boat. The views of Amboise Chateau too are the finest from the centre of the river – get the best from the Ile d’Or.

See the Garden of France for yourself as you cruise aboard Meanderer or Renaissance.

UNESCO world heritage sites Pont du Gard RhoneUNESCO highlights along the River Rhone

The south of France also has its fair share of UNESCO world heritage sites, several of which are located on the Rhone. The historic cities of Arles and Avignon have both held world heritage status for several decades and make perfect stop-offs on your way north or south along the Rhone.

At the gateway to the Camargue, Arles boasts several fine monuments, all world heritage sites. Perhaps the most famous is the Roman Theatre, considered by many to be the best surviving example in the world. The Crypotoporticus (underground galleries) are also UNESCO sites along with several Romanesque monuments from the 11th and 12th centuries.

Further up river is Avignon with several UNESCO sites. These include the Pont d’Avignon, built in the 12th century (and the subject of that well-known children’s song!), the Palais des Pape, one of the most important religious buildings in the history of Christianity, and the castle ramparts and the cathedral.

Slightly off the Rhone route but well worth taking a detour to see is the Pont du Gard, a short drive to the west of Avignon. This Roman aqueduct rises nearly 50 metres over the River Gardon and has three tiers. It forms part of the equally impressive Nimes aqueduct that stretches for nearly 50km.

Where best to see them

You can take in most of the UNESCO sites in Arles and Avignon from the Rhone, which flows through both centres. If you want to see the Pont d’Avignon (and be sur le pont), you need to visit the town centre on foot.

See these UNESCO wonders for yourself on board Le Phenicien  or Roi Soleil.

River cruise France Seine ParisUNESCO highlights along the River Seine

Only a small section of the Seine has UNESCO world heritage status, but it’s home to some of the most famous landmarks in France and the world. Given the number of fine buildings along the Seine Banks, it’s no surprise to discover that this stretch of the river ranks as one of the most stunning UNESCO heritage sites in France.

The Seine Banks is the name given to the river between the Pont de Sully on the Ile de Saint Louis and the Pont d’Inea at the Eiffel Tower. This short stretch of river packs in the monuments and includes a long list of the most-visited places in Paris: the Louvre, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Les Tuileries, Musée d’Orsay, Grand Palais, Petit Palais, Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower…

Where best to see them

Easily the best vantage point to see all these monuments is from a river cruise or hotel barge. Not only do you get the best perspective and see them in all their glory, you can also view them without the crowds.

See the Seine Banks for yourself on board Golden Odyssey.

All this history and heritage might ordinarily be exhausting, but from a sunny deck aboard a boat you not only escape the crowds but have a thoroughly relaxing time to boot.



Luciole is the original hotel barge in France. When Penny and John Lilley bought the barge in 1985 it was named Palinurus and had been since its inception as a hotel barge nearly 20 years prior.

As modernised and refurbished as Luciole now is, Penny has maintained a continual programme of renovation to keep the barge in tip top condition, befitting the needs and expectations of her guests. The level of service and quality of accommodation, food, wine, and itineraries are impeccable. Knowledge of Burgundy and the little-known Canal du Nivernais is first hand and expert. The hospitality is unfailingly warm and welcoming.

Penny also does a wonderful job of keeping Luciole ahead of the curve and always of appeal to new and returning guests.

Themed cruises aboard Luciole

Throughout 2017, Luciole has dotted a selection of themed cruises. These are open to individual cabin bookings. It also invites you to theme your own week. If you haven’t yet watched the Luciole video above, Penny talks you through some of the special itineraries and themed cruises available.

These cruises also incorporate Luciole’s favourite moorings and on-shore excursions for those not all-consumed by the day’s activity. So don’t be put off if you can’t paint but your other half can – there’s something for everyone.

Art cruise

28 May – 3 June 2017

With the watchful eye and experienced hand of art teacher Charles Hickson, indulge yourself in a week of art, complete with drawing and painting tuition.

Wine appreciation cruise

24 – 30 September 2017

Taking in Beaune, Chablis, Sancerre and Poully-Fumé, this week’s cruise guides guests towards tasting and appreciating some of France’s most iconic wine varieties.

Activity cruise

Any week

From the apparently simple art of larking around in trees to cave climbing and canoeing the River Yonne, an activity cruise week can be tailored to the ages in your family or party and their activity ambitions!

Ladies luxury cruise

One of the most popular itineraries, available to book when chartering the whole barge, is the Ladies Luxury Cruise. Getaway with your girlfriends and relax. Unwind with a series of pampering treatments, well-being sessions, culinary treats and plenty of shopping! Not forgetting the occasional slice of patisserie and plentiful wine. Just choose your week and check availability.

Beyond the boat

Luciole also offers a bike and barge cruise in association with France à Vélo enabling guests to safely and fully explore Burgundy by bike.

For those looking to charter a hotel barge in Burgundy, Luciole will tailor bespoke itineraries according to what you and your party most want to see and experience in France. Nothing is too much trouble.

This selection of itineraries reflects Penny’s understanding of her clientele and her knowledge of the region. The crew’s service is superb and that reputation goes before them thanks to delighted previous and repeat customers.

NEW for 2017

Luciole is offering, when possible, 4 cabins available for solo travellers. If you travel alone and want a cabin to yourself at the solo traveller price – with no single supplement – check availability.

Further reading

An interview with Penny Lilley

Cruising with hotel barge Luciole 

How the rivers and canals of France inspired an arts movement

Forty seven hotel barges grace the pages of French Waterways this yearWe’re delighted to offer such a full fleet of hotel barge cruising holidays in France. There are plenty of familiar faces in the portfolio and a perfectly sized handful of newbies.

Here we’ll talk you through some of the trends we’re seeing in French tourism and boating holidays for 2017. We’ll also introduce you to some of our new barges.

More hotel barge cruising available by-cabin

All hotel barges can be chartered, for your private family vacation or friendship group jolly, but these days more barges are accepting cabin bookings so you can come as a couple, or alone – two hotel barges have single cabins but on other barges a single supplement applies.

Social cruising

Hotel barge cruising with others means that you are likely to meet more fascinating people and make new contacts. One of the great benefits of hotel barging in France is the company of fellow travellers. We have met so many new friends from the world over during our cruises in France.

Hotel barge cruising canal du midi 2017 French Waterways

Hotel barge cruising along the Canal du Midi aboard Clair de Lune

Clair de Lune with her cherry wood and African hardwood interiors is a warm and tasteful place of repose as she glides gracefully along the Canal du Midi on one of two itineraries. Let Nathalie and Yves steer you through their own intimate knowledge of the Canal du Midi and its surroundings.

In the early part of the season (March-July) Clair de Lune cruises from Le Somail to Carcassonne. The foodie fantasy begins on day two with a private wine tasting at Domaine Massamier La Mignarde, one of the finest Minervois wine producers, while day three is all about cheese. Day four’s lunch at a quintessentially French restaurant near Les Halles will tee you up nicely for another wine tasting on day five at Chateau Villemagne. Come the Captain’s farewell dinner on day six, you’ll know your Minervois from your Corbieres and be wondering how you can return to this gorgeous part of France again soon.

In the heat of summer (July-September) Clair de Lune cruises further upstream, from Trebes to Naurouze. Few Canal du Midi cruises are complete without a day’s allowance to explore the iconic hillside fortress town of Carcassonne. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll be rewarded for your rampart walking with a sumptuous dinner on board. Explore the ‘circulade’ village of Bram, savour a private tasting of Limoux sparkling wine with just the company of your fellow barge guests. Will you find the Holy Grail in Rennes-le-Chateau or will you save your exploring for the Cathar citadel at Fanjeaux? On to Mirepoix with its half timbered houses, through the triple and quadruple locks to Castelnaudary with its Grand Basin to devour some authentic cassoulet. Naurouze is the highest point on the Canal du Midi and it is here that the waterway’s creator, tax-collector Pierre Paul Riquet, is recognized for his outstanding visionary achievements.

More boating holidays for your holiday budget

With 47 luxury hotel barges to choose from there is now choice, not just the odd option, for every budget. So whether you have $3,000 or $6,000 to spend – we’ve got you and hotel barge cruising covered.

More inland cruising options across France

The Canal du Midi is the heart of the hotel barging phenomenon – the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site being the magnet that it is – but beautiful Burgundy is where you’ll find the breadth of barges and itineraries.

Hotel barge cruising northern burgundy 2017 French Waterways

Hotel barge cruising in Northern Burgundy aboard C’est la Vie 

Pretty villages, serene countryside and fine wines epitomise a boating holiday in Burgundy and C’est la Vie is no exception. Add in lunch at a 2* Michelin restaurant and you’ll begin to get a feel for the opulence on offer.

Your hosts, Deborah and Olivier, pride themselves on exceptional standards and will tailor their service as best as possible to your French holiday requirements. Olivier is a borne and bred Burgundian, andalso a trained chef. Choose from their three itineraries:

The Burgundy Cruise along the Canal de Bourgogne from Ravieres to St Florentin encases history, wine and walking. Tick off a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay. Take to the towpath on foot or bicycle en route to Ancy le Franc (with its 16th century chateau) to get even closer to this region’s lush countryside. Moored in Lezinnes is a short excursion to Chablis, where it would be rude not to stop for dinner – if only to soak up the wine. At Tanlay the landlubber in you will have to contend with cobbles in this medieval town with ramparts. Wrap up your excursions with a visit to Auxerre on the river Yonne for a spot of café culture and people watching while musing over the town’s famous visitors of times gone by: Joan of Arc and Napoleon.

The Upper Loire to Burgundy Cruise takes in the Canal du Loing, River Seine, River Yonne and the Canal du Bourgogne as it winds its way from Montargis to St Florentin. This is the foodie cruise: dinner on the penultimate night of the cruise is at La Cote Saint Jacques, a 2* Michelin restaurant in Joigny. Back to the beginning though where at Nemours you’ll have an extensive tour of 16th century Chateau Fontainebleau followed by cocktails and dinner on board. At Moret sur Loing visit the house of Alfred Sisley an English painter born in Paris who also spent time in Moret painting the landscapes of this area. From the River Seine you’ll discover Sens, home to one of France’s first gothic cathedrals dated to circa 1140. Onwards to the River Yonne for an excursion to the 12th century abbey of Pontigny to rustle up your appetite for that extra special dinner. From the Canal du Bourgogne, at Laroche-Migennes, step ashore for a short drive to Chablis and a private wine tasting before heading towards St Florentin.

The Upper Loire Cruise along the Canal de Briare and Canal Lateral a la Loire meanders from Sancerre to Montargis. Naturally a private wine tasting of Sancerre sets the tone for this cruise and with some sauvignon blanc in your system you’ll be grateful of the chauffeur back to the barge! En route to Ouzouer sur Treze you’ll navigate over the Pont Canal, the famous aqueduct partly designed by Gustave Eiffel to cross the River Loire. An extra reward for your experience is a trip to the 10th century Chateau of St Fargeau. In Gien visit the pottery that made this town famous for tableware before admiring the seven lock staircase at to Rogny-les-Sept-Ecluse. Day five brings you to Montbouy and 14th century fortress Chateau de Sully – a stopping place for the royals of Europe over the centuries. Finally, draw in to Montargis or ‘little Venice’ with its many tributaries and 131 bridges, not forgetting a feudal castle, ancient buildings and Pralines!

Where there’s wine, you’ll find luxury boating holidays

Most hotel barge operators will not only arrange private wine tastings, they’ll introduce you to some of France’s finest regional wines over lunch and dinner. Beyond wine, you’ll likely have access to an open bar during your cruise too. From aperitif to digestif, explore France’s finest fruit products!

S.burgundy 2017-01-24 at 11.01.13Hotel barge cruising southern burgundy 2017 French Waterways

Luxury hotel barging in southern Burgundy aboard Rendez-vous

A grand cruise through Burgundy will be guided by your Rendez-vous hosts, Spencer and Rejane, who bring 20 years of hotel barging experience to their hospitality and itinerary. Cruise the Canal de Bourgogne from Fleurey sur Ouche to Vandenesse-en-Auxois. Freshly refurbished for the 2017 season, you’ll charter cruise in luxurious comfort, sustained by glorious sunshine, fine wines, gourmet food and stunning scenery – the perfect recipe for a cruise of a lifetime.

First stop Gissey-sur-Ouche, which is reached via lush rolling countryside and canal-side pretty villages. It’s also the gateway to Cote de Nuits where you can stroll or cycle the Route des Grand Crus and visit Clos de Vougeot for a spot of wine making history and a soupçon or two of prestigious wines. Dotted amongst the vines of Burgundy are the fascinating cities of Dijon and Beaune. Dijon’s covered market could occupy you for hours – another of Gustave Eiffel’s creations its abuzz with the produce and wares of the locality.

A day in Beaune is only just enough and you’ll taste wines and mustards, plus enjoy lunch at one of the town’s  fabulously vibrant bistrots. After all that exertion a couple of days cruising through heavenly countryside are called for. From La Bussiere-sur-Ouche to Pont d’Ouche you’ll moor to take in the fantastical chateau atop the hillside in Chateauneuf-en-Auxois. Cruising towards Vandenesse-en-Auxois stop for a cheese tasting and a little surprise ashore before a gourmet farewell supper aboard.

Hotel barge cruising off the beaten track

The glory of boating holidays in France is the alternative perspective gained from the less than crowded, gently meandering course to your destination. During peak season the waterways come alive with boats,  especially the further south you are. Yet it’s a buzz rather than a jam of traffic. An excitement in the air to be doing things differently, seeing France from another perch. Most hotel barge owner-operators will tailor your itinerary, a little or a lot, depending on what you want to see and experience most on your French holiday.

Celebrate in style

Some of the hotel barges for large groups are perfect for celebratory occasions like big birthdays or anniversaries. Imagine the memories of France you’ll create as a group and the holiday of a lifetime you’ll have. Whether there’s 12 or 24 of you, believe it or not there’s a barge ready and waiting to cater for you and your party.

Hotel barge cruising 2017 French Waterways

Luxury boating holidays in Alsace aboard Aurora

Meet Aurora. New to Alsace for 2017 and with a new host, John Baker, who brings 40 years’ luxury hospitality experience to the mix. John’s mission, aside from providing you with a luxurious hotel barge cruising holiday in France, is to uncover some of northern France’s hidden rural gems while enabling you to discover the myriad joys of Alsatian wine.

Cruise the Canal Marne du Rhin from Strasbourg to Arzviller in the refined ambience of king size staterooms and a third upper-deck for ultimate relaxation and unspoilt views. Define your itinerary by the excursions you choose along the way – we’ll just provide some examples.

Leave the architectural highlights of Strasbourg for the forests of Brumath and the prettier quarters of the city. Perhaps an excursion to Petite France, the Barrage Vauban, Strasbourg Cathedral or Fischer Brewery. Onwards to Hochfelden along what is referred to as the Wine Route. Stop in beautiful Obernai with its Alpine vibe, ancient ramparts, delightful restaurants and a deliciously eye-opening wine tasting. En route to Saverne perhaps Europe’s biggest care museum, the Schlumph Museum, will draw your attention or will it be a Benedictine Abbey and Jewish Culture Museum, or Camp de Struthof – the only concentration camp on within France’s borders.

On to Lutzelbourg – a picture postcard village – with excursions including the troglodyte village of Graufthal, the Lalique Crystal museum or the wartime fortifications of the ‘Maginot Line’. Wrap up this epic hotel barge cruise through France factoring in Marc Chagall’s chapel window and museum in Sarrebourg or renowned Faience Pottery and Lehrer Cristallerie. Not wanting to end such a cruise on anything other than a stunning note, you’ll encounter the Arzviller lift – the only side incline plane ship lift in France. If that isn’t enough, you can also add in hot air ballooning and the Spa of Sulzbad.

And so the decision is with you… Where will you go hotel barge cruising? Which itineraries take your fancy? What excursions must you see?

Need a hand? Ruth’s your hotel barge expert and is on hand to answer your questions and help guide you to a choice perfect for you. Send Ruth an email