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