There are about 60 boutique hotel barges that cruise along the peaceful and beautiful canals and rivers of France. They vary in size, comfort level and price – and they can be found in all the most attractive regions of France. Some can be booked by cabin (room) others are chartered complete by groups and families. Whatever the details of any particular barge, they all come complete with captain and crew who look after navigation; and professional chef and hostess to care for guests.
People often say that they feel they have been treated ‘like royalty’ and this is a very unique experience. Here is just one example of what that fabulous luxury hotel barge cruise in France is like:
Hotel Barge Napoleon
Napoleon’s Four Cruise Routes
• St Jean de Losne – Lyon in March, April and October
• Lyon – Avignon in July
• Tain l’Hermitage – Arles in August
• Tain l’Hermitage – Chalon sur Saône in August
The Belmond group offers the dernier mot in luxury travel. With world class hotels such as the Cipriani in Venice they have gained a reputation for offering outstanding comfort and service and the Belmond Napoleon, the largest ship in their fleet, is no exception to this. Refurbished in 2016, her three decks are beautifully appointed, with spacious en-suite cabins of 135 square feet each, a lounge with piano keyboard and a sun deck complete with Jacuzzi and gym, enabling up to 12 guests to enjoy unsurpassed comfort as they glide down one of the most spectacular waterways in Europe.
The River Rhône rises in the Swiss Alps and is joined by the Saône at Lyon heading due south for the Mediterranean Sea. The Saône is one of the most attractive rivers in France: broad, sleepy and unhurried, it links up with the Burgundy Canal, the River Doubs and the Rhône au Rhine Canal and passes through delightful countryside replete with wildlife – herons, kites and the pale Charolais cattle that come down to the waterside to drink. Macon offers an ideal base for discovering the Beaujolais, and Lyon has the largest number of renaissance buildings outside Italy – a visual delight. Voyagers along the Rhône pass by the vineyards of the Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf du Pape, visiting memorable and famous towns such as Valence, Viviers (a beautiful hilltop medieval village overlooking the river), Avignon (the Bridge and the Pope’s Palace) and finally Arles (where Van Gogh created his most iconic sun-drenched paintings).
A typical day will see you sailing along the wide blue river in the morning – you can sit on deck with a cooling drink in your hand and watch the countryside pass by. After an indulgent three course lunch, most afternoons will offer diversion in the form of a visit to a local attraction – for example a trip to St Remy for an olive oil tasting.
All meals on board Napoleon are prepared by an expert chef with fresh ingredients from local suppliers. Great care and expertise is taken in planning the menus and vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan and non-allergenic dishes can easily be arranged. They are served either in the dining room or up on deck, accompanied by carefully matched wines from the region.
On the Arles to Tain l’Hermitage route along the river Rhône you will travel by first class train to Arles and after a champagne reception and dinner on board, there will be time to explore the town so closely associated with Van Gogh. After visiting another of his haunts, St Remy, you will cruise to Avignon, past the famous bridge, where the afternoon’s excursion is a visit to the Pont du Gard, part of the Roman aqueduct taking water to Nimes.
Day Three offers a guided tour of Avignon and the 14th century Palace of the Popes. After lunch and a visit to Châteauneuf du Pape for a wine tasting you will depart for St. Etienne des Sorts. The influence of ancient Rome’s civilisation is no more apparent than in Orange where you can discover the town’s exquisite amphitheatre, which is beautifully preserved. Lunch on board and a cruise to the mooring at Viviers, home to the smallest cathedral in France, includes passing through La Bollene – the deepest lock in Europe.
Among the highlights of Day Five are a visit a working lavender distillery and an ancient XVIII century olive mill. Lunch at a superb local restaurant in Grignan is followed by a ‘black diamond’ tasting on a local truffle farm. No French holiday would be complete without shopping in a colourful market, in this case at La Voulte, after which you will spend the last afternoon idling through the terraced hillsides of the Côte du Rhône to your final mooring in Tain or Tournon. A visit to the nearby winery at Chez Ferraton for a tasting and tour provides the perfect aperitif before your farewell gala dinner on board the ship.
These lazy days on Napoleon, drifting through some of the most languidly beautiful landscapes and offset with just the right amount of cultural stimulation, will surely work their magic and leave you feeling renewed and replenished. The countryside, the culture and the cuisine really are the stuff of which dreams are made and when you surface at the end of a memorable week, you will probably find yourself wanting to dream again.
► Make an enquiry to get a firm quotation for this or any other hotel barge for the time of year that interests you.
Barge Cruising – The Saone and Rhone
– [below] In the region: Chalon-sur-Saone, Macon, Beaune, Van Gogh/Arles, Avignon, Pont du Gard –
Hotel barges often collect and return guests to a pre-agreed hotel. French international airports are located at Toulouse and Paris-Charles de Gaulle and there are European-flight airports at Montpellier and Lyon. There are also TGV express train stations near Dole and at Macon, Lyon, Avignon, Montpellier and Toulouse; and many other towns in the region have railway connections.