Luxury Canal and River Cruises in France

A superb vacation and a unique Five Star experience: the holiday of a lifetime for sophisticated and discerning people. A very special and completely authentic immersion into the best of France and French culture.

Ultimate and Exclusive Hotel Barge Charters

Still a relatively unknown and exclusive vacation choice, the hotel barge cruise offers a very special experience, and ‘Grand Luxe’ and ‘Excellence’ categories are la crème de la crème. There are only a handful of these floating ‘boutique’ hotels; they travel the French waterways, where hundreds of miles of gentle canals and rivers offer stunning cruises through famous cities – Paris, Lyon, Toulouse  – historic towns and pretty villages, fields of golden sunflowers and world famous vineyards.

The discerning traveller will certainly try to schedule one of these exclusive vacations into a European itinerary.

Hotel Barge Orient-Express Napoleon

Belmond Napoleon

Originally commercial barges carrying cargoes of wood, wine and other goods to coastal ports for worldwide export, these vessels have undergone extraordinary transformations into elegant, stately and luxurious private hotels. Smart, clean lines on the outside set the standard for stylish, sumptuous décor and furnishings within. The barges are individually owned and operated, or are part of a small fleet, but each one has its own personality and style, carefully designed and fitted to the highest standards of craftsmanship and taste.

Hotel Barge Golden Odyssey

Golden Odyssey

In the roomy staterooms (the bedroom, ensuite and dressing area) no detail has been overlooked:  individually-controlled air-conditioning, superior bed linens and a choice of mattress and pillow firmness; superb showers and top quality toiletries in the ensuite; internet, phone and TV services to hand; and delightful furnishings and decorations.  Some are even large enough to have a four poster bed and an adjacent dressing room.  The saloons (sitting rooms), again spacious and elegant, have comfortable sofas and arm chairs and a superbly stocked bar. However, guests should expect to spend most of their time on deck, relaxing on the loungers in the warm sunshine, cooling-off in the spa pool, and dining ‘en plein air‘, beneath shady umbrellas – or under the stars.

Fine Dining On Board

Of course, the preparation and enjoyment of food in France is of paramount importance and on board these top hotel barges it is guaranteed that the cuisine will be a highlight of this unique and memorable experience. The chefs are highly qualified, some to Michelin star level, and will have many years experience of providing traditional French, Mediterranean and other national dishes on board.  All meals are prepared with the freshest, local ingredients, purchased daily, from local markets and guests are frequently invited along to meet the local farmers and suppliers and choose the tastiest ingredients for the day’s delicious dining.

All cooks relish creating new and exciting dishes and hotel barge chefs are no exception; individual guests can be confident that their own tastes and dietary requirements will be gladly catered for. Delightful cheeses, fresh breads and pastries, and fine wines are de rigeur and complement every meal.

Belmond (Orient-Express)

‘Grand Luxe’ (five-star) and ‘Excellence’ (four-star) luxury quality barges are of different sizes and configurations, offering accommodation for up to 12 guests in 6 staterooms or cabins. Whole boat charter ensures that close friends and family enjoy a private, intimate atmosphere in which to holiday together, whilst some barges will offer booking cabin by cabin. Because luxury hotel barges are smaller than the ubiquitous river cruise ships that carry hundreds of passengers, they are able to travel on the smaller, less well-known rivers and canals, giving guests an exclusive feel for French life and culture.

The season for cruising in France is from early April to late September and bookings can be made for a minimum of one week.  Typically, barges travel a short distance each day, docking at a new mooring each evening, at a small village, larger town or a superb countryside location.

The luxury experience includes all costs on board so nothing is paid for during the cruise; even transfers from major arrival airports are often included and other travel arrangements can be organised. The full board arrangement means that guests can relax; all the services on board and excursions (see below) are included. Only the crew needs to be rewarded separately, with some well-deserved Euros, at the end of the cruise.

Hotel Barge Esperance

Esperance – Sun Deck

While hotel barge cruising offers unparalleled opportunities to go at a slower pace of life than normal, guests won’t run out of things to do. France is characterised by a long and eventful history so her cities, towns and villages are peppered with fascinating and historic examples of classical and informal architecture, art and cultural attractions. Private and exclusive excursions to these sites can be arranged by the barge operator for his guests.

Similarly, many regions of France can claim world gastronomic and wine production fame, such as the area to the east of Paris, home to Moet et Chandon and Mercier champagne wines for example; Burgundy for delicious red and white wines; Dijon for mustards; Meaux (Brie), Roquefort and literally hundreds of other locations for home-made cheeses. Hotel barge operators often know the artisan producers of these world famous products personally and can arrange special private, chateau-vineyard tastings for their guests.

In addition, a chartered hotel barge can offer themed vacations, so if a group of guests is particularly interested in wine, history or has a passion for art, for example, then all kinds of focussed activities can be pre-arranged.

Above all, the exclusive luxury cruise offers an enchanting glimpse into the heart of France, its people, culture and countryside.  It’s perfect for a leisurely romantic trip, a lively family holiday, or a bonding reunion with friends – offering fascination, excellence, and something very special for those who have a zest for life, a joie de vivre, and who deserve the ultimate experience.

Directory of Grand Luxe and Excellence luxury barges in France