Planning to set off on one of the excellent barge trips in France? If it’s your first time, you may be wondering what to expect in terms of the vessel on which you’ll be living for a week or so. When you mention cruising, many people immediately think of the larger ocean-going vessels that cater to huge numbers of passengers, but in general, river cruising is a very different and far more intimate experience – and barge trips in France are something else altogether.

The range of so-called ‘hotel barges’ that meander up and down the canals and waterways of the country differ in capacity, layout and appointments, but the following will give you a good idea what your home away from home will deliver.

Charming and Authentic Vessels

Every one of these vessels is individual in design, layout and presentation and will vary from the very traditional to the contemporary. The décor, furnishings, artwork and ambience are often reflective of the regions through which they travel on their itineraries. While some are warm and rustic in their appeal, others are luxurious and sophisticated, with elegant furnishings. The class of barge will depend on your budget and the itinerary you choose, but there really is something for all tastes and all are extremely comfortable and well facilitated.

The Accommodation

Depending on which of the barge trips in France you choose, you’ll be faced with a range of on-board accommodation options. As a guide, some may feature luxurious staterooms and others will offer well-appointed junior suites and cosy double or twin cabins, all with ensuites. Many have luxury extras like under floor heating, as well as air-conditioning and individually controlled heating.

The shared areas provide the same intimate, friendly ambience in their saloons and cocktail bars, dining areas, libraries and reading nooks, while up on deck there’s often an open air heated spa and sun deck, as well as al fresco drinking and dining areas.

The Service

If you travel with a reputable operator, the service on board these vessels is what they are most renowned for. With an attentive crew to cater to the small group numbers, they go above and beyond in their commitment to providing the best experience for their guests. Every crew member, from the chefs, hosts and hostesses to the captain, is there to discreetly, yet attentively ensure you want for nothing.

This is what true relaxation is all about: gourmet food and wine, warm, friendly service and all those little extras that mean you can really relax, without having to worry about any of the details.

Get Off and Cycle!

While you may well be tempted to simply take advantage of the on-board facilities of the hotel barge, there could be times you want to expend some energy. Because the barges travel very closely to the towpaths that run alongside the canals and waterways, a really lovely thing to do is to disembark and cycle alongside the vessel. To this end, most of the barges have a number of bikes on-board for guest use, so you can get off and cycle at your own pace and meet up in the next village along if you like! There’s absolutely no chance of getting lost and the towpaths are flat, well kept and often shaded. It’s a great way to stretch your legs and work up an appetite for lunch or dinner on-board.

No Compromise on Comfort

Just because barge trips in France don’t involve those huge cruise ships with all their bells and whistles doesn’t mean you have to compromise on comfort or quality. In fact, it’s the total opposite: these gorgeous river going vessels have everything you need (and more) with the added bonus of charm, character and authenticity. There really is no better way to explore the more off the beaten path parts of the country – so get on board!

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Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge trips in France. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.

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Written by Sal in Politics.

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