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WHAT IS BARGING on the French canals and waterways

The Guide to the Ultimate French Barge Cruise in 2023  

Ahh… a barge holiday in France. Could there be a more relaxing way to travel through this glorious countryside than on an authentic barge that offers all the luxury of a hotel alongside all the appeal of ‘off the beaten track’ travel? You can spend your days lapping up the tranquillity of the changing landscapes without even heading onshore. Or, if you do enjoy a stroll, there is the option to discover the gentle buzz of the local towns or join an excursion to a place of interest along the way. Apart from the wonderful scenery and charming atmosphere that greets you everywhere you go, luxury travel demands wonderful food and fine wines, and the country has these in abundance.

Now that travel has opened up again, plenty of us are thinking of our next trip, and if narrow boating is on your wishlist, this guide to choosing the ultimate barge holiday in France might just persuade you to go ahead and book…


A Wonderful Destination

Whether you’re barging or not, France is a place that attracts tourists from all over, but the beauty of water-based travel is that you can get away from it all. Your boat will typically hold fewer than twenty people, so we’re talking about an intimate experience. The country is laced with connecting canals, rivers and waterways, with most passing through the main cities as well as the more secluded areas of the countryside. Which parts you choose to visit on your barge holiday in France is entirely up to you, but the more hidden gems of the country, that include out of the way vineyards, some of the elegant châteaux and many charming villages, remain off the radar for many mainstream tourists. This makes them much more pleasurable to visit for barging guests.

No one can argue with the wonder that is French cuisine and, as you travel along the waterways you will see how the regional flavours and specialties change. The French are passionate about their food and this is evident everywhere you go, with an emphasis on fresh flavours and fresh seasonal ingredients. Your dining experience onboard will be among the most memorable of your trip and your onboard chef will indulge you in an authentic week of dining like no other.

Many French barges carry bikes, so if you fancy stretching your legs along the towpath or heading off on a longer adventure, you’re free to do so. The towpaths are very accommodating of bikes; indeed in Burgundy, the Green Way (a designated cycle path) runs along the canal for most of its route

Beautiful Destinations for a Barge Holiday in France

When we say you are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a destination in this diverse country, we mean it! If it’s guaranteed sunshine and a relaxed vibe you’re after, the Canal du Midi (the oldest working canal in Europe) might be for you. Sleepy villages, sunflower fields and a scattering of fascinating Roman ruins dot the landscape that unfolds before you, but otherwise this waterway offers the perfect opportunity to take a real break, unwind and enjoy the simpler side of life.

Burgundy is home to some world famous wines and is the ideal destination for any budding wine connoisseur. Arguably the home of the floating hotel concept, canal cruising is part of the fabric of the scenery here.

Bordeaux is another wonderful wine destination – and the food is exceptional here too. A visit to Bordeaux brings with it an insight into true French culture, and the barging is pretty great as well.

Nowhere is more romantic than the Loire Valley, and meandering the River Cher onboard your floating hotel while sipping on a glass of something crisp and floral epitomises all that is the Loire. Majestic chateaux boasting storybook turrets and magical facades appear as if out of nowhere, while the Renaissance architecture adds to its appeal.

For the more alternative barge holiday in France, the Alsace-Lorriane (on the border with Germany) is a great option. Staunchly proud of its culture, the Alsace accommodates both French and German in every aspect of its being, from its cuisine and wine to its architecture. 

If you’re still not convinced that this gorgeous country offers the ultimate in barging destinations, take a look at this blog post for more inspiration.

What is a Barge Cruise?

Of course the destination is one thing, but you need to know that the holiday concept is the one for you too. So, what can you expect when you step onboard your floating home for the week? Well, we guarantee that you are in for a treat that begins with luxury accommodation, four course meals included (all are expertly paired with local wines), an open bar and transfers locally. And that’s just the beginning. Your barge will carry complementary bikes and there is an outdoor sunbathing deck as well as a spa pool for those evenings when a cocktail wouldn’t be complete without one. 

Days can be spent joining organised and carefully selected excursions to castles, markets, towns or wineries, or simply by kicking back with a book and watching the world go by.

The experience offers an authenticity that’s reflected in the character of the vessel. Comfort comes as a priority and every boat is decorated differently, to add to its charm and remind you of its history. The idea of the whole experience is that you enjoy a home from home week away. There are onboard libraries, board games and, of course, Wi-Fi .

Perhaps the most wonderful element of the whole trip is the attentive crew, who are on hand to take care of you. Without being intrusive they keep the boat clean and tidy, offer daily room cleaning and are on hand to serve drinks. Your chef takes care of all meals, including breakfast, and the captains always love to chat – and may even let you take a turn at driving the boat.

Our Hotel Barges

We have an exclusive selection of 13 vessels that all accommodate between 6 and 12 guests. Although we don’t own them all, we only use reputable operators who we can trust to maintain the same exemplary standards as we do. The routes are carefully chosen to make the most of the fabulous scenery and the many local attractions too, be it out of the way vineyards, magnificent chateaux or charming local towns and villages. No matter which vessel you choose, or which route, you’re guaranteed a memorable holiday.

When you’re on board, the crew are around should you need anything, and when you’re ashore the crew are busy with their daily chores, freshening up the cabins and preparing your evening meal.

Themed Holidays

Many of our guests come away to pursue a hobby or an interest, and we have created a wide selection of themed cruises that combine all the essential elements of a holiday on the water with an opportunity to partake in special activities. We also offer the option that if a whole group of guests want to charter a boat and have an idea for a themed cruise, we will make it our business to bring that holiday to life. Some of our existing favourites in France include the following:

Walking Cruises

So many of our guests love the idea of relaxing completely, but they also enjoy getting their daily exercise, and with so many wonderful walking and hiking opportunities, the more active among you may well enjoy making the most of them. Walking in itself is very much like barging, as it allows you to explore at a leisurely pace and enjoy whatever it is you discover along the way. Our holiday through Burgundy lends itself perfectly to a walking cruise and, thanks to the number of wonderful vineyards along the way, this trip often becomes a walking, wine and cruising holiday!

Wine Cruises

There really is no better addition to a relaxing holiday on the water than a wine tasting, so combining the two to make a wine appreciation cruise was an obvious choice. These holidays include personal tastings at carefully selected vineyards chosen for their authenticity, quality of tour and, of course, their magnificent products. 

Indulging in a glass of wine that has been grown and produced on the very spot you are visiting is a real privilege. Whether it is a Nuits St-Georges, Santenay or Vosne Romanée from Burgundy, or a Vovray or Touraine wine from the Loire, the experience is made all the more special.

Fruitier wines bursting with light floral flavours are the very essence of Provence, while the crisp drier whites from the Alsace are no less exquisite. Your chef will also introduce you to other wines over dinner that have been carefully chosen to complement the food and reflect the area through which you are travelling.

Biking Cruises

France is the ideal cycling destination and our biking and barging cruises are becoming more and more popular. As your floating hotel makes its way down the waterway, you can discover all that surrounds it. Cycling through quaint villages and beautiful scenery, past fields of billowing sunflowers and through bustling markets with no time constraints and no busy traffic means you can really unwind and enjoy. You can stop when you like to rest, take photos, enjoy a cold beer, or just people watch before returning home to your boat in time for a pre-dinner drink or a soak in the spa. We think it is the perfect way to spend a day. 

The itineraries on these tours are all flexible and can be adjusted to suit the distance you want to ride. We also provide the option to take a cycling guide so that you don’t have to worry about getting lost. On longer riding days, your chef will drive out to a selected lunch spot and bring you a delicious feast to keep you going until dinner back on board. Discover more in this blog post.

Culinary Cruises

We all know that timeless culinary creations are very much a part of the make up of France’s culture, which is why the concept of a barge holiday in France that includes an introduction into the fine food and wonderful ingredients of this country is a popular option. Our Canal du Midi holiday in the southwest offers the chance to learn more about the local ingredients and dishes and meet the people who grow, sell and cook them.

Whether it is truffle hunting in the Minervois region, meeting the farmer who farms the Petit Gris snails, or taking a trip to an olive oil press famous for producing oil from the Lucques olive, your tastebuds will be singing with pleasure after a week on board. 

Trips to local markets are always fun and sometimes your chef will invite you to help select the produce for the evening meal. Chef will also be on hand to provide demos throughout the week and teach you some classic French cookery skills and, of course, no culinary experience would be complete without a hands-on cooking class.

Other Charter Ideas

Our themed cruises are varied and the above are only a select few. Check out our website to discover more.

We have no doubt that a barge holiday in France provides all the ingredients for the ultimate in cruising holidays – and our guests agree! Offering the perfect combination of peace and tranquillity, luxury travel, wonderful food and wine and the opportunity to explore the glorious countryside on foot or by bike, our selection of water based holidays in France have it all. If you’re now inspired to book a trip with us, get in touch. Our team will be more than happy to guide you towards your next trip – and we guarantee it will be a memory that will stay with you always.


For more details call one of our Barge Cruise Experts 1300 302 623 or send us your request. 

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