River Barging in France: C’est Magnifique!
Merci! Merci! Merci! Thank you, thank you, thank you to my extended family for sharing the trip of a lifetime to France this past summer. All 13 of us embarked on a trip through the French countryside aboard the luxury river barge, Caprice. We spent several memorable days sightseeing and eating our way on and off the boat, between and within an array of fascinating ports in the region of Bourgogne (also known as Burgundy), including Dijon and Beaune. River barging is a hot trend in travel and a perfect multigenerational experience. There was something for everyone! Perhaps the greatest thing about our European expedition was that we could do “whatever floated our boat” on this first-class journey.
On board the 90-foot vessel with sleeping quarters for a maximum of 21 people, we gathered in the elegant dining room for scrumptious French fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner, tasting a wide variety of traditional cheeses, quiches, croissants, crepes and chocolate mousse —- to name a few of the kiddos’ favorites. For the adults, gastronomic creations were matched up with regional wines that were served with each custom dish.
When our appetites were more than satisfied, we all had our share of activities to choose from each day. For fresh air and outdoor exploration, we could make use of the barge-provided fleet of bikes to get exercise along the canal paths that follow the same route as the boat. Daily comfortable coach bus-guided tours to area wineries, a monastery and a French fortress provided exceptional educational opportunities. We admired architecture and artifacts dating back to medieval times as well as getting a glimpse into the impact the two World Wars had on France. At times, we kicked back on the outdoor deck or in the bar/living room inside, soaking in the scenic beauty while the 90-ton barge glided at 4 mph along narrow canals and through a sophisticated lock system that connects with the wider Saône River. The captain even let the kids take the helm for a bit. Ooh la la!
Overnight docking at ports provided additional exploration. Each of the charming stops offered off-boat dining, sightseeing, fresh markets and shops. Strolling through these well-established spots offered a leisurely way to see French history unfold with regard to religion, politics and culture as well.
Our particular itinerary had us fly in to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. On both the front and back end of the cruise, we tacked on a few days to see France, Parisian-style, hitting new heights at the Eiffel Tower, ooo-ing and ah-ing over renowned art at the Louvre, and marveling over the magnificence of Notre Dame Cathedral.
The barge departed from Dijon (yes, where the famous mustard is made), a few hours outside of Paris. We took the high-speed train (TGV) from the city to meet up with the tour operators in Dijon. What a trip we had!
A variety of tour companies at various price points run mostly week-long jaunts. We chose the Caprice, given its fine reputation for having a hospitable staff with expertise in serving up gourmet food and wine and extensive knowledge of French culture and history. Our five-person crew was gracious and helpful. Although a language barrier existed because of our lack of French language skills, the staff spoke English well enough to comfortably communicate.
If you are sold on this idea to treat your family to a gift of a lifetime, I wish you happy travels and “Bon Appetit!”
Barge tours run from June through October when the weather is most delightful. For more information, see www.bargesinfrance.com. Also, visit www.abercrombiekent.com. Working with your travel agent is advisable too.