The Barge Bonus
Float your own boat aboard a private, small ship cruise.
By Steve Leland
The explicit benefits of river cruising are well documented: all inclusive, complimentary excursions and, the real clincher, typically fewer than 200 guests. The thought of binging on an open bar and great food is enough to float anyone’s boat, but what if even 200 is too many to share your precious holiday time?
Luxury barge cruising may be the ticket to your personalized fantasy escape. Avid cruise lovers have combed the beaches, clamored among the ruins, visited the cathedrals, and shopped till they dropped in assorted ports of call. If you’re part of the been there, done that club, it may be time to jump ship and slip into the subculture of luxury barge cruising.
Many of today’s vessels originated as extravagant luxury retreats for wealthy European entrepreneurs, while others have been modified from commercial operations into floating boutique hotels. Regardless of their origins, capacity rarely exceeds more than 10 pampered guests, looked after by a doting staff.
Although the majority of these floating sanctuaries allow you to book on a per cabin basis, imagine chartering your very own barge complete with a customized itinerary, staff, and crew. Perhaps you’re considering an exclusive cruise for business clients, maybe old classmates are eager to stage a reunion, or perhaps your extended family needs bonding time. A private barge charter would tick all the boxes and the possibilities are endless.
Chartering cruise ships or riverboats requires big numbers, both in terms of people and dollars, and hedonistic yacht charters are generally reserved for the ultra wealthy jet set crowd. But barging is not only affordable and more personal, but it offers many of the same amenities such as daily personal excursions included in the fare.
Barging navigates calm canals and countryside rivers allowing guests to explore fascinating towns and villages that are inaccessible to oceangoing vessels. Enticing routes incorporate captivating waterways throughout France, folklore-rich rivers in Ireland, or adventurous loughs of Scotland.
Check your thoughts about ocean cruising at the gangway and come aboard three barges with classic French itineraries. Each is as flattering as the next, offering its own distinct approach to personalized pampering.
Owner, operator, and master chef, Dominique Monclus, and a crew of three bestow their love of canal cruising upon no more than eight fortunate guests for six days on the tributaries of the Garonne River in the Gascony area of southwestern France. Their pride of the area and passion for their beloved Rosa are evident from the moment you step foot on this vessel.
Guests are transferred from the historic center of Toulouse to the barge’s mooring near the village of Agen. Welcomed on board with a champagne toast and canapés, the ambiance of relaxation is front and center. The vessel’s main salon with two sofas and a corner comfort chair further the concept of a home away from home. Family-style dining at the adjacent table proffers unique menu selections, expounded on by the chef and served by his accommodating and personable assistant.
Working double duty as the vessel’s chef, Dominique relishes every opportunity to share the regional bounty of ingredients that he incorporates into his culinary creativity. Best described as a refined country style, mealtimes feature dishes designed for an adventurous palate. As expected, duck prominently appears on several occasions as confit, à l’orange, sausage, or magret. Esteemed wine, decadent desserts, and a superb selection of gourmet cheeses complete each dining experience.
The navigation aspect plays an important role in the journey’s appeal. While transiting through numerous locks is always an attraction, this itinerary introduces inventive and unique components to canal travel. Cruising through the pastoral settings encountered on the classic Rosa is a true “over the river and through the woods” journey. Midway through the week, the vessel actually cruises over the Tarn River via the 1,000-foot aqueduct before resuming travel through more than 40 locks, which provide an entertaining sideshow as she carves her way through the French countryside.
Excursions include visits to the hushed streets of hillside villages, escorted tours of captivating chateaus, and inquisitive…
Photo: Barge Lady