A Life on the River – The Queen of Barging

In 2000, Dorothy retired from the university where she was working, and after reading a review on hotel barging in the Chicago Times, extolling the virtues of the lush countryside and magnificent food, she booked a week aboard a barge in France. Over the intervening 18 years she has cruised on 26 different hotel barges across Europe, a staggering 37 times.

Recently we caught up with Dorothy, and she was kind enough to share some of the wonderful experiences she has accrued over nearly two decades of exploration!

Why is this type of cruise so special to you?

Everything is included! I came to expect the same kind of treatment from other forms of cruising and the trips paled in comparison. The champagne welcome, talented chefs & tour guides and small congenial groups make it a much more personal way to travel. Admittedly, at the outset, the trip did seem expensive, but when one considers the quality of the food and wine, the marvellous excursions, the homely cabins and the transfers, the price is very competitive to other forms of trip. As for the food, where do I begin? I could stroll with the chef to the local boulangerie and help select whatever took my fancy for breakfast, delicious salmon canapes were readily available along with champagne and the al fresco gourmet dinners on deck were truly something to savour.

Do you have a favourite boat or region, or a particularly fond memory of one?

How can one choose!? I start to write that Burgundy was my favourite, then I think, I really enjoyed the Canal du Midi and the wild horses of the Camargue. I could tell you of the Renaissance barge and the French Shepherd in his black cloak and black hat smoking his pipe as he whistled for his dog in the early morning meadows of the Loire, or as I cruised along the Canal du Midi, I was astounded to see the sun turn the snow-capped Pyrenees pink! There was the rich cuisine and ancient architecture of Venice, the vintage halls of the Grand Hotel in Sète and the Aligoté wine – a light white Burgundy which quickly became a favourite…

I loved cruising so much I hung panels of a French village across a wall of windows to remind me.

Would you say it’s a social holiday experience?

Yes, because you’re part of a small group (6 to 12 generally), there is a tendency to rather quickly and amiably chat together, exchanging thoughts on the day’s trip over dinner and the free flowing wine! It’s probably a factor of those who select travel in this mode that everyone was very relaxed and at ease with the world, more like a group of friends travelling together.

I’m actually off on my first French cruise soon, is there any advice or recommendations you’d give to those embarking on their first hotel barge holiday?

I envy you the experience of the first time on a canal barge cruise through France! It is such a treat to see green hills, vineyards, historic buildings, chateaux et al, you’ve no idea of the incredible history to be found throughout France, what an experience. On a more practical note, I’d say, be sure to pack a sweater for cool evenings, bring something nice to wear to dinner and comfortable shoes for the excursions.  

Spring in Europe -La Belle Epoque Cruising 7

Tell us about your most recent trip…

In 2017, I celebrated my 90th birthday with an exciting trip amongst the many chateaux of the Loire Valley. Hot air ballooning over the Loire was part of the experience, miles of blue sky, green forests and beautiful castles. Incredible! 

Thanks again for the motive to review thousands of photos from 2001 to 2017. Awoke so many memories of wonderful times in Europe on the canals and in the small villages and of the marvellous barge folk I met.

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