Top 10 Experiences on a French Canal Barge Trip

For many people the ultimate travel experience is one that allows genuine relaxation, attentive service, luxury accommodation and the chance to really immerse in the culture, history and landscape of their chosen destination. The idea of the kind of ‘slow travel’ experience that allows you to wind down and truly appreciate a place rather than just start ticking off tourist attractions for the sake of it, is  certainly taking precedence with the discerning traveller. But it’s something that we here at European Waterways have taken pride in from the very beginning…

Luxury hotel barge L'Impressionniste cruising past Chateauneuf-en-Auxois

A French canal barge trip is truly one of the most fulfilling ways to explore the wonderful culture, food and attractions of the regions through which the country’s beautiful waterways flow. Itineraries that take in places like Alsace & Lorraine, Burgundy, Gascony & Bordeaux, Champagne,  the Loire Valley and the Canal du Midi provide a superb way to discover an absolute wealth of enjoyment.

A European Waterways luxury French canal barge trip doesn’t just take you to a range of well-considered destinations, it allows you the time, space and opportunity to really get to know them. Now is the time to be planning ahead  with ideas for your 2021 holidays, so we thought we’d help to inspire your wanderlust. Read on for our top 10 things to learn, taste, see and experience on a French canal barge trip…

1. Sample the Wonderful Wines

It’s France, so the first of the top ten has to be the wine!  Even for those who don’t know their wines well, the thrill and enjoyment of sampling world-famous tipples in the very regions they’re produced is one of the most memorable highlights of our barge trips.

Imagine drinking champagne in Champagne, Sancerre in Sancerre, Bordeaux wine in Bordeaux – well, you get the picture. The food and wine service on all our cruises is exemplary and we offer a handpicked selection of wines to complement every meal. They’re also readily available at our open bar, so there’s really no excuse not to sample widely!

You’ll also have numerous opportunities to go on shore excursions for tours and tastings, so if you’d like to get a little practice in, these blog posts will teach you what you need to know in advance.

2. Food, Fabulous Food

French cuisine is famous the world over and getting to sample authentic regional dishes is a huge part of a well-rounded holiday experience in France. The on-board master chefs on our French canal barge trips work hard to ensure you’ll eat the finest regional cuisine at every meal. Each day is an adventure and, depending on where you are, you’ll enjoy gastronomic delights like Beef Bourguignon in Burgundy, Gascon Foie Gras in Gascony and Entrecote Bordelaise in Bordeaux.

If you just can’t get enough of the local food and you want to learn how to recreate the magic at home, some of our cruises even offer cooking demonstrations – and you’ll get the recipes to take with you. Bon appetit indeed!

Hotel barge Rosa cruising Bordeaux - life aboard Rosa

3. Delve into the History

For anyone with an interest in history, France is a dream come true. At European Waterways we’re passionate about providing a truly immersive experience for all our guests, so we plan our shore excursions to include a diverse range of impressive historical sites.

The different regions through which you’ll travel on our itineraries are bursting at the seams with historical attractions, including UNESCO World Heritage sites. We make sure that, if you’re interested, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the very best of the region.  Witness the sweeping Canal du Midi, awe-inspiring Vézelay, the majestic palace of Fontainebleau and so much more…

The Chateau Fontainebleau, France, located to the south of Paris, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

4. Make Like a Local

We take great pride in providing an authentic and immersive experience for our guests – or, to put it more simply, we want to show you the real France. Our itineraries are carefully designed to make sure you get to see all the iconic sights of each area on your French canal barge trip, but we also take you to the lesser-known local places and provide insider experiences that just can’t be found on the regular ‘tourist trails’.

On our excursions to magnificent châteaux, rural vineyards and many other places of interest, you’ll meet the real people behind the region and be able to sit down (over lunch or a glass of wine) and get a feel for their lives. Through these wonderful social interactions you’ll get to discover a true slice of local life that not many people get to see.

5. Be Amazed at the Aqueducts

The aqueducts constructed to facilitate trade, irrigation, and urban water supplies date back to Roman times and are true feats of engineering, as well as a testament to human determination. They really do represent the lifeblood of the many regions through which our French canal barge trips travel, and our itineraries help you discover some of the country’s most iconic aqueducts.

Even after so many centuries of use, many of these aqueducts are still in use today, not only providing a vital service, but also allowing visitors to enjoy a truly exhilarating experience and learn the history behind them. Some of the aqueducts you may traverse on your trip include the Agen Aqueduct on the Canal de Garonne (over the River Garonne), the Briare Aqueduct on the Canal de Briare (over the Loire) and the Orb Aqueduct (over the Orb).


6. Outstanding Architecture of the Locks

The French are understandably proud of their achievements in architecture and construction, and one of the finest examples of this is the incredible engineering involved in the many locks that are found throughout the country’s extensive network of waterways. Developed to allow for the vital passage of trade across Europe and beyond, the locks enabled seamless navigation via waterways (including manmade canals) without having to rely on land transport.

You’ll have a front row seat to see the ingenious workings of many of these locks as you cruise the countryside, including the seven locks of Beziers and St Louis of Arzviller. They allow vessels to pass through even elevating terrain, and their methods of construction are truly fascinating and awe-inspiring. Of course, you may be content to just sit back and let it all unfold as you take in the sights (and that’s fine!), but for those interested in learning more about the workings of the locks, this blog post may be of interest.

Experience Fonserannes on a Canal du Midi Cruise

7. Make Merry with Music

Music is not only the perfect way to relax and entertain guests–it’s also a vital part of French culture – and for these reasons we think it’s a very important component of our barge cruises. There’s just really nothing quite like the ambience of enjoying a private live music performance with sundowners as you cruise the stunning waterways and watch the world (or at least a small part of it) slip by.

We’ll make sure you’ve got a glass of something refreshing in your hand as you sit back, relax and listen to the sounds of a fabulous French jazz band up close and personal. If weather permits, you’ll be able to enjoy the experience on the deck as the sun goes down – this is truly what memories are made of…


8. The Luxury of Genuine Service

We’re renowned for our impeccable standards of service and it’s a reputation we work hard to maintain every single day.. Our dedicated crew strive to create a wonderfully relaxed ambience on our luxury barges, and they’re a place where our guests can truly feel at home and experience the intimate ‘grown-up house party’ feel that’s so typical of France, the home of barging.

Everything is designed to make sure you experience the very best of this wonderful country, your way – with a little help from us, of course! From  each barge’s locally-inspired décor and the thoughtfully named cabins (often reflecting the region you’re cruising through), to the magnificent food and the welcoming and dedicated crew (both English and French speaking), we’ll help ensure that your trip is everything you’ve ever hoped for and so much more.

A European Waterways hostess serving a fine French wines onboard

9. It’s All About the Croissant

What food could be more French than a croissant? (Clue: the answer is “mais non”!) But while these flaky, buttery pastries  might not be breaking news, we can guarantee there’s nothing quite like the ones you’ll try in their country of origin. When you’re aboard one of our charming vessels, you’ll be served fresh-from-the-oven croissants every morning – and no, you’ll never get sick of them!

We go out of our way to make sure everyone on board has the most authentic and delicious experience possible. So, every morning, one of the crew has the (very enjoyable) task of heading to the local boulangerie to handpick the best and freshest croissants to bring back. If you’re an early riser and you fancy coming along, you’ll be most welcome to accompany the crew member on their shopping expedition. A word of warning though: after a week of eating the most delicious croissants in the world, breakfast at home will never be the same…

10. Cheese Please!

Well… perhaps there is another food that’s up there with the croissant in terms of cultural importance to France: cheese! Learning about the country’s vast array of cheeses is one of the most enjoyable (not to mention delicious) life lessons you could  have – and we’ll make sure you reap the benefits.

On the course of your cruise, you’ll undoubtedly encounter many of the names you know so well from the supermarket deli at home and also many you’re yet to become acquainted with. We’re as passionate about cheese as most people and our itineraries ensure that you’ll get to sample a huge variety, both on-board and during shore excursions. Every one of our barges has a specialty cheese menu – but the best advice is not to try and choose, just try them all!

The wide selection of cheeses we offer on-board our luxury barges depends (of course) on the regions you’re visiting, and we make it our business to ensure you’ll get a true and expansive taste of the local area. A sample cheese menu for individual barges can be found on their respective pages in our brochure, and include varieties like Roquefort, Citeaux, Le Petit Vougeot and Salers. Sound tempting? You can learn a whole lot more about them here.

A classic French cheese, Roquefort can be found on a number of European Waterways luxury barge cruise menus

Enjoy All this and Much, Much More

So, there you have it: 10 of the most amazing and authentic experiences you can have while on a French canal barge trip. This wonderful country has so much to enjoy and it’s no surprise it’s so popular with travellers  seeking a relaxed pace on an unforgettable French escape.

What makes a European Waterways luxury barge cruise so unique, however, is our genuine desire and dedication to showing each and every one of our guests the heart and soul of the country, and not just the attractions it’s so famous for. Although there are a lot of those as well.

For those who are already in love with the canal cruising life, perhaps now is the time to start planning your next trip. But for those who are yet to experience the indulgences and simple joys of exploring the countryside on a ‘floating hotel’, 2021 is shaping up to be a wonderful year to kick off your new obsession.


To plan your post-lockdown escape along Europe’s charming waterways, please talk to a member of our team or order a copy of our brochure for a slice of armchair travel inspiration.

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