Boating in France 2023
Bonjour from Port Chalmers.
We are back from our European sojourn and while it was blighted by illness, it had some wonderful moments. We were suffering from covid for our last week in Italy, so only had a short walkabout in Rome, but despite the hordes of selfie-takers around the Coliseum and Trevi Fountain, it was magical, after a 45 year absence.
During our first week in France we visited lots of hotel barges and some rental boats, before meeting some friends in Strasbourg to cruise up to Hesse in the Vosges Mountains on a Le Boat Horizon 2. It was a joy to drive with side thrusters at the bow and stern and a generous salon/galley/dining area with all mod cons, but the cabins were a let down. Fortunately, Le Boat have refurbished their Mystique boats, which I think are their best boats for two or three couples. We also visited Nicols bases in Dole and Saverne and were very impressed with their new Octo Fly model. The four en-suite cabins are well designed for two adults with decent storage.
We re-visited and inspected seven hotel barges in total -
The NYMPHEA (above) is the only barge capable of cruising in the Loire Valley and that is only possible for a few months of the summer when the barrage is raised to deepen the Cher River. She is a delightfully old-fashioned barge. Small and well proportioned with practical modern bathrooms and quirky individual cabins, using recycled items, which reflect the colourful character of her owner. We love her and in this case size definitely does not matter.
Next we saw the RENAISSANCE, which cruises the Upper Loire. As a relatively new, ultra deluxe barge she is the complete opposite of the Nymphea with four massive suites and a large saloon and dining room with fake wooden beams and red leather couches ….. Not our style.
After a night in the glorious river town of Auxerre we dropped in on European Waterways’ oldest barge, the ART DE VIVRE, on the Nivernais Canal. My notes describe her as a "lovely classic barge - a bit old fashioned but full of character.” The four cabins are smallish, but each has a shiny new bathroom with good showers.
Further down the canal in Clamecy we found the 12 passenger LUCIOLE. We’ve known the Luciole since the eighties, but she has undergone several refits since then. Thankfully she has retained the two single cabins (no supplement) and her charm, and is still the barge we think is the best fit for New Zealanders.
Our next stop was the Burgundy Canal, not far from where we used to live, to catch up with the L’IMPRESSIONNISTE. Another charming classic barge with four medium sized cabins and two larger suites, all with great bathrooms.
The PAPILLON had a major refit over the covid lock down, reconfiguring the cabins and bathrooms, but she has retained her charm with elegant stylish wallpapers. The sun deck by contrast has a modern high-tech roof that rises and falls hydraulically (to clear low bridges). The perfect charter barge for two couples.
Lastly we visited the FINESSE, on the Canal du Centre and Captain Matthew was very welcoming and proud of his 8 passenger ultra deluxe vessel. Massive interiors and suites and all rather stark and modern, but it worked well and wasn’t pretending to be something else. Uniquely, it's kitchen is open to the dining area, so it must have a very confident chef.
We trust we have stimulated your interest in exploring the inland waterways of France and urge you to get in touch soon to discuss your travel plans as bookings are relatively heavy for 2023.
Bien cordialement, Robert & Barbara