Published on :   06/21/2019

All aboard a CroisiEurope barge

By Jeannine Williamson

In France it’s virtually impossible to escape the very enjoyable institution of a proper lunchtime, and soon after boarding the barge Jeanine it became clear it would be a case of going with the gastronomic flow.

Jeanine vessel sailing

After the refreshing pre-lunch cocktail of the day - cranberry juice, blackcurrant liqueur and a dash of pear brandy - chef Georges brought out roasted fillet of pork with red pepper and potatoes cooked in white wine, followed by two local cheeses and crème brûlée with gingerbread. then captain riad told us we’d be mooring up for a couple of hours while the lock keepers had their lunch. While many large river vessels adapt their menus to suit international palates, the joy of travelling with CroisiEurope is that you get a really authentic taste of France, in every sense of the word. The French-owned line operates a fleet of six barges that sail along the tranquil network of inland canals and waterways through some of the prettiest parts of the country. Holidays range from 4 to 7 days and are available in Alscace-Lorraine, Burgundy and the Loire Valley, Provence and the Camargue, Champagne and the canal St. Martin in Paris.

I joined the itinerary from Saint-Léger-sur-Dheune to Dijon along the Saône river and Burgundy canals, and it didn’t take long to discover that barge cruising is a wonderfully relaxing way to enjoy the picturesque French countryside and visit fascinating towns along the way. Over six days we travelled just 80 miles, but enjoyed more sights and experiences than you’d ever see passing through this famous wine-growing region by car.

The 40 locks - or écluses – dotted along our route provided opportunities to walk or go exploring on the complimentary on board bicycles, and as Jeanine only travels at a stately 4mph there was no danger of getting left behind. We deluded ourselves we were burning off calories to make way for the three-course dinner, usually preceded by a glass of the local crémant sparkling wine and always accompanied by a choice of three wines. As CroisiEurope's cruises are all-inclusive, there’s no need to worry about racking up a huge bill as all meals and drinks and included, along with a welcome reception and gala dinner. there’s free wi-fi, too.

I rediscovered the delight of lingering over meals and got to know my fellow shipmates, which isn’t hard on a vessel carrying just 22 passengers and six crew members. they were a happy crowd. The intimate size of the barges means they are great for families and friends, and can even be individually chartered by large groups. Unlike ocean voyages, river cruising is very laid-back and casual and there’s no need to dress up for dinner.

Lounge bar of the Jeanine vessel

A purpose-built hotel boat - like the five other sister vessels in the croisieurope fleet - the two-deck Jeanine resembles a traditional barge, but appearances can be deceptive. Inside they boast bright, contemporary interiors, with novel touches such as lounge lights that change colour, stair rails that look like a giant wine rack and a dining room clad in driftwood-like timber. Aside from buffet breakfast, meals follow set menus, although special diets and vegetarians can be catered for. Each morning we’d whet our appetites when the lunch and dinner menus were previewed on the bar. The barges have lovely outdoor seating areas with a hot tub, plus a large sun deck with loungers.

The beautifully designed cabins have comfy beds, ample storage, a dressing table, good-sized bathroom and shower and a nifty flat TV that folds into the ceiling. Sailing was interspersed with daily excursions to places such as the charming town of Nolay, where we had coffee in the charming Le thé dans la vigne café, the natural splendour and waterfalls of Cirque du Bout du Monde - a scenic dead end set against a sheer chalk cliff - and a coach trip along the Burgundy wine route, stopping at Château de Marsannay for a fun and informative tasting.

Although the final night’s gala dinner of classic French dishes didn’t include escargots, it was a fitting end to a floating feast and leisurely week exploring the beautiful Burgundy region at a snail’s pace.

See all our barge cruises