French Country Waterways operates four 8 to 12 passenger barges on small rivers and canals of France. Accommodations are large and first class. Food and wine are gourmet quality. Itineraries wind past farms, vineyards and small towns. The barges move slowly enough that you can step off an walk alongside. There are escorted walking tours at small town stops and, occasionally, a bus tour to a more remote attraction.
Itineraries - probably the best description of what an itinerary is like can be found on the French Country Waterways website:
You are greeted at our meeting point hotel by our guide. He will escort you via private motorcoach or high-speed train to the mooring where your luxury hotel barge awaits. Once aboard, you are welcomed by our cordial, English-speaking crew, and ushered to your comfortably appointed stateroom, complete with private bath. Spend the first evening becoming acquainted with your fellow passengers who, like you, seek to experience France in a special way.
During the day, you are invited to join an excursion via private motorcoach to a nearby point of special interest. Each itinerary has been selected to include a varied sampling of the region... romantic castles, historic towns, and renowned vineyards for wine tasting. At certain châteaux and estates, your tour will be conducted by the owner, whose family has been in residence for generations.
On one evening, you will be welcomed by one of France's most prestigious restaurants for an elegant dinner ashore. Your Captain will also arrange for you to enjoy special local events which occur during your cruise, from lively farmers' markets to the fireworks on Quatorze Juillet.
Since the same high level of quality and service can be found on each of our barges, you can select your cruise based on the itinerary you find most intriguing. Whatever your destination, you will discover a land of quiet beauty and gracious people, and gain a rare, insider's perspective of provincial France.
Ships and life on board - again, the website says it best:
French Country Waterways is known and trusted for operating the finest fleet of luxury hotel barges cruising on France's inland waterways. Our deluxe barges, Adrienne, Horizon II, Nenuphar, and Princess have been carefully designed and outfitted to provide unparalleled passenger comfort. Extensive annual refurbishments and meticulous maintenance ensure that each of our vessels meets the highest standards of quality and safety.
Aboard our barges you will find the gracious ambiance of a fine country inn. Warm wood panelling, handsome provincial furnishings and plush carpets combine in an atmosphere of informal elegance. And you will be served by a friendly, bi-lingual staff who specializes in making your cruise the holiday of a lifetime.
Each vessel is fully air-conditioned, with individual controls in every stateroom. You will be accommodated in charming quarters with private baths, full-sized beds, and generous storage for clothing and luggage. Comfortable king, queen or twin suites are designed to provide ample space for two guests to share in comfort. Thoughtful touches like fresh flowers, extra pillows, and hair dryers are always included.
Lounges are attractively furnished with comfortable sofas and chairs, soft lighting, and libraries of books, games, and music. Complimentary bars are stocked with a wide selection of favorite spirits and liqueurs. Spacious sundecks provide built-in canopies or large umbrellas to give shelter from the sun. For guests who enjoy exploring on their own, each vessel carries her own bicycles.
A deluxe, air-conditioned motorcoach accompanies each barge, providing passengers complete comfort for daily sightseeing and escorted transfers.
Dining - on each cruise, one evening will be devoted to dinner at a Michelin rated restaurant. The rest of the meals on board are all experiences worthy of French cuisine.
Nowhere in the world is fine food approached with more reverence than in France. Drawing upon this rich culinary heritage, French Country Waterways' chefs skillfully blend classic cooking techniques with the current trend to lighter, healthier cuisine. The results of this synthesis of styles are fresh, creative dishes which are equal to any from the best kitchens in France. From our Continental breakfasts and buffet lunches, to our four - course, candlelit dinners, each meal is a celebration for the senses. Fresh breads and buttery croissants are brought on board each morning, still warm from the village bakery. Local farmers' markets en route supply ingredients for colorful salads and savory tarts. Creamy, farm-produced cheeses, prime meats and fish, and garden-fresh fruits and vegetables provide inspiration for a medley of tempting menus.
Wine - most of the itineraries sailed by French Country Waterways travel through prime French wine country. It is only natural that wine becomes a big part of the dining experience on board.
Without wine, no French meal would be complete. During the cruise, you will be offered more than two dozen different wines, representing many of France's major wine growing districts. Our wines are chosen for consideration directly from the properties of the growers, and the final list is selected during an annual tasting of over two hundred, estate-bottled labels. More than half of our wines will bear well-known labels from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, such as Gevrey-Chambertin, Meursault, and Puligny-Montrachet. You will also be introduced to wonderful vintages from distinguished, family-owned properties whose limited production is rarely sold for export. Drawing from this rich and varied selection, each French Country Waterways cruise offers the perfect opportunity to sample and compare the noble wines of France.
Cost - as you might imagine, with this level of luxury, a French Country Waterways cruise is not inexpensive. On each ship there are Queen and King Suites. Actual prices vary depending on the season and the level of cabin chosen. They average from a high of $950 per person per night to $750 pp pn.