Looking for an all-inclusive cruise experience without the crowds? It might be time to try something new—like a boutique river barge cruise along the Canal du Midi in the south of France. Read on to find out exactly what you can expect when you book this bespoke, luxury cruise vacation.
If you truly value your privacy, an enormous cruise ship that carries thousands of people is not really an option for your next getaway. Instead, a cozy, luxurious river barge may be more your style, allowing you a peaceful and intimate exploration of a lesser-known pocket of France.
On these small, renovated vessels, guest capacity ranges from 4 to 20 people. That means you could celebrate your time away from the everyday routine surrounded only by your loved ones. Barge Saraphina from Barge Lady Cruises features just two cabins, a setup that works well for a group of four friends or two couples.
And don’t forget that in the less explored “other south of France,” you will still enjoy fantastic wines, fresh produce and scenic vistas, but you won’t have to deal with the chaos of tourist crowds that flock to the French Riviera.
Flexible, Custom-Made Itinerary
The flexibility of the daily itinerary is one of the biggest advantages of a river barge cruise, as it’s tailored entirely to the passengers’ interests and special requests. Because the barge only moves at a pace of about 4 mph, you can go for a comfortable stroll or cycle alongside it (the Barge Saraphina comes fitted with 4 bicycles).
For your daily excursions, a guide, who speaks English and French, will pick you up every morning or afternoon to whisk you off in a roomy and air-conditioned van to whatever outing tickles your fancy, including:
—The ancient town of Narbonne to discover its lively Market Hall, Roman ruins, art museum and cathedral;
—Wine tastings at carefully selected wineries;
—Olive oil press for a tour, tastings and delicious souvenirs;
—Historical landmarks, like the stunning 11th century Abbey Fontfroide, a restored Cistercian monastery.
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Up-and-Coming Wine Region in the “Other South of France”
Your route for this journey is the Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that stretches 150 miles from Toulouse to the port town of Sete. Over 350 years old, this canal just happens to be the oldest waterway in all of Europe and offers a whole new way to travel through France.
The Canal du Midi meanders through a lush and tranquil region formerly known as the Languedoc—although most locals, including your crew, will still refer to it as such. The Languedoc has also gained a reputation as the ‘other south of France,’ a region where smaller wineries are rapidly gaining a world-class reputation for their certified organic wines and more experimental wines, like those from former rugby star Gerard Bertrand, who owns a vineyard in the region.
For vineyards as far as the eye can see, Languedoc is your place. Not only is this region the world’s largest wine-producing region, but it’s also the region responsible for about a third of all the wine made in France.
Fine Dining With Curated Wine Selection and Market-Fresh Ingredients
On this floating luxury hotel, the pampering never ends. On the Barge Saraphina, you’ll start the morning with a generous breakfast buffet that includes freshly baked pain au chocolat and croissants, fresh fruit, cereals, yogurt, local cheeses, juice and coffee.
Lunches are mostly taken ashore in some of the region’s finest restaurants, giving guests a chance to experience traditional cuisine in a different village each day. Your river cruise becomes that much more important and memorable due to culturally immersive moments like this, when you’re surrounded by the local patrons who are delightfully swirling their wine, laughing and chatting, savoring every bite and enjoying life.
Cocktail hour occurs around 5 pm every evening, whether you’re still floating down the canal or moored for the night at a sleepy river bend with acres and acres of vineyards as your only neighbor. As you sit back and relax on deck, mesmerized by the tranquility of it all, you’ll be sipping from handpicked local wine or champagne from award-winning producers. A tantalizing spread of appetizers is made to pair with your drinks, all made from local ingredients.
Dinner is a breathtaking affair. Starting around 7 pm, you’ll be treated to a 5-course feast with market-fresh ingredients, accompanied by your choice of wine or other beverage. As the sun sets over Languedoc, you’ll be served an endless parade of creative, rich and flavorful dishes (all diets and allergies are accommodated for) while you dine by candlelight.
A Leisurely, Slow Pace
Drifting as slow as molasses past rows of plane trees and sun-lit vineyards, past poppy-filled meadows lined with olive and almond trees, river barge cruise travelers get to experience a whole week of that rare commodity known as total silence. It’s all about the lingering, leisurely pace—something that’s not easy to do these days.
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Yes, there’s wifi onboard the Barge Saraphina, but you’ll quickly forget all about that as you cruise along to the slow, sultry beat of Languedoc life. At night, you can experience the deep, refreshing quiet and soft breeze of the French countryside coming in through your cabin’s porthole windows.
Unique, Crew-Owned and Operated Vessel
As with some other small-sized cruising barges, the Barge Saraphina is lovingly owned and operated by the husband-wife team of Finnegan and Emily, who met while working on luxury river cruises. It comes as no surprise then that these two know how to create a superior, one-of-a-kind guest experience that is tailored to your every need.
Hailing from the Netherlands, Finn is captain of the ship, a handyman and all-round entertainer who transformed this 95-year-old Dutch barge from a freight vessel into a floating luxury hotel. Englishwoman Emily is a savvy, innovative chef with a sharp eye for detail and is usually whipping up a storm in the kitchen or checking to see if you need more wine.