In France, and in fact in many other parts of Europe, canals were used for shipping goods throughout the country, but over the years these narrow waterways were made obsolete by trucking and trains. From a surplus of barges and an increase in tourism came the idea of converting the boats into floating hotels.
Today this network of canals and barges offers a unique opportunity to experience a side of the country away from mobs of tourists and big city sights. The narrow canals meander past country homes, vineyards, and villages offering a glimpse into gardens and backyards. There are usually bikes available for the passengers to ride and get lost in the countryside before meeting up with the barge later in the day.
Three meals a day are provided, and the chefs often make use of the trip as a tour of the region’s cuisine visiting the markets at each stop for whatever is freshest and in season. There is usually an open bar as well as a selection of regional wines. Also depending on the barge, there is often a minibus available to meet the barge and provide day excursions, and wine tastings.
The typical barge can accommodate 4-15 people with the price being more affordable with the larger barges. Most of the hotel barges do tend more towards the luxury end of the tourism trade, and as such are quite expensive. A one week charter with a chef, butler, driver, and tour guide runs about $3,000 – 5,000 per person with all meals, bikes, and tours provided. I may have to wait until my affluent retirement for that one.
There is a more adventurous option available for the budget minded (me). Many boats are available to rent for a week. You get a furnished boat with full tanks, a quick lesson in driving, a map of the canals, and are sent on your merry way to navigate the canals on your own. While not as glamorous as an all-inclusive boat ride with your every need catered to, the freedom and adventure has a certain appeal. Also if you split the cost between four people and go in the off season (September through April), the boat rental comes to about $250 per person. Even adding in the cost of food, bike rentals, and gas, it is extremely affordable. Where can you find even a hotel room in France for $250 a week?
So I am putting a trip together. It is really just a dream right now, but it might actually come together. I have one couple from work ready to go, I am hoping to get my friend in France to come along with his wife and kid, and anyone else who wants to go. There are boats that can accommodate up to 12 people so come along!