Les Bateaux Belmond
Discover one of the most relaxing and luxurious ways to explore France—’cruising its beautiful canals and rivers in Belmond style with Belmond Afloat in France barge’.
Carrying between four and 12 guests, these five spacious craft are perfect for a group of family or friends. Charter your own barge or reserve a cabin with other guests.
Renowned as among the finest craft plying the European waterways, these exceptional péniche-hôtels take you from great cities to remote landscapes of forests, fields and hidden villages. Gourmet dining on board and visits to local sights are all part of the experience.
The Rhythm of Life There is a way of ghosting through the best of France, virtually unnoticed. A way of avoiding all the charivari of modern living, from hypermarkets to bypasses, from bus passes to one-way systems. A way that is so unobtrusive that it puts the merest crease in the environment, and yet will still give you access to markets and city centres, and unfold quilts of vineyards and sunflowers before your very eyes.
That way, in case you haven’t already guessed, is travelling by canal.
France has the most developed waterway system in Europe, with nearly 50 canals linking to the rivers and making it possible to cross the entire nation from north to south and west to east. But this kind of travel is not about covering huge distances—it’s all about pace of life, and waking up on beautiful mornings on placid water brimming with fish.
Boat speed is never more than slow and pastoral as you drift past Romanesque churches and Cognac’s distilleries, your bows burbling onwards down canyons of poplars from village to village, town to town, and transiting cities through giant naves of plane trees, whose branches touch fingertips over your head. And wherever you go, there’s always some tranquil spot where you can tie up by lichen-coated mill buildings and go for a stroll along the leafy towpath, set off by bike for market day, or indulge in a lazy game of boules. Of course, you don’t have to leave the water at all.
By day you can fish for perch alongside the local anglers, whose wives bring them elaborate picnics at lunchtime. By night the riverbanks smell of wild mint, and the owls come and sit in the trees to stare rudely at you while you’re savouring the last of a candlelit dinner, watching the satellites dawdle across the Milky Way.
Your crew is always on hand to help organise any activities you wish to pursue—including piloting the barge if the fancy takes you! And then there’s the entertainment value of your fellow watermen, for the French waterways are a true international community.
British mingle with Italians, French with Dutch and all have their own quirks when travelling by barge. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the locks, where there’ll be a couple of elderly messieurs in residence under the willows for the spectator sport of watching visitors get their mooring ropes in a twist.
But even here everything stops for lunch. The lockkeepers shut up shop and it’s time to throw a rope around a tree and uncork something nicely chilled. What better way is there to experience France?
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