Barging in France

My traveling companion, Pat, and I spent 12 days on a barging trip on the Burgundy Canal in France, June 23-July 6, 2006.

On a trip like this, what counts is the beauty of the tree-lined canal and the countryside, the good food, and the pampering. For quality of life, it is hard to beat. It is a little like sitting on the porch reading, except that the view keeps changing.

Picking a route and date was awkward. The barge websites don’t say what dates are available; they ask you when you want to come and then indicate if you can or can’t. If it is “can’t,” you have to start over. Even the U.S. agent for several barge companies couldn’t tell me what was available, so I made up an Excel spreadsheet table of barges, dates and locations for him to fill in. Even he had trouble getting the information.

View from our barge in France. Photo: Mueden.

Pat and I wanted to do two connecting trips but settled for two on the same route.

Our barge ran for six days and the crew had the seventh day off. We spent the seventh day at a very nice château owned by the barge owner, then returned to the barge for another six days on the same stretch of canal. That was fine for us, because we were there for the restful life, not to go somewhere.

Of course, we did go somewhere. The barge had an accompanying van which, at various stops, took us to Dijon, the Hospices de Beaune Beaune, the Abbey of Fontenay, Châteauneuf en Auxiere, the Buffon Forge and a couple of wineries.

Our barge was La Reine Pedauque, represented by France Cruises (6703 Munich Rd., San Antonio, TX 78256; phone 210/698-1235 or e-mail,

We were 12 days on the barge and one at the Château la Chassagne (, and, including transportation to and from the airport, the cost of our trip came to less than $10,000 per person. The château even has its own airfield.

We were pampered. Our chef was superb and had to be held back somewhat, to give us not so much and food not so rich. There were new cheeses and new wines at every dinner plus canapés beforehand. The young ladies who served and did the housekeeping were charming and helpful. Marvelous!

We were on the Burgundy Canal just west of Dijon. I worried about it before we went because the towns mentioned were so small that they didn’t appear on my maps. Once there, it didn’t seem to matter because the quality of the life was so good and the van made interesting excursions possible. I looked at the maps for another route and found too many locks. After our first few, they bored me; the view was always the same: rock walls.

Once on board, I discovered that there were very good strip maps of the canals published by Editions Cartographiques Maritimes (9 quai de l’Artois, 94170 Le Perreus-sur-Marne, France) and Editions Grafocarte (125 rue Jean-Jacquees Rousseau, P.O. Box 40, Issy-les-Moulineaux, 92132, France; phone +33 [0] 14109 1900 or fax 1922).

The small-scale charts cover small sections of the canal and are useful during the trip, but they’re not big enough for planning one or for deciding which route to use. (You flip pages rather than fold and refold a big map, which is good because the wheelhouses of barges and pleasure boats on the canal are tiny.)

Were there glitches on this trip? Yes, of course, but they were overcome. The driver of the car sent to meet us did not follow the instructions sent to us. We showed our instructions to a nice lady at the Information desk in the airport and a couple of phone calls fixed it. The other glitch had to do with the geranium planters decorating the bow of the barge; they interfered with the view. It took a while, but they came down while we were underway.

I suggest that in setting up a meet in a foreign country, the visitors be given the instructions in both languages so that any airport employee can point the way or even make the needed phone calls without knowing the visitor’s language.

What surprised us? The France we saw. The canals, streets, roads and highways were neat and well kept. French farmhouses are not on the roads, and you don’t see the mess frequently visible from U.S. roads (old auto chassis, etc.). The roads were so neat that I asked about it and was told that the property owners are fined if the roads are not kept up. If they don’t do it themselves, they outsource; I saw a machine mowing the grass on the road berm.

The canals were clean and the tow paths, well kept, as well. By the way, a lot of the paths are made of crushed limestone; don’t wear open-toed shoes.

On the morning of July 6, the taxi folks who had been arranged to take us from the barge to Charles de Gaulle International were very nice and helpful.

Unfortunately, at the terminal we didn’t know which end of the building to go to and got out of the car at the wrong end. Upon confirming a flight from CDG, if you can ask to which end of the building to go, it would help. Unlike at New York’s JFK, the road signs give no hint as to the location of the airline’s check-in counters. Knowing the counter number would also help; the signs inside were no better than those outside.


New York, NY