Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
We were met along with the other passengers at the
Paris Hyatt Lâ€™etoile. From there we were taken by bus to where the C'est La Vie
was anchored in the town of Meaux.
Barge cruising has been one of my
passions ever since my first experience 15 years ago. For me, few nautical
adventures compare to lazing on the outside deck, nestled in a comfortable
lounge chair with a glass of fine wine while your semi-private barge meanders
along picturesque waterways lined with small villages, vineyards, and verdant
French Country Waterways, European Waterways and Orient Express are
three companies that own, operate and market their own barges. There are dozens
of other barges that are privately owned and marketed by travel agencies such
as Texas-based France Cruises.On many
of these privately owned barges the owner is frequently the captain or
Vie is one of these owner-captain vessels. Captain Olivier Megret, his
charming wife, Deborah, and all four crew members spoke both French and
As you enter the barge, you pass through
the partially-protected, outside deck area to the main salon/dining room. The
room is flooded with light from large picture windows, decorated with plants
and flowers, and is furnished with three comfortable two-seater couches, two
arm chairs, a coffee table and a wood bar. Available here is the use of a CD
player, IPod docking station, surround-sound stereo system, a small library,
board games, and a computer with Internet access. Toward the back of the salon are
a bar/buffet and a dining table, elegantly set for all eight guests with fine
linens, sparkling crystal, porcelain china and candles at dinner time.
.Accommodations on barges vary among
vessels. The mostupscale (and
expensive) often have cabins from 200 to
270 square feet which include large bathrooms, flat-screen TVs, DVD players, privatesafes, hair
dryers, and decent storage.However most
barges are in the 110to 150 square-foot
range withsmall attached bathrooms. Our suite on C'est La Vie was 218 square feet, the other three ranged in size
from 212 to 228 square feet. (including the bathroom).
four suites were located on a deck below the main salon. Each had ash and cherry wood paneling with portholes on each side of the bedroom, offered
a choice of queen or twin beds, and included two bedside tables with reading
lamps, a large double wardrobe with hanging space, a smaller wardrobe withfive shelves, a private safe, a chest of six
drawers, a writing desk with three drawers, and two arm chairs.This was far better storage space than we
found on most riverboats and cruise ships.
The tiled bathroom in each stateroom had
a porthole, generous storage space, a large three-foot by three-foot shower
with double glass doors and side jets, a
marble top vanity unit with a single round sink and full width mirror, a hairdryer, bathrobes, slippers
and L'Occitane bath products.
barge's mini-bus followed us along the waterways, was used by the chef for
shopping, and by Glen, our excellent tour director, for transportation on our
daily excursions. I had barged with Glen on two prior occasions when he was
with French Country Waterways.
La Vie cruised from Chateau-Thierry to Maizy through the Champagneregion of France. The tours included the Gothic Cathedral of Reims,
the World War I battlefield and cemetery at Belleau Wood, a tour and tasting at
Moet & Chandon Champagne house in Epernay, the historical Chateau and grand
gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Brie cheese factory, explorations of charming
towns and villages, and dinner at Les
Crayers in Reims, the famous Michelin
two star restaurant.
Given all of the other wonderful aspects
of the cruise, dining and imbibing were still the highlights. Each morning
there were freshly baked croissants, baguettes, and pĂ˘in de raison, as well as
fresh fruits, juices, cereals, espresso, cappuccino and more hearty fare if
requested. At lunch, our fabulous chef, Joseph, prepared a gourmet buffet
composed of imaginative salads, quiches, patĂ¨s, and cold meats, fowl and sea
food. Our four course dinners included a starter such as escargot, gravlox, or
foie gras, followed bya main course, a
cheese tasting, and dessert. Both meals were accompanied by a different red and
white French wine, some being premier
and grand crus.At each meal, the staff offered a description
of the wines and cheeses that were featured.After dinner, coffee and liqueurs were served in the lounge.
The dress code was casual, except at the Captain's
dinner and at Les CrayĂ¨res, when men wore jackets and women cocktail dresses or
suits. Unlimited soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and fine wines and Champagne were available around the clock free of charge.
The outside deck area was partially
protected from the elements and included lounge chairs and a dining table for
occasional alfresco lunches. A fleet of eight bicycles was available for guests
wishing to explore the villages and countryside bordering the canals. Since the
barge travels slowly, those wishing to walk or cycle could easily disembark
while passing through a lock and re-join at another lock or town further down
With just four couples aboard, while
being pampered by a service staff of seven, we felt like guests on some
billionaire's private yacht. Having our transfers to and from the ship, all
excursions, meals ashore, fine wines and cheeses, all soft drinks and spirits
included made the cruise especially enjoyable.However, as on all barges, there is no laundry service and you are
expected to leave a healthy tip for the staff at the end of the trip.
Granted, not all barges offer the
outstanding luxury we enjoyed on C'est La
Vie, however, many provide a somewhat similar experience. For us this
certainly was six days of La BelleVie.
Steven B. Stern
(author of Stern'sGuide to the Cruise Vacation and Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and