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Barge cruising on C'est La Vie
BY STEVEN B. STERN FRIDAY AUGUST 1, 2014 12:07:30 PM  
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La Belle Vie on the C’est La Vie

 

 

        We were met along with the other passengers at the Paris Hyatt L’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 forestry.

          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 chef.   C'est La Vie is one of these owner-captain vessels. Captain Olivier Megret, his charming wife, Deborah, and all four crew members spoke both French and English.

        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 most  upscale (and expensive) often have cabins  from 200 to 270 square feet which include large bathrooms, flat-screen TVs, DVD players, private  safes, hair dryers, and decent storage.  However most barges are in the 110  to 150 square-foot range with  small 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).

 

         The 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 with  five 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.

                The 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.

        The C'est La Vie cruised from Chateau-Thierry to Maizy through the Champagne  region 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 pâin 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, patès, and cold meats, fowl and sea food. Our four course dinners included a starter such as escargot, gravlox, or foie gras, followed by  a 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 Crayères, 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 the canal.

        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.

 

       

 

 

          

 

 

by Steven B. Stern

 

 (author of Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation and Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges.)

 

                                               

                                               

                   C'est La Vie

                  c/o France Cruises

                   (866) 498-3920

              www.Charterbargefrance.com                                      

                 www.Francecruises.com                                                                                               

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