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29 September 2013

A barging holiday in France and life onboard Brave Bart

Welcome to Barging in France onboard <i>Brave Bart</i>.  All photography unless noted is the property of Barging in France. Unauthorized used is prohibited.
Welcome to Barging in France onboard Brave Bart.  All photography unless noted is the property of Barging in France. Unauthorized used is prohibited.

Ever since my river cruise in Europe and a canal-boat tour of Amsterdam, I've become quite enchanted by the romantic notion of traveling through Europe upon its waterways. And while my passion for river cruising has not waned; there is yet another mode of slow travel upon the waterways that captivates me—barging. The thought of spending a week onboard a classic canal barge ignites from within a wanderlust that must be satiated—not only to sail upon the waters, but immerse myself into the destinations and cultures. If you know me, traveling is not only about the places I visit but the journey along the way; and a boating holiday in France provides a means to that end.

I started to research barging holidays in France and Europe and that's when I met Diana and Jim Halstead from Barging in France and owners of the Brave Bart. From enchanting villages and scrumptious cuisines to piloting a barge through locks and the threatening floods that plagued Europe over the summer, the experience onboard a barge certainly piqued my curiosity so much so that I asked them to help me navigate this brave new world of barging and answer a few questions about life on a barge and living the dream!

Navigating through the Réchicourt lock in Réchicourt, Lorraine, France.
Navigating through the Réchicourt lock in Réchicourt, Lorraine, France.

From the quaint accommodations and rustic décor to the scrumptious food and camaraderie shared by all who travel upon her—welcome onboard Brave Bart.

Brave Bart stopping for lunch at Saint Victor-sur-Ouche.
Brave Bart stopping for lunch at Saint Victor-sur-Ouche.

EuroTravelogue: What is life like onboard the trusted Brave Bart for you and your guests as you cruise through the idyllic French countryside? What is it like to live on a barge and do you call Brave Bart home throughout the year?

Barge Cruising in France: We've only been cruising for two years since we arrived back in France from England in August 2011. Life onboard Brave Bart is true relaxation, even when we were in London, both of us working hard at our day jobs we felt that coming home to Brave Bart was like being on holiday!

Since we've been in France, we spend some of the winter in the UK and some onboard Brave Bart. Ask us which we prefer? Being on Brave Bart of course! But we have lovely families and not all of them can visit us every year, so we need to make regular trips to the UK.

EuroTravelogue: You've owned Brave Bart since 2003. Were you barging before that? If not, how and when did you decide you wanted to own a barge and sail the waterways of France?

Barge Cruising in France: Jim had an English narrowboat from 1997 so he has been boating since. He would find it hard to live in a house again I think! It was always his dream to have a barge in France as the waterways offer such an enormous variety of adventures!

Barging to Verdun and beyond.
Barging to Verdun and beyond.

EuroTravelogue: I see that your husband Jim is Brave Bart's captain. Has he been piloting for a long time? Do you ever hire someone else so that you and he can sit back and relax?

Barge Cruising in France: Jim has been piloting his own boat since 1997 and of course, during the few years he was policing the River Thames in Surrey. He loved and loves being able to WORK on a boat! We don't have any need to hire a captain yet, but in time we will look for someone who can step in if one of us needs to be somewhere else.

EuroTravelogue: Where have your travels taken you since 2011?

A quiet day on the canal in Port sur Saone.
A quiet day on the canal in Port sur Saone.

Barge Cruising in France: We have wonderful memories of our trip through Champagne to Toul in 2011 on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin. In 2012, we traveled from Toul out on the Moselle towards Strasbourg, stopping at Lutzelbourg, then from Toul north on the Canal de la Meuse to Verdun. This year we have been down the Canal de Vosges and the Rivers Saone and Petit Saone through Gray, down to Auxonne, then the Canal de Bourgogne through Dijon to Pont d'Ouche. We won't go further along the Bourgogne by barge this time, but will head back to our winter mooring in Toul, which will take at least three weeks. The canal systems are more difficult to navigate from November and the weather isn't so good, so we will return to Toul in March to prepare Brave Bart for her 2014 season to begin cruising in May.

Barging in Verdun, France.
Barging in Verdun, France.

EuroTravelogue: What was your favorite barge cruise to date and what made it so memorable?

Toul Cathedral in Nancy, France.
Toul Cathedral in Nancy, France.

Barge Cruising in France: I think we both struggle to name a favourite, but high on our list is the cruise from Nancy toward Strasbourg, Alsace is so beautiful and relatively quiet compared to other waterways. We love Nancy and the rural moorings a day outside the city. It's great to experience the contrast of mooring in the middle of a city where you can walk to dinner or theatre and then return to your floating oasis! The next day, you can be moored somewhere without even shop in sight! Another favourite is Dijon and the canals around Burgundy, the scenery is very pretty and Dijon has everything you could wish for in a town without being too big or industrial.

Old Town in Nancy, France. Photo: Spigoo.
Old Town in Nancy, France. Photo: Spigoo.

EuroTravelogue: You've shared with me that Darren McGavin actually owned the barge before you did. Can you tell me a little more about that? Have you actually met him? Also, what special souvenir did he leave behind for you? ; )

Barge Cruising in France: Sadly we didn't get to meet Darren or Kathie and by 2003, we understand that he hadn't been to the barge for the previous two or three years. I know he would have been sad to leave her, La Poursuite de Bonheur, as she was called then. He left behind books, paperwork and his champagne bucket full of lots of little cue cards he often used to improve his French! We've kept everything in his honour and like to think he approves of our routes and our love for the barge!

EuroTravelogue: What is the average duration of these customized barge vacations and do you operate year-round? You've mentioned to me that you customize itineraries based on your guests' desires. Will you take them anywhere in France they wish to go and even sail outside France?

The Saloon onboard Brave Bart.
The Saloon onboard Brave Bart.

Brave Bart deck plan.
Brave Bart deck plan.

Barge Cruising in France: Our guests arrive Saturday afternoons and then stay with us for six nights, disembarking Friday midmorning. We're happy to book guests for more than one week since our fees are on a pro-rata basis. Yes, we will try whenever possible to adapt the cruise to our guests wishes but also we have to consider routes where we know the water is deep enough and ensure Brave Bart can sail under bridges not to mention mooring comfortably as well. So some regions in France are beyond our reach.

EuroTravelogue: How much of your time onboard is dedicated to hosting guests?

Barge Cruising in France: We only take guests every other week during cruising season which runs from May to October, about 10 weeks per year. We decided not to take back-to-back bookings to ensure that we have the time to properly clean and adequately shop, and to prepare to provide our guests our full attention once onboard.

A large area of deck garden with beautifully soft AstroTurf, lounges, deck chairs, a giant beanbag and an outside table with six chairs for al fresco dining.
A large area of deck garden with beautifully soft AstroTurf, lounges, deck chairs, a giant beanbag and an outside table with six chairs for al fresco dining.

EuroTravelogue: Are your cruises all-inclusive? Do you offer tours and excursions, and are they included as well?

Barge Cruising in France: We thought about offering all-inclusive weeks but we realised that most of our guests prefer to sample the local cuisine. With that said, we offer all breakfasts, all lunches and three evening meals with a carafe of local wine. For the remaining three nights, we offer restaurant recommendations and/or reservations. The food and drinks provided onboard is included in the contribution toward costs, but any meals or trips taken off the barge are at the guests' expense. We can organise any tours if people would like them.

All breakfasts, lunches and three dinners are included in your barge holiday.
All breakfasts, lunches and three dinners are included in your barge holiday.

Before our guests arrive, we communicate via Skype to ascertain their perfect holiday. Then we plan a trip to fulfill their wishes. We have found that some guests have already "done" Europe and experienced all the main sights, so the idea of cruising through the country for a whole week is all they are seeking in a holiday.

Hosting guests on top deck.
Hosting guests on top deck.

EuroTravelogue: What other kinds of activities do you offer your guests?

Barge Cruising in France: We have four bikes for exploring, a small dinghy for floating about, and some yoga mats for meditation and yoga practice inside or outside. Also, there is a large area of deck garden with beautifully soft AstroTurf, which is ideal for tai chi or yoga. There are lounges and deck chairs, all with personal parasols; a giant beanbag and an outside table with six chairs for al fresco dining. Our planters are brimming with French lavender, strawberry and tomato plants, salad leaves and a variety of other scented plants and herbs.

Did you know Diane is a Reiki Master? She offers Reiki treatments as well as massage treatments with hot stones or aromatherapy oils.

EuroTravelogue: Is there Wi-Fi onboard Brave Bart? If not, how do guests access the internet?

Barge Cruising in France: We have a Wi-Fi dongle for guests' laptops or our guests can use our iPad to check emails, but to be honest, in our experience, the signal in some rural areas is poor but that doesn't seem to bother our guests who have actually been very happy to hear they can "step off the planet" for a few precious days!

EuroTravelogue: What is the best way for someone to contact you to find out more about barging holidays, pricing, itineraries, etc.?

Barge Cruising in France: We have a very simple booking enquiry form on our website and can be contacted via email, Skype or phone (all details under the contact section of our website). We are currently planning our routes for 2014, leaving Toul in May north west for Reims in the Champagne region, then southwest toward Paris before turning south east towards Dijon and our winter mooring for 2014/15.

EuroTravelogue: Is there anything else you would like to share with my readers about your Barging Holidays?

Barge Cruising in France: Just to say how delighted we have been with the support and kind words from everyone whom we've met on the waterways over the last two years. We have had so many photos taken of Brave Bart and so many kind reviews, we are very excited to be able to share our lifestyle with others!

Another shot of barging in Verdun.
Another shot of barging in Verdun.

EuroTravelogue: Thank you Jim and Diane for taking the time to talk to me about barging in France. I am sure my readers will find it as fascinating and exciting as I do. To find out more about exciting barging holidays onboard Brave Bart, visit BargingIntoFrance.com.

12 comments:

  1. That looks like fun, a boat/barge all to yourself.

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    1. Hi there Marlys and thank you so much for stopping by to share your thoughts! I could only imagine right now what a wonderful holiday this would make!! One day!

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  2. I'm ready to sign up! This is so much nicer than a huge ship with thousands of strangers you'll never ever see again. A truly relaxing and civilized way to go.
    Thanks for sharing this, Jeff.

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    1. Me too Marcia, let's go!! I couldn't agree with you more about the intimacy that a barging holiday can offer which is why I love river cruising as well. I've been on the megaships but once I had a taste of the smaller ships, I was hooked! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

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  3. Love this idea! We might go back to the Florida Keys and rent a houseboat!

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    1. Hi there Charu and thanks so much for stopping by!! I too love this and hope to do one day soon!! Traveling by houseboat in the FL Keys sounds fantastic!!!!

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  4. I've only ever taken a river cruise in Egypt. Barging along the rivers of France sounds wonderful.

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    1. Hi there Sophie!! I bet your cruise in Egypt was spectacular!!! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

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  5. Wow, this seems like a nice change up to the gite holidays we've been doing the last few years. I'm definitely going to check it out. Thanks for the post!

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    1. Hi there Corinne and thank you so much for stopping by. I agree, a week-long cruise on a barge sounds like heaven!!! I am so glad you enjoyed the post!

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  6. What a once in a lifetime experience that must have been. Great photos! I look forward to coming back and reading more of your site.

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    1. Hi there my friend and thx so much for your kind words!

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Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!