The Upper Loire region (not to be confused with the Loire Valley) lies very close to Paris, within a two-hour car ride due South, but might as well be a million miles away in terms of ambiance. This “off the beaten path” area is gradually gaining popularity with the crewed barge industry, and tourists now have a variety of barges to choose from to cruise through this still pristine and untouched region on the Canal de Briare.
“Barges are floating premium hotels, carrying four to 24 passengers, and cruise through antique, manmade European canals,” explains Ellen Sack, The Barge Lady, an American-based broker of over 50 barge cruises. “Barging in the Upper Loire focuses on gourmet food and boutique wine, while exploring the countryside and relaxing on the vessel's deck. A dedicated crew cooks and cleans, pilots the barge, and arranges daily excursions to regional attractions.” In the idyllic Upper Loire, these once-in-a-lifetime excursions include a tour of Fontainebleau, the hunting chateau of the French kings; private winetasting in the hilltop village of Sancerre; and a visit to the flower-bedecked town of Montargis, where guests can indulge in the locally-produced pralines.
Also referred to as the Gatinais, the Upper Loire area has long been presented as the “Garden of Paris.” This is because the entire waterway system, starting with the Canal de Briare in the 16th century, was built to supply produce to Paris. As the preserved canal route still meanders through sweeping farmland, unspoiled villages, and romantic scenery, these barge cruises are the perfect vacations for those who especially enjoy exploring the sites, cuisine, and atmosphere of an authentically idyllic French region. The Barge Lady identifies the top barges in the area:
C’est la Vie, Carries 8 Guests, Ultra-Deluxe rated. Owned and operated by Olivier and Deb Megret, a remarkable couple with deep roots in the barge industry and a reservoir of talent that will assure C'est La Vie as one of the finest operated barges in the industry. The cabins are some of the biggest in barging, and in addition to enjoying the delights of the on board gourmet chef, guests dine one evening at a local restaurant. For those seeking an opulent, extraordinary experience, C’est la Vie delivers.
Meanderer, Carries 6 Guests, Deluxe-rated. A long time Barge Lady favorite, the Meanderer is the inspired creation of owners George and Susan Kovalick, who provide the highest level of “luxury with a personal touch” to be found in the Upper Loire. Sightseeing is very personalized, with two family-owned chateaux, winetasting in Sancerre, and Fointainebleau, the hunting palace of French royalty. George is an avid bicyclist, and always offers to act as a bike guide to those guests interested in more physical activity. Due to their years of barging in the Upper Loire, the Kovalicks are very connected into the local culture, and love to introduce their guests to the region
Elisabeth, Carries 6 Guests, First-Class rated. Barge owners Pete and Sheena Jenner have a reputation of welcoming guests like family. This creative duo creates delivers an experience like no other – Sheena is a dynamic guide and has the ability to make the area’s sights and scenes come alive. She knows the Upper Loire region well, as she and Pete have family in Montargis. Calling in at small and family owned chateaux and a cheese farm, Sheena will introduce barge guests to the indelible personalities who make this region special.
As a destination perfect for those looking for a personalized introduction to an emerging region, the Upper Loire’s uniquely pastoral ambiance and old-world serenity still boasts many of the modern characteristics inherent in luxury barging.
“The Canal de Briare offers absolutely breathtaking scenery and there are many miles of placid waterways, punctuated by adorable, well-kept lock houses,” enthuses Sack. “Active guests will find that it is easy to walk and bicycle on the towpaths which line the canal, and the vessels along this route offer all the details and amenities crucial to the sophisticated European travel consumer.”
The Barge Lady is now booking barge cruises along the canals of the Upper Loire for the 2016 season, with many attractive options for couples, groups, and families. “It’s a professional and personal pleasure to promote this undiscovered yet welcoming region,” says Sack. “The Upper Loire’s many gentle charms ensure our guests will enjoy a barge cruise to remember for a lifetime.”