Q Four of us would like to take a private, small-barge cruise in France for our 25th wedding anniversaries. Somewhere in the wine country would be wonderful. Can you make some recommendations?
A France's waterways flow as freely as its wine, which means there are few river- or canal-dissected regions without vineyards. Barge tours are popular, too, with vessels ranging from simple (marine toilets) to posh cruisers (Jacuzzis bubbling on the bow). But a private, whole-boat charter is pricey.
Jill Jergel, a destination specialist with Frontiers International Travel of Wexford, Pa., suggests one of two places: the Ouche Valley of Burgundy or the Languedoc region in southwestern France, which she calls "the Burgundy of tomorrow."
In Burgundy proper, for instance, a barge called Le Papillon putters along the picture-perfect Burgundy Canal, stopping for walking tours and wine tastings; total cost for a six-night charter is $21,100 through Frontiers (800-245-1950, www.frontierstravel.com). The boat can accommodate up to six people; perhaps another couple could join you to defray some of the per-person cost.
In Languedoc, you could cruise the narrow Canal du Midi, a World Heritage Site with a 17th-century lock system. Barges include the six-person Clair de Lune, from $15,000 through Frontiers, and the six-person Sherborne, from $11,500 through Small Ship Cruises.com (800-290-0077, www.smallshipcruises.com).
Prices generally include lodging, meals, wine with lunch and dinner and a driver for excursions. The cruise season runs April through October, with low season generally being April through early May and late June through August, Jergel said.
For a less expensive trip, find a larger boat and share the ride with other passengers. Or consider a self-drive barge, in which you skipper a cabin cruiser and cook your own meals. Rates for those generally don't exceed $5,000 a week.
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