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Barge cruising in France on the luxury barge Renaissance

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Canal cruising in France

She’s there waiting for us like a loyal friend, welcoming us on board with a glass of French champagne. At 39 metres long and just over five metres wide, the Renaissance, part of the European Waterways luxury fleet, and our home for the next week dominate the landscape.

Without a doubt, she is one of the finest canal boats in France.  Despite being still tied to the bank,  that cold glass of bubbles triggers an immediate change in mindset.  My heart rate slows down, my mind stops racing.  I head for the side rails and simply gaze out, savouring this moment.   I resist the urge to go and check everything out. I know there’s plenty of time for that. 

renaissance luxury barge

A world away from reality

Luxury barge holidays in France are something special. Our week-long journey commences in Montargis, a small village on the Briare Canal, about an hour and a half south of Paris.  As the crow flies, it doesn’t seem far, but here on the quiet waterways of the French canals, it may as well be a world away. 

The warm weather allows us to make the most of everything the Renaissance has to offer.  We are joined by four other guests, a couple from California and another from Tennessee.  Both are new to barge holidays.  One has done river cruises, so is keen to be able to compare the two. 

The coming together of strangers in such an intimate environment can pose some issues.  Mostly, however, everyone is keen to get on, to chat and have a great holiday.  If not, the barge has enough areas where people can take some time out.  By the time we arrive at our final destination a mere 52 kilometres away, I’m sure we’ll be wishing we could stay another week.   

The experienced crew on the Renaissance are used to all the different iterations of guest dynamics.  To help everyone ease into the journey, we take a walk into Montargis before settling in for a sumptuous dinner back on board.  

We stroll around the eerily empty streets as if it’s our own.  It’s Sunday, and the French are mostly indoors now in the late afternoon.  They live at a much different pace.  No shops are open all hours of the night, and indeed not many are even open now.  Flower pots are bursting with the colours of summer.  Dangling their green ivy-like vines down the metal railings, they turn an otherwise ordinary bridge into something special. 

montargis france

We will only see a few of the 131 bridges that crisscross the hidden canals of this cute French town, but it’s enough to delight us all the same.  We pass a church or two, the oldest praline shop in the area and several more buildings of importance before it’s time to leave.

Onboard the Renaissance luxury barge

Another friendly greeting back on board over (we’ll get used to plenty of this); it’s time to settle ourselves into our cabins before dinner.  Notable literary icons Moliere, Voltaire, Dumas and Hugo provide the inspiration for the names of the cabins, a luxurious mix of soft grey carpet and mahogany furniture.   It’s a stark contrast to the luxury barge’s exterior, a robust, in-your-face royal blue with pops of white and red.  It makes her quite a celebrity on the canals in France.

greeting back on board
The welcome-back cocktail

A full-size, well-equipped ensuite bathroom, excellent storage and generous room sizes mean these cabins are at the high end of barging luxury. It’s one of the features that set the Renaissance apart from many other hotel barges on the French canals.  If there wasn’t so much to get involved in outside I could quite easily imagine a guest or two hiding away here for a while.

Cabin Moliere
Cabin Moliere

Barge travel is slow travel

As motorhome travellers who are used to extensive road trips through Europe, we love this slow travel.  Add in another love, France, and all it has to offer, and cruising French canals is the perfect combination.  Whilst someone else does all the hard work of moving this 250-tonne lady through the canals, we get to absorb the picture-perfect French landscape.  

The Renaissance was built to enhance this lifestyle.  Under the shade of an outdoor roof and with the summer sun beating down on the fields of corn, we sip a cheeky rosé and wave to those that pass us by.  With lounging deck chairs and comfy bench seats, finding a place to settle in and watch the world go by is easy. 

kerri lounging on the upper deck of the renaissance

Watch the sun go down at night whilst sitting in a hot tub, taking pride of place at the front of the barge. 

hot tub as the sun goes down

Inside, the bright red leather lounge offers a spot of comfort in the air-conditioned surroundings.  Here you can read a book from the library, or select something jazzy from the selection of CDs.  It’s a novelty seeing CDs I have to say.  At any time of day, grab a cold drink or innovative cocktail from the eager staff who are always willing to make your stay here memorable.  

When I told our hostess Claire to surprise me with a cocktail, she had conjured up a gin with burnt thyme and elderflower within minutes.   We’d sit in that comfy red lounge in the evening, sipping on a well-rounded cognac or a fiesty espresso martini.  

A relaxing pace on board a canal barge in France

The distance we travel can be done by a car in a heartbeat.  Even one of the bikes that are available for us to use could see us get there in a few hours.   Perhaps longer if, true to form, we keep stopping at local patisseries.  At a rate of about six kilometres per hour, life on the Renaissance and the French canals is anything but fast.  It doesn’t need to be.  

It allows us time to take the bikes, not for the fast run to the end of the line, but to pedal slowly, along the ancient towpaths.  Once used by horses to tow commercial barges along the canals, today they only carry locals and people like us. 

As we disembark the Renaissance at a lock arranged with the captain, we head off into the breeze, paddocks of corn and wheat by our side.  With plenty of time until we need to meet the barge at our nominated lock, we’ve got time to venture into local villages too.  

stirling riding along towpath
Stirling riding along the towpath

Small whitewashed cottages, many with orange terracotta roof tiles, common in this area are dotted along the path.  The lock master’s houses are my favourite.  Often two-story, often covered in vines and always with directions to the previous and next locks, they hold a special place in history. 

The role of the resident lockmaster is a dying trade.  For centuries, the role has often been handed down from generation to generation, each new lock master proudly taking on the important role. 

cottage along the french canal

The waterways of France

The French canal system operates like clockwork, and a lockmaster’s role was considered vital to their safe and efficient operation.  Nowadays, this job isn’t considered as exciting.  The inherent isolation that comes with living out of town, at a lock, suddenly doesn’t seem as welcoming. 

The cost of employing lock masters has also had an impact.  It’s quite common now to see a lockmaster driving in a tiny car along the towpaths.  It’s a world away from the horses that were once used.  Today many lock masters manage a multitude of locks on their own.

Small lock house along the Briare canal
Small lock house along the Briare canal

A dining experience on a floating hotel

Diners sit at restaurants that appear as though they are falling into the water, doing what the French do best, a long lunch.  At any other time, I’d stare wistfully at them as I passed them by or opt to join in.  There’s no need to feel wistful aboard the Renaissance. 

Instead, we are the envy of those we pass as we sit around the heavy stone table, deciding whether we should have another cold glass of Riesling or the impressive Margaux.

Dining is a ritual here.  With three a-la-carte meals with many courses each day, there’s plenty of room for experiencing the flavours of the region and absolutely no room left in your stomach by the end of it.  The quail cooked in red wine goes perfectly with my Margaux and the veal roulade with tarragon-infused mustard sauce has me wanting more. 

Our chef, a former hairdresser who loves French cooking, “moved to Europe, started as a hostess on a barge, went to school in the winter and learned from other chefs”. Now, she takes the guests on a culinary adventure involving some incredible French favourites and a few modern twists to keep everyone interested.  

Over the course of the week, we will eat (officially) around nine entrees and desserts, ten mains and 15 different varieties of cheese, notably aged.  We’ll be introduced to eight new white wine labels from the local area, nine reds, and one rosé.  Corks were popped off untold bottles of champagne.  I stopped saying how nice they were after the first few labels.  It’s hard to find a bad French wine, and those served on the Renaissance have been carefully selected.

wine serving at lunch
Each wine comes with an explanation about where it is from and why it is best matched with our meal

An eight-course degustation at Michelin-starred Auberge Les Templiers was also a highlight.  Breakfast is a casual affair, served buffet style, but with the option for a la carte too.  It’s hard to go past the fresh, flaky croissants. 

France is the only place in the world where even the worst croissants are still better than what most people produce.  We’ve made croissants from scratch ourselves and are happy to tip our hat to the French.

Day trips as part of a French canal barge itinerary

As hard as it might be to imagine, there is a great time to be had off the boat.  A good barge holiday in France means taking in the local cities and villages as much as possible.  Under guidance from Renaissance tour guide and deckhand Matthew (now the captain) who “enjoys meeting new people and showing them the countryside,” we visit many places of interest.  With a passion for history, he’s the perfect person to show us around.

From the exquisite, over-the-top opulence of the Château de Fontainebleau, to the more subdued, everyday home of the Château de Ratilly, our love for chateaux is evident and remains one of our highlights.

We head to the markets in Gien with our chef to buy our ingredients for lunch.  From tasting local charcuterie to freshly harvested snails, it’s a trip filled with the smells of spices, fresh seafood and pungent cheese.  In the middle of the market, we stand together munching on sweet strawberries that actually taste like strawberries, throwing the green ends on the ground like a local. 

at the local food markets with hannah the chef
Taste testing at the Gien markets

It’s hard not to buy as much pretty crockery as possible when we tour the Gien crockery factory.  A worldwide brand, these fragile pieces of art are greatly revered.  

visiting the gien pottery factory
Gien Pottery

In Montbouy we take an early morning visit to a 12th-century church, a favourite of the captain.  With an enormous key in his hand, given to him by the town mayor, we take a private tour through the church and learn the stories of its past.

At Rogny-les-Sept-Ecluses, we witness the incredible engineering of the 350-year-old, seven-lock flight.  A walk around highlights the magnificence of this structure and I wish that technology and other efficiency reasons hadn’t taken away the opportunity for us to climb it on the Renaissance.  Not wanting to miss this opportunity, we put our drone up so that we could marvel at this from above. 

Throw in cycling, cooking lessons and wine tasting, and it’s any wonder some of the guests were heading for a lazy afternoon nap.

We join in one of France’s favourite games and play petanque in the park, matching our unproven skills with the captain and the deckhand.  In true Australian style, everything needs to be a competition.  Soon we have the battle lines drawn.  It’s France v Australia, a competition for pride and glory.  We walk away victorious.  Host Claire tells us “no-one has ever beaten Hadrien,” as she promptly fills our hand with a glass of chilled Lillet. 

The pièce de résistance is crossing the Briare Aqueduct.  Noticeably similar to the Eiffel Tower, perhaps entirely due to the involvement of Gustav Eiffel, the Briare Aqueduct channels the Canal Latéral à la Loire over the Loire River.  For 662 metres, the Renaissance passes over the Loire, fitting snugly in the frame of the high-rise canal.  The wrought iron railings and ornamental lamp posts make this one of the most beautiful bridges in France.  

Briare Aqueduct
Briare Aqueduct
Briare Aqueduct
Briare Aqueduct

The French canal locks

Each day we come to a different lock.  I say different not only because they are but also because I never tire of watching this enormous steel vessel manoeuvre its way through the giant wooden and steel gates and the narrow locks.  On many occasions, we have barely millimetres to spare, the barge almost touching the stone walls. 

Keeping your hands and feet inside is necessary if you wish them to remain.   [check out our drone shot below that shows how little clearance we have on both sides]

renaissance in the lock
Our drone shot shows you just how tight the Renaissance sits in the lock

The water pushes constantly against the gates, willing them to be opened.  As they finally are, the water rushes out with such force as though it’s the first time it’s ever done it.  Soon it will be quiet once more but first, we watch as the barge edges its way up or down into the canal; I continue to marvel at how all of this actually works.  

going through the locks - barge cruises in France

An all-inclusive barge holiday in France

Travelling on the Renaissance is an inclusive week that will either pander to your every need, if that’s what you want or similarly allow you some freedom if this is more your style. As strong, resilient, independent travellers, this was the one fear we always had.

Anything over-organised is going to make our hands sweat. A careful blend of free time and organised events evens this out. However, on the day trips off the barge, there is still enough freedom.

No one at the front is holding an umbrella high in the air for everyone to follow. Equally, no one gets the evil glare if you decide that you want to nip off and take some random photo (like I do) instead of listening to the 15th-century adventures of someone you don’t care for.

Luckily, we loved it all and were able to get our own blend of independence. For those that go on holiday to have everything done for them, this is the perfect barge holiday.

I linger over my final breakfast as long as possible, pulling apart my croissant flake by flake, hoping that this will delay my exit. As I’m contemplating whether to have an omelette or French toast, I see the luxury van that will be our transport back to Paris appear through the porthole.

Determined not to give in, I push on, selecting another pastry from the mountainous pile in front of me. Surely there’s still something here I haven’t tasted? Maybe they won’t really make me leave? Perhaps it’s now time to tell the crew that we’ve all decided to stage a mutiny and we won’t be leaving after all?

breakfast table

Eventually, I give in to what I’ve known all along.  Like all good things, this magnificent slow barge holiday in France must come to an end.  Au revoir beautiful Renaissance, the pleasure has been all mine.

thank you and goodbye message

Essential information for taking a barge holiday on the French canals 


To go canal cruising in France, check out the range of hotel barges on the Barge Lady Cruises or European Waterways website.  Here you can choose from the type of barge, the maximum number of guests and the location of the journey.  From the Champagne and Burgundy regions of eastern France to Bordeaux in the west and the Loire and Canal du Midi further south, there are plenty of barge cruises in France on offer. 

If you are looking further afield, there are options in Italy, The Netherlands, England and Scotland.

The meeting point for the week aboard the Renaissance is Paris.  The team at Barge Lady Cruises will communicate with you before your barge holiday, checking for dietary requirements, other health issues, meeting points etc.  They will ask for details on the hotel you plan to stay at in Paris.  This is just in case there are changes to the meeting point or if for some reason you don’t arrive at the meeting point at the allocated time. 

From there, the team from the Renaissance take over, looking after everything you will need for the next week.  Transfer to the barge is via a luxury, air-conditioned minivan.  Depending on traffic, it will take 1.5-2 hours to reach the starting point.

european waterways luxury vehicle
European Waterways transfer vehicle

What to wear on a barge cruise

I hate packing but packing for a barge cruise in France is easy.  Being on board the Renaissance is casual.  During summer, the best things to wear are light clothes.  You can’t go wrong with shorts, skirts, light trousers and short sleeves.  Pack comfortable shoes for walking during the day activities and a pair of flip-flops or sandals for moving about the barge.  Leave your heels at home, there’s no need for them onboard. 

Pack your swimwear for the hot tub and a hat as it does get really hot here during summer.  Sunscreen and sunglasses are also a good idea.   It’s a good idea to take something warm in case the weather is unseasonable or if you are cruising later in the season.  If you are cruising in spring or autumn, your layers should get a little heavier and include a warm jacket and light wet weather gear.

stirling in small village barge cruises in france
Shorts and T-shirts are best for summer

There’s not really any need to change for dinner either, but you can if this makes you feel better or if you have the energy after a big day out.  We always pack enough for this, but once the trip really gets going, everyone relaxes and doesn’t bother with a fashion parade.  On the last evening, or if you do go to a Michelin-starred restaurant, it’s nice to dress up a little more.

As a heavy packer, this tip had to be learned the hard way.  While there is a significant amount of storage on the Renaissance, there really is no need to overpack.  All of the luggage has to be placed in the minivan upon pickup as well, so smaller, softer bags are preferable.

What to bring

Other than your clothes, there’s really not too much else you will need.  However, I would suggest you take a couple of gadgets to make your life a little easier on board, especially if you travel with computers or other devices.  We always travel with a universal adaptor.

Wifi is available but the range can be somewhat limiting, especially with a number of guests on board all trying to access the bandwidth at the same time.  We always travel with a local esim and recommend Maya Mobile.  This means you also have data when you are off the barge also.

The Renaissance has electrical outlets in all cabins and in the main saloon area.  They have 220-240 volts, but not 110 volts. If you travel from the US, we recommend a voltage converter as well.

Note: The Renaissance is not wheelchair accessible.  The only steps on the boat are from the indoor lounge down to the cabins, or at the back to get to the wheelhouse if you plan on joining the captain for a while.  A gangplank provides access from the land to the boat.  Smoking is also not permitted anywhere on the barge.

kerri and hadrien barge driving

Cost of a barge cruise in France

Each barge cruise is different and so attracts a different rate.  For the most accurate and up-to-date pricing check the European Waterways or Barge Lady Cruises website.  The cost of a week-long barge trip on the Renaissance is all-inclusive.  This means that you don’t need to pay for anything else unless you have specific requests that are outside the general inclusions, which are already very generous.


  • transfers to and from the barge from the agreed meeting/drop off point
  • six nights on board the Renaissance
  • all day activities and visits to all attractions including any relevant entrance fees
  • meals/drinks at off-site restaurants that are attended as part of the excursions
  • all wines, champagne, other alcohol, water on board
  • all meals on board
  • use of bicycles, library, CD/DVD collection
  • wifi (although limited)
  • use of bicycles, beach towels, petanque

Note: Tipping is not included and is entirely at your discretion.

How do I get there?

Major airlines fly into Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG), the main international airport in Paris.  Other low-cost airlines like Easy Jet also land here.  Alternatively, they use Orly Airport, the second international airport in Paris.  Beauvais-Tillé Airport is used predominantly for low-cost carriers and Paris-LeBourget is a lesser-known airport.  

Check flight availability and compare prices on Skyscanner.

Paris is also easily reached by train from other European cities or the UK.  We use Omio to buy our tickets online.  The tickets can be accessed via their app on your smartphone.

Where to stay in Paris

As one of the most iconic cities in the world, there is no shortage of places to stay in Paris

We stayed at Fertel Etoile, close by the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees.  It is easily accessible by metro, with the Argentine metro station about 70 metres away.  It is about 800 metres from the Arc de Triomphe and the Charles de Gaulle Etoile transport hub for metro and buses. 

Le Bus Direct which runs services from both CDG and Orly also stops here.  The hotel is very clean with many of the rooms having been recently renovated.  The reception desk is manned 24/7 and there are some very good cafes all within walking distance.

Read the reviews and check prices on Expedia.

The pickup point for the barge cruise was the Hotel Westminster, a luxury hotel located in a plush area of Paris, but this may be subject to change.

Read the reviews and check prices on Expedia.

Detailed reviews on other canal cruises

You might also like to read our comprehensive reviews on the Spirit of Scotland, Renaissance, Savannah and Savior Vivre barges. As experienced barge travellers, our knowledge has helped many people make the decision to take a barge cruise, or to help those who have already booked know what to expect.

Enchante luxury barge review: Canal du Midi France

Spirit of Scotland review: Caledonian Canal Scotland | Gourmet dining about the Spirit of Scotland | Tours and activities Spirit of Scotland

Renaissance luxury barge review: Loire Valley France

Savannah luxury barge reviews: Canal du Midi France

Savoir Vivre barge review: Burgundy France


Book your flight: Flights are an important part of travel and we’re always looking for the best deals. If you can travel mid-week and be flexible, you’ll often find great deals on flights. We also use Skyscanner and Expedia for flight bookings. Dollar Flight Club is a great resource for getting special advance offers and even error fares directly to your inbox.

Book your accommodation: We all love to stay in different places, from the comfort of a self-contained apartment or house to a resort or luxury hotel. Sometimes we need something quick, easy and comfortable for an overnight stay. 

We use all of the following online booking portals depending on where we want to stay and the type of accommodation we are looking for.

  • VRBO and Stayz (in Australia) – great for holiday rentals of more than seven days and often have discounts for longer periods.
  • Booking.com and Expedia – two of our favourites due to their cancellation and refund policies.
  • Trip Advisor – perfect for getting reviews, checking availability and pricing comparisons all in one place.

Book your rental car or motorhome: We always use Discover Rental Cars anywhere in the world for car hire. Anywhere Campers is our preferred motorhome hiring company in Europe, especially if you want to be able to pickup and drop off at different locations (even countries) in Europe. If you’d like to buy your own motorhome in France, we use and recommend France Motorhome Sales. Use our code FMS1022 or tell John we sent you!

Book a tour:  We travel independently, but when we do book we book them with reputable companies who have a great cancellation and refund policy. If you are looking for advance tickets to an attraction, group or private tours, we use and recommend Get Your Guide and Viator. Both have a great range of tours and flexible cancellation policies. If you are looking to do a food tour in Europe, we also recommend Eating Europe Tours.

Be covered: We always travel with travel insurance. We did it before the pandemic and it’s even more important for us to do so now. We use Cover-More in Australia. SafetyWing has great rates for travellers who are away from home for extended periods. 

Be ready: Make sure you pack a few essentials: universal adaptorpower bank and noise-cancelling headphones

Beer and Croissants was a guest of Barge Lady Cruises.  As always, all editorial, images and opinions are entirely our own.

6 thoughts on “Barge cruising in France on the luxury barge Renaissance”

  1. The video really depicts well how I imagine the pace of the boat ride would be. It’s slow travel at its best! Going with the flow of the river, stopping to taste what the countryside has the best to offer. Wine tasting, culinary experiences, dancing and singing, looks perfect. Though too bad you covered your singing performance :) The drone shots are pretty awesome, especially the ones showing the water bridge – these structures are incredible, I knew they existed but never actually saw one. Thanks for sharing that piece of my homeland, so many places we have yet to explore as French! Ah the irony :)

  2. Travel Pockets

    What a relaxing and entertaining trip! I loved that you were dancing and singing with your friends (or new friends?). I love these kinds of moments when traveling :) I hope I get to go on one of these fancy boat rides someday!

  3. I’m so fascinated with the canal lifestyle in other countries. It’s not something I’ve ever experienced here in Australia. I’d love to have a yarn with some people who actually live in their boat on the canals – what freedom!

  4. A holiday on a canal boat has been on the cards for us for a while, France looks like the perfect place to try! Your video really sells it too <3

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