ALSACE-LORRAINE France, May 26, 2014 – There’s a reason why people who have taken canal cruises are often repeat customers. Pastoral landscapes serenely pass by at 4 mph, allowing you to take in all that your senses intended. Add to this gourmet food, personalized service and daily excursions and you have the perfect relaxing vacation.
European Waterways is one luxury barging company that meanders through the many canals of Ireland, England, Germany, France and others. One of their most popular trips is in Alsace-Lorraine; a region of France created by the German Empire in 1871 and encompasses parts of the Rhine, Moselle Valley and Vosges Mountains.
Plan to arrive a few days early to explore Paris and rid yourself of jetlag. Prior to the cruise, take the TGV (high speed train) to the Strasbourg train station, where you will be met by a member of the crew and transported to your barge.
Actually, the term barge is something of a misnomer. These retrofitted boats serve as upscale floating hotels omplete with comfy rooms, beds and showers as well as a lounge area, bar, dining room, and all the amenities you can imagine. One of the vessels in the European Waterways fleet, The Panache, accommodates 12 passengers with spacious, comfortable cabins, a double sink bathroom and full shower.
The staff, who may outnumber the passengers, are well trained to provide a high level of service. Aboard European Waterways, the price includes fine regional wines, an open bar and daily room service as well as a tour guide who manages interesting side excursions during the trip. Essentially, you are treated like a VIP on your own private yacht and it is not uncommon for locals to queue up along the banks to watch these large vessels navigate the sometimes narrow canals and locks.
The first stop was the small town of Lutzelbourg, where the barge is docked for the night and a regional dinner is prepared by your onboard chef.
A typical meal may consist of a mixed salad with smoked duck, filet of pork with wholegrain mustard sauce, a selection of cheeses, and dessert. Of course, wine pairing is all part of the fun and each selection is presented with a little bit of history, charm and humor.
Each day begins with a casual buffet breakfast followed either by an off-boat excursion or cruising down the canal through various locks to the next mooring destination. On the second day, an excursion is taken to the town of Sarrebourg and the Chapelle des Cordeliers. You might not think twice about this non-descript little chapel except for the fact that it houses the largest stained glass window in the world by artist Marc Chagall.
The Tree of Life is based on biblical themes but experts still guess as to some of its deeper, hidden symbols and meanings.
The next stop, the Cristallerie Lehrer, is home to third generation crystal makers, and here you can view master craftsman creating beautiful glassware in the form of vases, stemware and cute little animals. You also have the option of purchasing some of these to take home with you, carefully packaged, of course.
Many of the postcard perfect towns along the Canal de la Marne Au Rhin can be explored on foot or by bikes, the latter of which are carried on board. This is one of the best ways to see the small villages that line the canals. If you happen to get tired, just catch up to the boat at the next lock, in time for a sumptuous lunch.
Nighttime is for relaxing and after dinner conversation with your fellow passengers. There are unexpected surprises as well, including being treated to a local entertainer who comes aboard to sing, play the piano and encourage everyone to participate. Who knows, you might find yourself doing a karaoke rendition of of Hotel California in the South of France.
This itinerary also includes a visit to the Lalique crystal and jewelry museum in Saverne; tasting tarte flambée in Altenheim-sur-Zorn and seeing gorgeous Hansel and Gretel style villages along the Alsatian wine trail.
One of the highlight is the city of Strasbourg, selected as a UNESCO World Heritage of Humanity Site. With winding cobblestone streets, flower-laden bridges, half-timbered houses, and plenty of shops and restaurants, Strasbourg is an amazing place to visit.
The pièce de résistance, however, would have to be the Cathedral Notre Dame De Strasbourg. Construction of this gothic work of art started in 1015 and the spire was finally placed in 1439. Today, this magnificent cathedral is undergoing renovation but you can still tour the inside and see the massive astronomical clock dating from 1843.
The week can go by quickly and farewells are said at the captain’s dinner. After experiencing slow cruising on a barge, many leave comments saying it was the most enjoyable trip of their lives. Perhaps you will be among them?
The price for a 6-night cruise aboard the 12-passenger Panache is $5,090 p/p in a twin/double suite cabin.