A view of Provence from the water

A view of Provence from the water

Across France on a barge

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The most unusual view of Provence is from the water. The rules are simple: sail a barge around the Rhone, enjoy life and take your time. In a week, the barge Napoleon crosses the distance from Arles to Ten'l Hermitage. Between them, almost everything you need to see in Provence.

The proud name Napoleon refers to the cosy 39-metre barge, which has 6 passenger cabins. It is the largest barge of the entire flotilla of Orient-Express Trains & Cruises, the furrowing water of rivers and canals in France. The others are designed for four, three or even two cabins, compared to the giant Napoleon.

Usually these barges are rented out entirely for a small company, and only in Napoleon one can buy a separate cabin. A week's cruise around the Rhone will cost €7400 per cabin or €44000 for the entire barge, including full board and unlimited access to spirits (stewardesses tend to offer a glass or two of champagne as early as 11 am).

Despite the obvious excesses that such courtesy of the crew turns out to be, the barge is an ideal example of a healthy holiday in the style of slow life. Moving along the coast is so leisurely that even biking seems to be faster. Those who wish to do so can take their bikes - they stand on the upper deck - and ride along the shore parallel to the barge to the next stop. Talking with a glass of rose in the saloon, sunbathing on sun loungers, swimming in a Jacuzzi on a Sundeck, hiking in the market with the chef, strolling through old towns and wine castles: this is what the barge's programme looks like. Relaxed sybarity is combined with an interest in history and nature.

In fact, Napoleon is a floating hotel. If on earth travelers leave the hotels for sightseeing, here the hotel itself sails where they are told to. "Napoleon is ordered to sail to the papal city of Avignon with its famous collapsed bridge, to the homeland of Nostradamus in San Remy, and to Arles with the largest ancient Roman amphitheatre in France, where bullfights are still held.

Although the quintessence of Provence is still not in the cities, but in nature. It is here that you can see sunflowers - just like Van Gogh painted them. This is where the difference between lavender and lavender is shown: the beautiful postcard plant is lavender, the lavender looks more modest but it is from this that the famous oil is evaporated.

Perhaps the most interesting of Provencal entertainments is the search for truffles together with specially trained labradors, which sincerely enjoy every new mushroom dug in the roots of oak. Although, of course, not truffles, but crispy, which the dogs are given in exchange for the mushroom. You bet, because truffles cost up to € 2000 per kilo!

After replenishing his personal stock of fragrant mushrooms on the farm and buying wine in the castle, the traveller returns to Napoleon full and drunk. But it wasn't there! A gala candlelight dinner awaits him on board.

Published in YACHTS magazine #33.

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