Luxury Barge Cruises in Provence:
Where Along the Rhone on the Provence - Languedoc border
When April to March
Cruises One week, six nights on board, all inclusive
Price From $2,870 to $3,230 per person, double occupancy
Contact Le Phenicien Port de Plaisance, 30127 Bellegarde, France
- Tel: 011 33 (0)6 22 48 34 60
- Fax: 011 33 (0)4 42 41 19 15
- Email: Marc Baron-Joly
Péniche-Hotel Le Phenicien:
The Phenicien is a barge converted into a luxury floating hotel. Passengers join a small number of guests -- maximum 18 -- for gentle luxury barge cruises along the Rhone, from the Avignon area to Aigue-Mortes in the Camargue. The vessel navigates the Rhone for between two and four hours per day, docking at river side towns and villages for organized excursions and free time. It's a bit like touring on someone's private boat, stopping here and there as the fancy strikes.
What kind of excursions?:
Outings include private guided tours of wine cellars, the Pont du Gard and the antiquities of Arles; a visit to a manade - a Camarguaise ranch- to witness the skills of the gardians who herd the small local bulls from the backs of beautiful, semi-feral white horses of the Camargue. The Phenicien is a family owned business and many of the outings are arranged with family friends and acquaintances who do not normally open their homes and businesses to visitors.
And the rest of the time?:
Passengers have total freedom to participate in the itinerary -- that can also be custom tailored to their interests -- or to do nothing at all. Grab a bicycle from the deck to do some independent exploring, play petanque under the plane trees of a village square. There are no obligations to do anything, beyond being on board for departures from the port of call.
The natural environment:
The Camargue is a protected habitat for at least 200 species of resident and migratory birds and all sorts of riverine wildlife. As the luxury barge cruises cross the wild wetlands to the 14th century walled city of Aigue-Mortes, founded by St. Louis as a crusader port, passengers can spot flocks of thousands of pink flamingos, as well as marsh harriers, avocets, buzzards, hawks, falcons and many more.
Specially organized trips combine luxury barge cruises with golf for experienced golfers. Visits to five different top ranked golf courses in Avignon
, Nimes-Campagne and La Grande Motte, are included. The Robert Trent Jones course at la Grande Motte is spread across a Camargue landscape overlooked by local bulls and wild horses.
The nine cabins for these luxury barge cruises are arranged in three separate units, each with its own gangway, enhancing the feeling of being on a private boat. The cabins, which straddle the waterline, each have a porthole window, a private bathroom with shower, and a small cupboard. Don't bother bringing the ballgowns and the formal eveningwear that the French call tenue de soirée
. Even if you needed it (which you won't) there's no place to put it.
The long, luxurious saloon, which runs most of the length of the upper deck, is beautifully decorated with huge floral displays, Lloyd's loom furniture, and custom designed fabrics from Provence favorite Solieado. Rhone views unfold beyond large, spotless windows that flood the saloon with sunlight, reflected on the glossy ceiling. There's also a small foredeck for sunning or simply enjoying good weather.
Wining and dining on a luxury barge cruise
The Phenicien has an extraordinary resident chef. We ate tiny stuffed vegetables, followed by a moist, pink filet of lamb in a herb crust, served alongside an eggplant mousse with roquefort and mozzarella. Before dessert of Crème brûlée with orange and saffron, the cheese course was a filo pastry parcel of warm goats cheese and smoked apricots.
In the morning, a continental breakfast buffet is set but staff is on hand to prepare eggs or other special dietary requests.
The crew manages to be discreet yet friendly and attentive at the same time. Before the sun was anywhere near being over the yard arm, the barman/steward cajoled me into trying my first Caipirinha, the fashionable killer cocktain from Brazil. What a way to start the day!