Keystone of the river/canal barge experience is the opportunity to tour places of historical, cultural, or artistic interest in the surrounding countryside, with at least one visit to a vineyard and winery and a private tasting of signature vintages from their cellar. Tours are conducted by the onboard guide, either directly from the barge's tie-up point on foot, or, more often, by van to more distant villages. This is followed by a walking tour, coupled, in one case, by a circuit of the village in a horse-drawn carriage. Tours featured chateaux, villages, open-air marketplaces and abbeys dating back to the Middle Ages. Most village visits included time for shopping or exploring on one's own.
Glen, our tour guide, was extremely knowledgeable about the total span of history of the region, stretching from the time of Imperial Rome through the Second World War. This particular itinerary, and the chateaux region it traverses, is particularly rich in history. Other itineraries offer other emphases, and French Country Waterways is only too happy to communicate the variations between them by telephone at the time of booking.
Since French Country Waterways caters primarily to an American/Canadian clientele, many of whom may not have traveled independently in France before, there is a strong significance placed on on organized tours. Though branching out independently for an extended distance can present a challenge, it is possible by using the ship-provided bicycles to go off on one's own, arranging to meet the barge several locks further along. This does require a bit of logistical planning so as not to arrive at the designated lock only to see a lovely view of Adrienne's stern receding into the distance. Though we sailed Adrienne during a record-setting heat wave, when nobody felt like bicycling, I've been told numerous times that simply bicycling along with the passage of the barge is a special experience to be savored.
Adrienne's low profile limits passenger space to two decks, with all the public rooms on the top, and its six staterooms below. From the first steps aboard the passenger is transported to an era long past, a time when every detail of every object within view was meticulously ornamented, even down to the plants on Adrienne's sun deck, which sit in heavy, glazed ceramic pots encircled with a fleur de lis pattern in bas relief: bright red geraniums and perfectly formed topiaries of slim trees trimmed into perfect globes on top.
There really is only one interior public room on Adrienne, the main salon, with its separate dining area, stretching from the galley entrance aft to the exit to the sun deck forward. There is a small library, holding books on travel, French wines and cheeses, and history; most are in English, with a handful in French. There are also a limited number of novels, contributed by previous guests.
The small bar is tended by whoever the closest crewmember is, and, since there's neither charge nor paperwork for drinks served, even when there's nobody behind the bar passengers are encouraged to help themselves. As expected, because of the focus on fine French wines, they are prominently featured both at meals and at the bar. In addition to wine and champagne, the bar is stocked with premium spirits, including single malt scotches and liqueurs. The bar fridge contains soft drinks, juices and bottled water.
Adrienne's sun deck is too small for active exercise programs, and serves two primary functions: as outdoor observation platform, and, under its canopy overhang, as an al fresco lunch venue.
The main opportunities for exercise, as mentioned before, are the stretches between locks, where guests can walk, jog or bicycle, leaving the barge at one lock and reboarding when it has enters a lock further along the canal. These distances can be anywhere from 100 yards to two miles.
This is definitely not a choice for families with children. In fact, French Country Waterways will not accept bookings for passengers under the age of 18. For families that do want to take this type of voyage with their children, there is the option of joining forces with another family or two and chartering the entire barge.