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Cruising through France by hotel barge.

Float in style along French waterways

IT DIDN'T TAKE LONG for us to slip into the gentle rhythm of the river. Our respite from all things fast and noisy began the moment we boarded the Esprit, an 18-passenger hotel barge waiting to cruise the Seine.

Crew members greeted us with Champagne flavored with black currant liqueur, which we sipped while nibbling canapes. Then the barge's engine hummed to life and we started chugging upriver at 6 knots--"flat out," as Captain Charlie Pope joked.

Over the next six days, we cruised from the town of Melun, on the Seine 27 miles southeast of Paris, to Auxerre, a medieval city 63 miles farther south, on the Yonne.

En route, we had plenty of opportunities for side trips by bus to regional attractions: art towns like Barbizon and Moret-sur-Loing, castles like Fontainebleau and chateaus like 17th-century Vaux-le-Vicomte, vineyards and wineries in Chablis.

Between excursions, we jogged along towpaths (average distance between locks is about 3 miles), rode bicycles into villages, and lazed on deck. Each evening, the barge tied up in a different village, which we explored on foot before dinner.

And we dined well. Chef Stephen Houchin served fresh, flaky croissants from village bakeries for breakfast; pates, salads, meats, and hot dishes such as quiche for lunch; and sumptuous four-course dinners that ended with mouth-watering desserts like raspberry souffle. Wines from France's major vineyard regions and local cheeses accompanied lunch and dinner.

By the end of the week, we'd concluded that barging is one of the best ways to explore France.


Most hotel barges that cruise France's waterways are refitted cargo barges with all the comforts of an inn: lounge, dining area, sundeck, and small staterooms. They carry 6 to 24 passengers.

Rates vary depending on the barge and season, but they're generally lower in summer (rivers are often more crowded then, too). From July 18 through August 28 and October 17 through November 6 on one of our tour company's four barges, costs range from $1,975 to $2,675 per person (double occupancy) for six nights (in-season rates range from $2,575 to $2,975); accommodations, transportation to and from Paris, all meals, excursions, and use of bikes are included.

For more information, write or call French Country Waterways, Ltd., Box 2195, Duxbury, Mass. 02331; (800) 222-1236. Other companies offer hotel barge cruises; for brochures, see your travel agent or write to French Government Tourist Office, 9454 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 303, Beverly Hills, Calif. 90212.




September 19, depart Washington, D.C., for a 12-day exploration. You'll stay in Dinan and Concarneau while visiting Mont-St.-Michel, St.-Malo, and megaliths near Carnac. See pottery workshops, often-painted seascapes, Breton architecture, and learn about Gauguin and the painters of the Pont-Aven School, the Dukes of Brittany, Breton literature. Cost is $4,630. Smithsonian Study Tours and Seminars, 1100 Jefferson Dr. S.W., Washington, D.C. 20560; (202) 357-4700.



The 54-passenger Coral Princess departs Cairns or Townsville each week for a four-day cruise through the Great Barrier Reef. You'll be accompanied by dive masters and a marine biologist. Cruise 3 to 4 hours a day, snorkel, visit uninhabited islands for beachcombing, barbecuing. Other stops include rain-forest parks, and resorts on Green, Dunk, and Orpheus islands. Cost for a one-way trip is $610. Coral Princess Cruises, 302 W. Grand Ave., Suite 10B, El Segundo, Calif. 90245; (800) 776-0370.



September 9 or 21, October 3 or 14, join a nine-day outing from Florence to Perugia. You'll pedal 3 to 40 miles daily (with a support van) through wine country, medieval hill towns, and market towns. Visit abbeys, attend tastings, learn local legends. Overnight in Radda, Siena, Sinalunga, and Torgiano. Cost is $2,390. Chateaux Bike Tours, Box 5706, Denver 80217; (800) 678-2453.



Frequent departures from West Coast cities allow independent travelers to experience Bangkok on their own. Prices, from $797, include airfare, five nights' lodging and breakfasts, transfers, and a half-day tour of nearby attractions. TBI Tours, 787 Seventh Ave., Suite 1101, New York 10019; (800) 223-0266.



September 14 and 23, join eight-day cycling tours over gently rolling terrain northwest of Pamplona. You'll cycle 25 to 35 miles daily and stay in medieval Olite, the Roman town of Calahorra, the pilgrim city of Logrono, and Haro, the wine-making capital of La Rioja province. Attend tastings, cycle through farmland. Cost is $2,965. Butterfield & Robinson, 70 Bond St., Toronto Ont., Canada M5B 1X3: (800) 678-1147.



Enjoy colorful costumes and music and dance on an eight-day tour of this Himalayan kingdom, departing from Paro on September 15. Travel by minivan to Thimphu, then to Wangdiphodrang for the festivities. Take day-hikes to nearby villages, and visit Taktsang Temple, The Tiger's Nest. Land costs are $2,400. Inner Asia Expeditions, 2627 Lombard St., San Francisco 94123; (800) 777-8183.



October 9, join a 15-day trip in Southern Africa. From Cape Town, cycle five days through wine country and along the coast. Visit Durban, then hike in the Drakensberg Mountains. At Kruger National Park, see cheetahs, leopards, lions, rhinos, and elephants. Fly to Victoria Falls, in Zambia, and canoe or raft down the Zambezi River. Cost is $2,950. Northwest Passage Outing Club, Inc., 1130 Greenleaf Ave., Wilmette, Ill. 60091; (800) 732-7328.



Beginning July 31 or September 25, walk 6 to 8 miles a day through the heart of Wales for eight days. Overnight in Shrewsbury, Knighton, Dolgellau, and Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog; enjoy the countryside by day. Walk from Shrewsbury along Offa's Dyke, see seabirds and rhododendrons near Mawddach Estuary, enjoy magnificent scenery in Snowdonia National Park and the Vale of Llangollen. Cost is $1,750. British Coastal Trails, Inc., 1001 B Ave., Suite 302, Coronado, Calif. 92118; (800) 473-1210.
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Author:Reno, Lorraine
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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