For a truly different and totally relaxing charter, consider six nights on the Panache, a 12-passenger luxury hotel barge run by European Waterways that cruises through the heart of France’s Champagne region, with frequent stops at vineyards and historic sites along the way. (See the video, below.)
The cruise starts on the River Marne, about 75 miles from Paris. The Champagne tasting centers on Epernay, where you can tour the home of Moët & Chandon and inspect thousands of bottles of Champagne in 17 miles of underground tunnels. After some sampling there, you can move on to a hillside tasting at Champagne Henriot, and explore the cellars carved from the chalky terrain at La Maison Pannier. Those are just for starters.
Two minibuses accompany the Panache to take guests to the tastings as well as to visit the Gothic cathedral at Reims, built in 1211, and to sites and monuments from the First World War. After all this sightseeing, you can relax in the boat’s hot tub, located on the top deck, and enjoy the view – probably with a glass of Champagne in hand.
Life on board the Panache is easy; it has a 2:1 passenger to crew ratio. It has two decks and six cabins; each can be configured with twin or double beds. The cabins also have heads with walk-in showers, ample storage and writing desks. If you want exercise, the boat carries 12 bikes, so you can ride along the towpath or explore on your own.
To keep you well fed on board, the Panache has its own chef. Breakfasts are continental, lunch is usually a buffet, and dinner is a four-course, candlelit, gourmet experience. Prepare for filet mignon, pan-roasted scallops, oysters, and a cheeseboard that doesn’t end.
Life on board is casual. There’s no dress code, but some passengers dress up for the captain’s dinner on the last night.
Founded in 1974, European Waterways, an English company, is the largest hotel barging operation in Europe. It has 17 vessels cruising through the rivers and canals of nine countries.