Q: A group of senior citizens including myself would like to do a river cruise through the wine country in Europe, preferably during the warmer months. Is there a good Web site for looking into these kinds of cruises? Do you recommend a travel agent for this or not?
–Richard, Gulfport, Miss.
A: Hi, Richard. Although river cruising is a great option, you may have overlooked another excellent experience: traveling wine country by barge. Barge trips are typically more intimate than riverboat cruises, fitting between six and 20 guests, and are operated at a much slower pace. Demographically, the trips tend to consist of retired, active senior citizens who appreciate culinary and cultural travel. The trips last about a week and can be customized to your specific interests. Most include gourmet meals and wine, allow you to stroll or ride bicycles alongside the barge, and offer plenty of opportunities to meander through small villages, vineyards, and hidden places that wouldn’t be accessible on larger ships. Barge trips tend to be pricey but offer a more personal adventure.
The company Afloat in France has a cruise that will take you through Burgundy’s wine country in six days at a relaxed speed. This voyage typically takes place in July and can be booked through Afloat In France. Other companies that offer barge trips are listed below and can either be booked directly, or more commonly, through a travel agent:
Barge Lady Cruises, 800-880-0071
Barges in France, 877-642-2743
European Waterways, 800-394-8630
Canals of France, 866-550-3447
The Barge Company, 800-688-0245
If barges aren’t your thing, you can always try one of Viking’s excellent European river cruises. Their Vineyards & Vistas tour takes you along the Moselle, Rhine, and Main rivers in the heart of German wine country for eight days. Prices start at $1,149 and include six guided land tours as well.
In addition, Uniworld has offered boutique river-cruises through various wine-producing parts of Europe for 40 years. In 2009, the company added an “Epicurean Adventurer Program,” which includes private wine-tastings, culinary demonstrations (and much more) on select European itineraries.