Touring the Alsace Region Onboard La Nouvelle Etoile, My Most Luxurious Journey Yet
If you have only been to Paris, then you have not truly experienced France. Sure, the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower may get you an Instagrameable moment, but you won’t feel in your heart what France is truly about.
The same goes for cheese and wine. You haven’t truly tasted cheese and wine until you have devoured it close to its source, along the canals of the Alsace region of France.
The perfect way to really tour France (and really enjoy French wine and cheese) is on a luxurious canal barge cruise selected just for you by Barge Lady Cruises. Step aboard my four-cabin, eight-passenger, six-star vessel and it feels like you’re aboard a floating club floor, where the scenery changes by the moment. Here, you will experience the best of France, topped off by service far above and beyond any other hospitality in the world.
Whatever you imagine this would be like, dream bigger.
When I arrived at La Nouvelle Etoile, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I stepped onto the barge and was greeted by the staff. Not just any staff; my personal staff for the week. I was sure I must be dreaming. Little did I know, this was the first experience of countless that would make me stop and say, “Pinch me” over and over again, even out loud.
Now, I have been a luxury travel expert for years, so I know what to expect for top-level service. I’ve seen it all.
Not this. The service on the La Nouvelle Etoile was beyond what I ever thought I would experience in my lifetime. I learned that true luxury is not about a grandiose marble lobby, but rather small, customized, six-star (yes, six-star) moments throughout an experience.
Any fans here of “Below Deck,” the Bravo TV show? Well, there’s no “June, June, Hannah” on this trip. Your staff (saying that just doesn’t get old) will make sure your needs are not only met, but anticipated. My chief stew, Gabi, knew before we did that one hour before lunch was the ideal Bloody Mary hour. I have now brought this ritual home with me and practice it on the weekends as a “souvenir” of my trip. (I toast to Gabi every Sunday, and sometimes weekdays without the vodka!) Spot-on, anticipatory service is the highest mark of hospitality.
It’s no wonder celebrities and travel pros (even beyond me) choose to travel this magical French barge. In the past, it has welcomed the movie stars, the Rockefellers, TV stars such as Doris Roberts and also famous authors like Ken Follett. The crew made sure I felt like a star myself.
What to Expect
This way to travel changed my life, my perspectives and how I understand luxury; it was worth so much more than words can define. Everyone’s itinerary is designed around their own wants and desires, so there is no one way to do a French canal cruise.
History and Wine
On my trip, the wine was a high priority, since we were floating through the wine route of Alsace, France. Tasting the wine at its source was a treat, but meeting the actual winemaker was a highlight of our trip.
We stopped to participate in a tasting held inside a structure that has been used for winemaking since the 1400s, at the multi-generational Albert Seltz winery. In fact, our winemaker is the 14th-generation owner, who took over the business from his father in 1980 at only 19 years old. He’s now prepping his son to someday run the famous winery. Now, that’s the real deal, ripe with history and culture that you just can’t get in a regular wine tour.
The Albert Seltz winery takes seriously the creation of each bottle of wine, both in the past and in the future. Winemakers here take great care to preserve the earth that gives them their exquisite Grand Cru and other varieties. My favorite was the Sylvner Vieilles Vignes. Of course, I brought some home.
I also took home some new knowledge about wine. The winemaker taught me how to discuss wine in a polite way, referring to wine notes as if they were personalities. I also learned how to properly turn down a wine that doesn’t agree with me. Never say you don’t enjoy a wine, especially to the winemaker. Just reply that you don’t “understand it.”
Food was also an important component of my experience on the cruise. The food on La Nouvelle Etoile was as magnificent as a Michelin-star restaurant in Paris. Chef Louis is passionate about what he serves his guests, and he gathers fresh herbs from the on-board garden. While traveling, he continues to search for special ingredients (and cheese) to incorporate in the future.
One wow moment was at breakfast …if dining on quiche lorraine while cruising near Loraine is not on your bucket list – put it there now. Somehow each bite just tasted better. That is one of the luxurious wow moments you can experience onboard a Barge Lady Cruise. Yes, it was another “pinch me – I must be dreaming moments”.
Every detail mattered. Meals were presented on Wedgewood China with Christofle silver flatware and fine crystal. The day started with a made-to-order breakfast that featured a chef’s special, such as French toast. Each lunch and dinner was paired with two wines (red and white) and a cheese board representing Europe. The chef took the time to share the story and history behind each cheese.
Then, naturally, an hour before lunch was time for the Bloody Mary hour (again, cheers to Gabi!). Each day also featured hors d’oeuvres and a cocktail hour with our captain/ship owner, Jan, this was followed by the fine, multi-course dinner. To end each remarkable day, we retired to the salon for espressos and home-made chocolates.
Food and drink were just the beginning of our taste of France. On my excursion, every afternoon we were whisked away on private tours of castle ruins, museums and more along the route.
For example, the end of the week concluded with a thorough tour of Strasbourg, the capital of the historic Alsace wine region, as well as the seat of the European Parliament and home to one of the world’s oldest Christmas markets. Strasbourg is one part French, one part German, and its city center is a fascinating UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The flexibility of the daily itinerary is one of the best parts of a canal barge cruise, as it is customized to meet your own interests. Bilingual guides transport you in a roomy, air-conditioned van, removing any typical inconveniences of visiting tourist sites. Whether we visited a charming village off the beaten path or a famous site, our guide made sure there were no lines, no crowds, no worries.
Our guide, Franck, spoke more languages than I could keep up with, and he offered deep historical and cultural knowledge. One night, he even mesmerized us with his piano-playing abilities in the parlor. When a museum we wanted to visit was closed, Franck somehow scored us a private tour. When we craved that perfect panoramic photo of the city, Franck got us access to a rooftop that was closed to the general public.
Cruising the canals of France on a Barge Lady Cruise can be as active or as relaxed as you want it to be. If you’re not up for exploring a castle, sit back and sip tea all afternoon, or take a jaunt on horseback through the Black Forest. Every morning after breakfast, I either took a leisurely stroll along the canal or a quick ride on the electric bikes into the villages to see what I could discover. One day, I found where a massive flock of storks hung out in a small village along the canal. (I wonder if that is where babies come from?)
Beyond the Barge
Another way to make your French trip more effortless is to arrange transportation with Blacklane upon your arrival.
After waking from an overnight flight, the last thing you want to do is worry about customs and your luggage. Our Blacklane representative met us at the plane door and immediately led us through express lanes without any waiting. We were guided through immigration and customs without any stops or hesitations. We never saw a line or waited. I felt like a VIP (and I swear people were eyeing me trying to figure out if I was some famous star).
Also, I was so chill entire trip for many reasons, but also since I knew if I wanted to step back into my regular world for just a moment to share my amazing experiences of the canal cruise, I had WiFi onboard and Tep Wireless WiFi with a hot spot to take into the villages and cities. I had lots of social media-worthy moments, so it came in handy for sure.
After my cruise, I returned home, this time pinching myself about my fond memories. I couldn’t imagine a better way to discover a destination than aboard a Barge Lady Cruise — being pampered like never before, drinking the best French wine with my taste buds delighted by a private chef. I now want to travel the world by canal. I wish I could.
Sorry, I’ve got to run! It’s Bloody Mary time.
*** Thank you to Jan Meijer his staff and Barge Lady Cruises for all their hospitality. I miss you all!