There’s more than one way to tour Europe’s waterways, however, very few match the pleasure, pace and personalization of a private barge cruise. These luxuriously converted freight boats allow you to sightsee your way along canals and rivers, stopping to visit charming villages, enjoy a delightful meal at a local auberge or sample delicious wines right at the vineyard where they are produced. Stephanie Sack of Barge Lady Cruises gives us an insider “crash course” via this colorful barge terminology and how it can apply on the cruises they offer. Put on your captain’s hat and hop aboard!


Aperitif: An alcoholic drink enjoyed before a meal as an appetizer. Classic apéritifs are drinks such as dry vermouth, gin, bubbly, and dry white wine.

Barge: Barges came into being following the decline in commercial and freight carriage on the canals of Europe. Through extensive renovations, many working barges have been converted into luxury floating hotels. This trend began in the 1960s and has now grown into a network of hotel barges operating on the canals and rivers of France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. Barges carry between 2 – 20 guests.

Boarding Documents: Guests receive a printed, personalized packet of individualized travel plans. Beside the Boarding Documents, we will send a folder with some “surprises” which will aid in the enjoyment of your cruise: area maps, itineraries, postcards. We mail Boarding Documents in a timely manner, to arrive 30 days before departure.

Canape: A small piece of bread or pastry with food such as cheese, fish, or meat on top. Often served with aperitifs, especially at a get-together. Better tasted than described!

Canal: Built in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century, these antique waterways were built to transport cargo and goods throughout France. The preserved waterways, which still connect villages and cities in every part of France, have now been renewed as routes for vacationers who are seeking idyllic countryside and pastoral scenery.

Captain’s Dinner: There may or may not be a “Captain’s Dinner” on your cruise. The format varies widely from barge to barge, but will bear no resemblance whatsoever to those fancy affairs on the large cruise ships! The last night’s dinner will always be celebratory, may include more courses than the previous dinners, and usually offers an appearance – and toast – from the crew. Guests may dress up a bit for the last night, but this is not mandatory.


Charter: Groups, friends, or family can book an entire vessel, sharing the experience together as a private party. Vacationing is more fun when you travel with your “favorite people” on your very own barge!

* Charter groups have the ability to customize their canal cruise ‘experience to explore special interests, such as Family Fun, Bike and Barge, or Culinary Cruises. Imagine a private vacation experience on board a festive hotel barge with your very own crew to handle every detail of excursions, activities, and meals! Multi-generation families, for example, can be accommodated on the barge Athos, which offers family-oriented activities, such as swimming, kayaking, and horseback riding. For groups of active friends particularly interested in biking, cycling tours can be organized on the barge Luciole; culinary cruises aboard the Apres Tout incorporate open kitchens, cooking demonstrations, and market visits with the Chef!

cheese board barge lady

Cheese board: An indulgent cheese selection of three or four kinds is presented after each lunch and dinner. Sampling this variety of local and regional favorites, including those made from sheep’s milk and goat’s milk, is often one of the best parts of the on board cuisine!  A thorough explanation of each cheese and origin augments the experience!

*While the French barge cruises are of course known for their gourmet cheeses, the boards served on the canals of other cruising regions are equally as impressive. Cheese fiends will be thrilled with the premium cheddars offered on the barge Scottish Highlander in Scotland!

Continental Cuisine: Throughout the cruise week, a wide range of delectable, French inspired cuisine is served. Wake up to a beautifully presented breakfast spread of freshly baked croissants, pastries, cereals, and fruits. Buffet style lunches, multi-course dinners and decadent desserts are prepared freshly by your gourmet Chef every day to introduce you to creative regional dishes. Almost everything is made from scratch, and all ingredients are sourced locally.

Crew: Barges feature English-speaking staff, which can include a Captain, Chef, Host(ess), Tour Guide, Pilot, and Deckhand. All barges have a high crew-to-guest ratio, ranging from two to six crew members, depending on a vessel’s passenger capacity.

“Diet Before Departure”: A personal philosophy of The Barge Lady, this is a disciplined, (yet lighthearted!) approach to prepare for the indulgent cuisine served on board by your own gourmet chef!

Full-board: Three daily meals are included in the barge amenities, along with wine pairings at lunch and dinner. Cuisine is created by a private, on-board Chef, who relies on local markets and seasonal offerings for a memorable gourmet dining experience!

Hotel Barge Cruise: A six night/seven day in-depth and intimate exploration within a particular cruising region of Europe on a floating boutique hotel. Your cruise route is approximately 50 miles, so your vessel moves leisurely from mooring to mooring, while you enjoy gourmet cuisine, hand selected wine, bicycling along the canal, guided local sightseeing, and plenty of time to relax on board. Guests immerse in the serene, beautiful, and largely unknown Europe experienced exclusively on a hotel barge cruise!


Half-board: Breakfast is included in the barge amenities, with a combination of lunches and dinner taken ashore, usually at the guest’s expense, in locally-owned dining venues. This is a popular option for “foodies”, Francophiles, or those who wish to more fully immerse into the local way of life.

* One of the most popular cruises in the Barge Lady fleet is found on the barge Savoir Vivre, which offers a half-board program of distinction. France abounds in authentic, independently-owned auberges where local diners far outnumber tourists. So what could be better than dining with the locals, like a local! All dinners are taken off Savoir Vivre at nearby bistros and charming auberges, each delightfully differing in setting and menu, and all six dinners are included in the cruise fare. Your Captain makes the reservation, chauffeurs you to the restaurant, and, once there, introduces your party to the proprietor, reviews the menu, and orders your wine. The perfect half-board experience to explore France’s iconic cuisine culture, this cruise appeals to those who simply must “taste the place”!

Lock (Ecluse): A man-made device which raises or lowers barges to the water level of the next section of canal. A lock may be manual, operated by turning cranks to physically open the gates. More often these days the lock is electric, and may even be automatic, controlled by the user by pressing a button on a panel or turning a pole hung over the canal. Each waterway of France has specific types of locks created to suit the canal’s width and depth. Going through locks is always a guest favorite, and part of the barge cruise experience!

Lockhouse: Small preserved homes along the canal in which Lock Keepers (Eclusier, Exclusière) used to live. When canals were used for commercial purposes, there was a Lock Keeper who lived in the house with his or her family, and who helped to operate the lock. Today, many of these homes have been modernized, and are available to buy or rent.

Péniche: French word for “barge”.

Rating System: Barges are classified under four different ratings: Boutique, First Class, Deluxe, and Ultra Deluxe. The rating system was established by The Barge Lady to help establish a budget, and understand the different levels of luxury on each barge. The higher the class, the bigger the cabins and more amenities on the barge. This is comparable to the star system used by hotels: 3, 4, and 5 star hotels.

Towpath: A towpath is the paved pathway next to a canal or any other inland waterway. Initially created for the beasts of burden to haul the commercial barges, the towpaths are now used recreationally for strolls, jogs, and bike riding!


Wine tasting: When on a barge in France, sip and savor wine as the French do!  The wonderful world of French wine and its many pleasures opens up to barge guests in the most exclusive of ways, with guided excursions to prestigious wineries, private tours of vineyards, and once-in-a- lifetime samplings sure to delight even the most educated of oenophiles.

Wheelhouse: The enclosed area on a boat or vessel where a person stands to steer.  Wheelhouses are a great spot to get the best perspective of the canal, locks, and scenery.  Guests are always encouraged to join the Captain there for a friendly chat — and the chance to steer the barge down the waterways of Europe!

— By Stephanie Sack, Barge Cruise Specialist and daughter of Barge Lady Cruises founder Ellen Sack. 

Practise this unique and fun vocabulary yourself on a private Barge Lady Cruises. Contact them here to start your adventure.