We had a wonderful time on our September barge trip through Scotland (9/17-23)! Mark in Ellen and Caroline’s office helped us to decide on the Spirit of Scotland, a lovely vessel with comfortable cabins and a spacious upper deck for lounging in the hot tub and viewing the gorgeous landscape. Alas! The weather gods did not smile upon us, and most days were too cold, wet (or both) to do any outdoor lounging, but we enjoyed ourselves immensely nonetheless. Our daily excursions were well-planned and interesting—Culloden battlefield and its museum provided a wealth of information about Scottish history; Cawdor Castle was simply gorgeous, both inside and in the gardens; the raptor demonstration enabled us to examine these beautiful birds at close range (we held owls, a hawk, and an eagle!); and the Dalwhinnie distillery tour combined educational (how Scotch is made) and sensory (a fabulous tasting that paired the spirits with chocolates) components. The barge crew—captain, chef, hosts, deckhand, and cruise director—were all terrific and worked tirelessly to ensure that everyone had the best time possible. Meals were amazing in both quality and quantity, and we especially appreciated the list of menu items (including wines and cheeses) provided at the end of the cruise. A little rain—actually a lot—could not ruin our fabulous vacation!
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Juanna in Ellen’s office planned a wonderful cruise on the Savoir Vivre barge. She helped steer us through two years of COVID until we were able to travel in June. We picked this barge as it was small and stopped each night for dinner in a local restaurant. This appealed to us and we were not disappointed! The restaurant experiences were all very good. Breakfast and lunch were delivered daily by local providers. All were plentiful and delicious. Richard, our captain, was very welcoming and accommodative as was Axelle his mate. Our daily tours were led by Simon who was very knowledgeable and interesting. The barge is well appointed. We enjoyed walking the tow path ahead of the barge for exercise. Biking is available also. We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise as well as our fellow passengers. We recommend Ellen’s team, and the Savoir Vivre as an enjoyable way to see Southern Burgundy.
The captain was very engaging and the crew of one was efficient knowledgeable and attentive. The guide extraordinary in her knowledge and ability to find answers to questions. I was given the opportunity to pilot the barge and commented that it was like trying to push a rope. Riding a bicycle on the tow path was a good way to get some exercise and pictures of the barge and locks along the way. The captain had electrical shore service every night and that was really appreciated as we did not have to listen to a generator all night.
Ellen and Lori helped our group pick the ideal barge for our group- The Gran Cru. This phenomenal barge is only in its second season, has a fantastic staff that works well together and created a very convivial atmosphere- as well as lots of wonderful food and wine. A Gran Cru wine and 3 cheeses were served at every meal and Chef Joe was outstanding. In addition to cooking our meals, he held a couple of cooking classes for us. Boat manager, guide and wine expert Anna- superb! Without the input of Ellen and Lori we likely would have chosen another barge and not had the same experience.
I also appreciated the heads up from Ellen that because of no rain, we would not be on canals but rather on the Saône. In reality it mattered little as our itinerary remained the same and the scenery remained beautiful. This is our second barge trip through Ellen and I will use her again for future trips.
Our barge trip in Southern Burgundy on Magnolia exceeded our expectations. Ellen’s suggestions to go to that area was perfect. The area was beautiful with lots of interesting and fun things to see. The crew on the Magnolia were all wonderful. Captain Nicolas was warm, friendly and very competent. Magali, his wife was very knowledgeable and very wonderful to spend time with. Sarah, the chef was outstanding! We all agreed her food was the best we ate in the two weeks we were in France. Our hostess, Brigette, had a wonderful sense of humor and was always there to offer a drink or anything else we could want. Gypsy, the dog was even a great addition. Two events stand out as very special. Maggi arranged for us to have dinner at her parent’s home in a near by village. She translated since they did not speak English. Even though there was a language issue the evening could not have been more delightful. Talk about interacting with the locals. The second surprise was musical entertainment our last night. Two local fellows came on board and played instruments and sang. My face hurt from smiling. This was a trip to remember!
Ellen and her team were so helpful in selecting the right barge and it exceeded our expectations. We wanted to experience Scotland and the Spirit of Scotland in Inverness was recommended. The information and description enticed our small group to selecting a July date . We didn’t have any problems or challenges establishing the trip details for Inverness.
Expectations were surpassed. The accommodations were beautiful, clean and very comfortable for two people. The lounge, dining room and outside areas were comfortable and offered shade and sun to enjoy the amazing scenery and to experience fabulous food, wine and entertainment. Local folks came to serenade us with folk music, stories and bagpipes.
Each day was a perfect mix of moving along the canals and traveling to many beautiful castles, parks and villages. I loved the experience so much, next year will include a barge cruise in France.
Having done a Burgundy barge cruise once before, my wife and I had very high expectations for this family trip. Ellen Sack exceeded those expectations, on all accounts. She was very helpful in selecting the right boat for us and our two sons and daughters in-law. The crew of the Rendez-vous was personable, energetic, knowledgable and genuinely fun to be with. Lori Young handled several special requests from ballooning, to live music on board, and birthday surprises, all with a “no problem ” approach. The entire experience from the first call through many months of planning was 5 stars.
We had a great time aboard the Hemingway, 9/25/16 to 10/1/16, and we believe all barge trips for us in the future will be defined by this trip. Our support, from making the choice to pick the Hemingway to answering little questions, was handled quickly and accurately by Ellen and her team. The barge trip was outstanding in all regards, service, room, food and tours. Our barge cabin was better than a number of the fine hotels we have stayed in. The service from all the barge employees and the owners was excellent. Each meal was a pleasure and an adventure. The wine and bar selection were also excellent. While our fellow passengers did not want to go on some of the tours (they had been before) we loved each one and learned a great deal about the wines and the history of the area.
It was a really, really great experience that will be hard to top.
My wife and I were quite pleased with our interactions with Ellen Sack and her team. Because we were new to barge cruising (having only done ocean and river cruising before), Ellen helped us narrow down options and select what we consider an ideal barge cruise for us. We selected the Savoir Vivre. It carries 8 passengers. What we especially liked is that we got to dine at a different place, in a new town, each night.
The cruise surpassed our expectations. The ship captain Richard, the hostess Marie, and the guide Laura (“the crew”) were awesome. We felt pampered. We were impressed with Marie fixing a delicious breakfast and lunch for us, while still tidying up our cabins. We wanted to take her home with us. Laura was vivacious and engaging, and made history come alive for us on our tours. Richard was friendly, helpful, and low-key. He served as our driver to and from the train station and the restaurants at night. On our trips off the barge, we drove around in a spacious minivan. Richard and Laura arranged to have the van at the location where the barge docked each night, so that it was close by when needed.
We liked the casual atmosphere of barge cruising. It was more low-key than river cruising. We did one excursion a day for only a few hours. That gave us time to relax on the barge, chat with our new friends, walk along the Burgundy canals, or bike along the canal and into the towns. We also got to help open and close the gates at the numerous locks along the canal. Before or after an excursion, we would hang out in the common area at the front of the ship.
Before the cruise, I worried a little about the bikes. They are fold-up bikes, and I was concerned that they would be uncomfortable. I am 6 feet, 2 inches tall with long legs. My worries were misplaced. I didn’t have a problem. I could comfortably pedal for the several miles we traveled.
We would consider doing another barge cruise in a different area. Barge cruising is a great way to chill out—and make new friends—after doing lots of (hectic) sightseeing in another part of the country. We were a little sad to depart our new little family at the end of the cruise.
Contact Ellen and her staff if you’re interested in trying out a barge cruise. They will help you find something that fits your needs and travel style.
Southern Burgundy, Escommes to Fleurey-sur-Ouche
Five companions (aged 32-70) and I spent a week on the barge Rendez-Vous in September 2015. Our travel information and documents packages arrived in good time and we were all ‘blown away’ by the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of their preparation. Hand-written birthday cards were a lovely touch.
At my age I’ve done a great deal of traveling, under the aegis of a great many companies, and Ellen Sack certainly stands out. She and her staff display expertise, patience, thoroughness, and a sense of humor. What more could one ask?
My husband and I went on a cruise on Bonheur with two friends. We enjoyed every minute of it. Paul and Annie are wonderful hosts, and Helen is totally right in rating it the best small barge. We are very happy to have booked our trip through Ellen. Everything went as expected. Great work.
Ellen and her team made our trip to Burgundy in June 2014 spectacular. We loved L’Impressionniste and the amazing crew, chef, and captain. We highly recommend Ellen Sack to anyone interested in wonderful guidance on your next trip.
My husband and I have taken three barge cruises arranged through Ellen Sack. We have cruised the Canal du Midi in the South of France, Scotland on the Scottish Highlander and last September were on the Bonheur with our good friends. Each barge is unique and different. What they all have in common is an unparalleled ability to create once-in-a-lifetime trips via their locations, hosts, day trips, terrific food onboard, and a sense that you are experiencing a trip that cannot be duplicated. Ellen Sack is by far the best, most responsive, thorough, generous, thoughtful travel person we have ever used anywhere in the world. The fact that if you call her office you have a great chance of having her pick up the phone, answer each of your questions, and never once make you feel that she should be doing anything else except helping you is worth the price of the cruise alone. The reason we have taken three barge cruises is simply because each and every experience has been beyond delightful. We cannot wait to book another barge cruise.