QUOTES AND REFLECTIONS FROM OUR GUESTS:

It’s so much nicer when someone else says great things about you! This is just a sample of reviews from our wonderful guest crews:  

"I spent the night in a room that was once full of sugar beets.

Drifting in through the small open window above my bed is the sound of ducks circling in search of breakfast. Soon, little white furry legs will scuttle past the window – Teddy, the barge dog, out for his constitutional – and the smell of fresh coffee will seep under the door from the galley. I know I can scramble up on deck with my camera and notebook, take some shots and a quick sketch of the mist on the river before the sun burns it off, but the bed is warm, and we were up late last night, lingering over a bottle of premier cru wine from nearby Chablis, lovely stinky local cheese and old stories from school days.

This is morning on the Nooit Volmaakt, a restored Dutch barge that once transported sugar beets along the waterways and is now owned by two Canadians from Victoria, Mary Koyl and Marc Pakenham, and their dog, Teddy. Over our first bottle of wine, we discovered that the skipper, my husband and I were undergrads at the same university at the same time long ago.

Together, we drifted along the canals and rivers southwest of Paris.

Touring on a barge is one of the most personal and intimate ways to explore Europe. The Nooit Voolmakt is only one of many barges that offer trips through the less populous areas of England, France, Germany, Italy and other countries. The small size allows passengers to indulge in their own personal interests while sailing through historic routes that are still navigable – canals that once served as the superhighways for commerce, opening trade routes that would become the foundation on which the Industrial Revolution would be built. Those canals and waterways still wind past villages, under stone bridges and straight through the bucolic farmlands of old Europe.

Barge cruises allow guests time to do what they love best. I am a food writer and an amateur artist, so the twin pleasures of time spent on deck with a mug of hot tea, continually replenished by Mary, and daily visits to markets, food shops and fine restaurants, were perfect for me.

In Moret, we moored just below the town bridge that French impressionist painter Alfred Sisley painted in the early 1890s, little changed today. I walked and cycled where Sisley and his friends did, ogled his house and sat in the main square in front of a pretty storefront that was signed, “Les Amis D'Alfred Sisley.” Perhaps he had no friends left as no one was ever there to open the shop. But no matter. This town, this itinerary, was ideally matched to my interests.

Other barge itineraries can inspire the photographer, the cyclist, the wine lover or the historian. Antiquarians can troll through a vide-grenier, French for empty attic, the Gallic version of a garage sale.

[...]

For, instead of design details, the emphasis on a barge cruise is on the quality of the experiences, the interaction between guests and crew, and the food, which is often larded with local specialties. It is, essentially, a slow meander down a lovely waterway with many seductive reasons to stop along the way.

There are still mornings when I wake up and imagine I can hear Teddy and the ducks. I can almost see the reflections in the water, and I wonder where Mary is with my tea."

by Barbara Orr - All Things Cruise 2011

"Marc and Mary, a most gracious and congenial couple, could not have been more accommodating.  Our trip with them was amazing and very special. Each day, Mary and Marc prepared a sumptuous breakfast and lunch and gave us a rich assortment of information about the region. The ship’s library fulfilled our desire for more knowledge about the history of the region and the importance of the canal system to early French commerce.  Marc and Mary have made the trip many times and know every turn and every lock.  They choose beautiful little villages and towns to moor for the night.   Each day was a different adventure.  We explored the Romanesque cathedral in Paray-le-Monial, the narrow streets of Digoin, the Emile Henry factory at Marcigny, and spent a glorious evening at a world class Celtic concert.   The rural French are polite and warm, and we were able to practice our French and get to know local customs. We went on to Paris, but it's the memories of our canal trip and the gentle pace of the pastoral countryside that will stay with us for a good long time." Thank you Marc and Mary. 

George Whyte and Donna Haynes 2013

 

"From the moment Mary and Marc met the four of us at the train station in Paray-le-Monial, it was clear that we were in for a wonderful week.  Food is a serious matter indeed aboard Nooit Volmaakt.  We were welcomed the first evening with a magnificent dinner of magret de canard with cassis accompanied with a wonderful array of French wines and that set the tone for the week.  Every day brought us a new and wide selection of wonderful fresh local food for breakfast and for lunch with lots of information and anecdotes from Marc and Mary to give us a better understanding of the region through which we were travelling.  Our days were leisurely, getting underway after breakfast and meandering slowly along the canal, wending our way through the multitude of small locks and tying up at the next beautiful old village by mid-afternoon.  We were welcomed into the wheelhouse to either chat or lend a hand and many hours were whiled away sitting on the foredeck watching the French countryside slip by.  The ancient little villages nestled into the countryside were breathtaking, each offering its own glimpse of the religious and cultural ways from centuries ago.  And each stop brought us to yet another fabulous dining experience ashore. Marc and Mary exceeded any expectations one might have of the hosts on a small custom charter.  They are warm and gracious, prepare amazing food, are both fonts of information on the region in which they cruise, and they like to laugh.  This trip was very special indeed and one we will always remember with great fondness."

Mary Macdonald and Dennis Starkey 2013

ONE WEEK OF HEAVEN

Last year while spending the better part of a month in France with my wife’s cousins, we had the good fortune to spend a week with Mary Koyl and her partner Marc Pakenham (and their poodle Teddy) aboard their almost 100 year old barge the Nooit Voolmakt. I say good fortune as after having experienced it I can’t imagine a more relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a week in the pastoral countryside of France.

Your Host and Hostess, Marc and Mary are not only knowledgeable and informative about the areas you will be visiting and where to find the most sumptuous cuisine but are truly warm and wonderful people opening their home and hearts to their guests.

Guests start their day with a wonderful breakfast, including fresh pastries collected in the early morning hours by Marc. The day provides many opportunities to take in the sights while lounging above decks, with a cup of delicious coffee or glass of exquisite French wine,  as the barge slips almost silent along the canal, or those in need of some exercise can walk or cycle between some of the many canal locks through which you will pass.

Evenings will find you moored along your route often in or near small towns or villages where you have the opportunity to explore the historic countryside and experience French cuisine at its finest. As the evening draws to a close you may find yourself reading quietly or engaged in conversation with Marc or Mary about the day's adventures or those to come.

Our time aboard the Nooit Voolmakt with Marc and Mary has certainly been one of our most precious travel experiences, one which we do not hesitate to recommend to any and all to whom we have had the opportunity to share our story with.

Reg and Ingrid Fredrickson


"We were looking for a different vacation experience to celebrate a milestone anniversary. We came across an article in the travel section of the Globe and Mail profiling Diva Barge. We were immediately attracted and investigated their website. This was just the kind of relaxing yet interesting vacation experience we thought we would like. Our kind of cruise!

It certainly exceeded our expectations.

From the moment Marc picked us up at the train station in Roanne, until the moment he dropped us off at Paray-le-Monial, our week with Marc and Mary was wonderful. Their hospitality was simply outstanding. They are a gracious and cultured couple who catered to and spoiled us like royalty, as they opened their hearts and floating home to us.

 We were treated to a wonderful roast duck dinner upon our arrival. Breakfasts and lunches were amazing. The presentation of meals too, rivaled that of any high end restaurant. Their options and recommendations for dinners led us to some fabulous dining experiences.

On our anniversary day, Marc and Mary treated us to lunch in Digoin, and later in the afternoon, ice cream cones on deck, complete with candles. How touching!

 The Nooit Volmaakt has every amenity. We enjoyed soaking up the sun and sites on the front deck during travel, and evenings spent in the salon, reading magazines and books about the area, conversing with our hosts, or watching a movie.

 Marc and Mary’s intimate knowledge of the area led us to many wonderful sites at our daily mooring locations, such as museums, local architecture, or local shops. They pointed out many nuances of passing points of interest, and kept us abreast of daily activities and options to come each day. You truly experience the lifestyle of rural France.

 This was an unforgettable experience that we would recommend to anyone looking for a relaxing intimate cruising and educational experience of rural French culture.

Thank you Marc and Mary for making our anniversary trip one of a lifetime!"

Leanne Johnston and Jeff Crouch