Caroline & Rory Macrae own and operate the luxury barge Apres Tout
and provide luxury cruises through Burgundy. The Luxury Travel Bible
recently cruised with the couple aboard the luxury barge and between courses of fine food and wine and days of sightseeing caught up with them to learn more about their experiences in the luxury travel industry.
Tell us a little about your background in the luxury travel industry?
Caroline: 'I trained at Le Cordon Bleu culinary institute in London and then began catering at upmarket weddings, dinner parties and corporate events. After meeting Rory we decided we wanted to work abroad and found a vacancy for a chef and steward aboard a privately owned boat in the South of France, which was 20 years ago. Rory has always been very good with the technical side of things and within the first year he had become second skipper and decided to apply for a licence to become a captain on the inland waterways, which also involved having to learn French.
'After two years a passenger offered us a job on her estate on Long Island, Connecticut, and I worked as her cook and Rory looked after the estate and was her driver. We were there for two years but missed France and came back to work on the same boat. By this time the company had been sold to Afloat in France, part of Orient-Express. Rory became Technical Manager and then General Manager, looking after all five boats operated by the company and I was put in charge of operations, and we worked together in those roles for ten years.'
When and why did you decide to venture out on your own and buy Apres Tout?
Rory: We both loved our time there, but one day I thought 'Do I want to be in an office for the rest of my life?' We knew that a barge was up for sale, in fact I had already gone to look at it on behalf of Afloat in France. Originally a working barge built in the 1950s, it had been converted to a hotel boat called Le Premier, but for the past three years had just been sitting there doing nothing. The barge was very nearby when we bought it, all of three miles in fact, in the next port along the river. We had talked about running our own business on many occasions, and with our background in the industry we had a very clear idea of exactly what we would want to offer guests and how we could put our personal stamp on it and make it different from other cruises. As time went on the price of the barge had come down so in 2011 I was sitting in my office one evening and decided to put in an offer and ten minutes later I had an email back accepting it. We made the arrangements with the bank to transfer the money and within three weeks we owned a barge!
'I spent the next months working on it and carrying out improvements and in May 2012 we carried our first passengers. We are proud to be running our own business after all these years, hence the change of name to Apres Tout which means in 'after all' in French.
What is the single most defining thing about a cruise on 'Apres Tout'?
A personalised, exclusive service so each cruise is customised exactly to fit guests' needs.
You work together (as Captain and Cordon Bleu chef) and living together - is it always plain sailing?
There are always highs and lows to working together, but we are a great team and want the same for our passengers. We have a great respect for each other's jobs and on the whole have a lot of fun.
You have a wealth of knowledge of the luxury barge industry - What does luxury mean to you?
From the guests' perspective we want them to feel everything is taken care of and they don't need to think about anything - we try and do the thinking for them and anticipate their requirements. Luxury means to us means relaxation in great comfort, so we pamper to all our guests requirements, and hopefully educate them, but the most important thing is that our guests feel like they are at home.
What makes for a cruise on the French canals such a great travel experience?
Burgundy is a beautiful part of France, and even for passengers who have visited before you see France, the countryside and the people from a totally different perspective. In addition to watching the scenery float by at a leisurely pace, the canals and rivers are historic working waterways so you see lock keepers working the locks in exactly the same way that they have done for decades. It is an incredibly relaxing way of travelling and we find even the most stressed passengers unwind within a day or so, usually less, of getting onboard. And for those who want to be more energetic they can walk or cycle along the canal paths and catch up with us at the next lock. Plus, there are so many things to see and do within a short distance of all our mooring places, from historic and cultural wine towns to family activities, such as go-karting and zip lining, or simply taking a dip in the River Saône, which is warm and clear in summer. We stop the boat and let her drift gently while children and adults enjoy the water.
What three things do you never travel without?
Fun information on the place we are visiting, we would hate to miss anything special, local money and reading glasses so we can check out all menus and wine lists in detail.
Caroline and Rory Macrae were talking to Jeannine Williamson 10/9/13