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Expats Barge Life France


When Brits Dawn Coles and Jason Ashcroft met in France, they already knew that they had one thing in common: a love of barging… their meeting was to lead to a life changing decision to buy a boat, renovate it and start a new life and business in France…

Barge Life France

Jason was a professional hotelier who had lived and worked all over world but when he went to France in 2000 and visited Burgundy he fell in love with the area and got a job on a floating hotel . Not long after he fell in love with Dawn who was working as a hostess on a hotel barge on the beautiful Burgundy Canal. Jason, an outgoing and gregarious character says he and Dawn passed each other from their different barges, “likes ships in the night” quips Dawn. Eventually they got talking, went out and fell in love.

In 2002 Jason took a job in Cornwall, England, running a hotel and Dawn worked in Bristol, not far away, running a homeless people centre. They longed to return to France but it seemed like an impossible dream. 911 had changed the holiday landscape in France, visitor numbers were down, the Euro was weak; getting work was tough for barge staff.


When Jason came into a small inheritance in 2004 the couple decided to “sell everything we had” to make their dream to return to France and buy their own barge come true. They searched high and low for a boat that their budget could stretch to. When they found the Who Knows moored in Dijon harbour Jason says “we could see the potential straight away. We lived on the barge in St Jean de Losnes and worked on her there, but due to a lack of funds it took us a few years before we could really invest in her, boats require almost non- stop care and attention and so it’s an on-going upkeep process.”

When Jason and Dawn bought the Who Knows in August 2004 “she was good to go but needed a lot of work to make her really shine” and they were able to buy her at a rock-bottom price. The renovation was completed within a year and the Who Knows started operating in July 2005.  The Who Knows is a beautiful boat, dark wood panelling gives an air of luxury of a bygone era and with her gleaming brass fittings, she is one of the finest examples of classic yachts on the French waterways.

Jason graduated from the famous “Ecole du Hotelier”, Switzerland and has experience running hotels, restaurants, night clubs and bars around the world. As a wine enthusiast, gourmand and qualifications as a professional bilingual tour guide – this is his dream job.


Jason and Dawn have created a comfortable and luxurious 3 bedroomed au-barge. Forget memories of barges with no mod-cons, this is ensuite, air-conditioned paradise with a library, outdoor sun terrace, sitting room and a great gallery kitchen where Dawn creates gourmet meals for guests. Together they form two halves of a highly professional team and make the perfect hosts. Jason says “customers come back for Dawn’s food, waking up to the aroma of her home made brioche cooking in the gallery is a memory you don’t forget”. Dawn says they come back for Jason’s tours and stories – he is a born raconteur and an amazing guide.What sets them apart is their absolute passion for what they do and their ability to make guests feel really special.


The view from onboard a barge is never the same from day to day. There’s always somewhere new and something different to discover; from stunning places to walk and cycle to things to see and do, places to eat and even where the best boulangeries are for delicious baguettes and croissants.For those considering a dream life in France Jason advises “Living on a boat is not for everyone that’s for sure, however life on water is very calming, especially the canals and waterways of France. Living in the heart of Burgundy means we enjoy all that France has to offer, which is a huge amount, and yet we feel privileged to be able to do so on a luxury hotel barge. We have invested heavily in the Who Knows and in return she has given us a marvellous home and business and to be able to share this with guests is really amazing.”

Their philosophy is that a trip with them is to see “France as it Should be Seen!” And, for guests, it makes for a brilliant tour…


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