La Peniche QIA péniche is a barge or houseboat, qi refers to the Chinese concept of harmonious energy and they combine to make this one of the most unusual places to stay in Avignon.

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The 38 metre/125 foot long vessel is moored off Barthelasse Island, one of the largest river islands in Europe.

NewsThe Péniche Qi is currently unavailable for overnight stays (though it still does occasional cruises). However several other barges in Avignon do offer cabins, and so we have left this review in place as an idea of what to expect.

From the deck, you have superlative views of the Palais des Papes and the walled city, and it's a leisurely ten-minute walk along the river bank and across the bridge into central Avignon. Another bonus: free, easy parking adjacent to the mooring.

The cabins face towards the bank rather than the river, but, even without the views, you feel yourself lulled to sleep by the great European waterway.

The Zen room, La Peniche QI, AvignonThe boat has four rooms. Two, the Royal Yang and the Zen, have oriental themes. Loup de Mer (Sea-Wolf), decorated with laminated pages from the Tin-Tin novels, is one for aspiring Captain Haddocks, while the Logement du Marinier (Skipper's Quarters) in the aft has its own little private terrace and an appropriate dash of luxury.

All of them have been lovingly restored to a high standard. They're small (around eleven square metres / 118 square feet) compared to hotel rooms but spacious compared to most ships' cabins and have kitchenettes with tea and coffee making facilities.

The Royal Yang - where we stayed - is the only one without its own en suite bathroom. However the bathroom is, to be fair, enormous, exclusive, not a shared facility, has a very good shower and is just a couple of steps away from the sleeping area.

The upsides: the accommodation is extraordinarily reasonably priced. There's an elaborate system of surcharges for weekends or single nights, but it's not expensive, even at peak times. You're also well away from central Avignon, with its rowdy late night bars and early morning garbage trucks.

On the other hand you're vulnerable to inconsiderate fellow guests. The deck is a beguiling spot for late-night drinks and parties around the small, shallow pool.

La Peniche QI, AvignonSo, if you must have an early night, the Péniche Qi is probably not for you. The water pump can also be noisy if your neighbours like to use their bathroom in the middle of the night.

You're on a barge, with all the romanticism that this entails, but also the relative lack of comfort and privacy. The barge, which is accessed from the bank by a little stepladder, is also not suited to anyone with restricted mobility.

Your host and captain, Laurent Brousse, is passionate, informative, temperamental and a little eccentric.

He'll greet you warmly with a glass of wine on the deck in the early evening, but you do have to check in at very specific times. This is not the smooth, anonymous welcome of a chain hotel.

Breakfast, which - unusually - is included in the room rate, is gargantuan. It consists substantially of mountains of rolls and bread, accompanied by tiny pots of exquisite home-made jam and, in season, locally-grown pomegranates.

Evening meals aren't normally available but, in summer, there's a good choice of nearby riverside restaurants.

Visited November 2011

Where: La Péniche Qi, chemin de l'île Piot, Avignon 84000. Tel: (+33) 6 62 37; 25 17 or (+33) 4 90 25 40 61. Book a room at La Péniche Qi

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