Despite the growing popularity of cruising, particularly on river boats, this is still a little known niche concept within the vast cruise industry. Maybe the term “barging” deters interest, conjuring up images of narrowboats or coal lighters. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Most hotel barges started life as cargo vessels but have since been painstakingly converted to offer luxury boutique accommodation for small groups of up to 20 passengers. This is cruising, but in a very different style to ships plying the big rivers or oceans. The pace is slow, with a 6 day cruise often covering little more than 50 miles along a rural canal. Passengers can walk or bike the towpaths and never be left behind as their floating hotel glides gently along.
The idea is to offer guests full immersion into the culture, history and gastronomy of one of a number of fascinating regions of Europe such as Burgundy, the Midi, Alsace, or the Italian Veneto. Every day, when not cruising, a crew member leads an excursion, perhaps to a vineyard for a wine tasting, a market where the chef might buy fresh local ingredients for the evening meal or a visit to a unique “off the beaten track” location that you would never find on your own. These could be to still inhabited troglodyte cave dwellings, a private chateau or to see an olive oil press at work and sample its produce`.
Surprisingly for such a largely unknown travel concept, we have been offering our exclusive floating hotels for nearly 40 years. We have 17 vessels in the fleet, the best known of which is Anjodi, star of Rick Stein’s award winning BBC TV series “French Odyssey”, which transported him along the Canal du Midi on a voyage of culinary discovery. Other hotel barges offer the same intimate atmosphere, all with high levels of personal service and access to the tranquility of smaller waterways which larger vessels cannot reach.
About half of our bookings are for whole boat charters. The small passenger capacity offers a unique opportunity for groups of friends or family to enjoy their own bespoke private cruise. Otherwise, clients book a cabin to join the floating house party, hosted by the Captain and pampered by the chef and the rest of the crew.
Whether clients fancy a soak in the on deck spa-pool, a game of boules on the bank or just to sit and watch the sun go down over the countryside with cocktail in hand, a “slow boat” European Waterways barge cruise offers the ultimate in experiential travel.
Hotel barging is a boutique, unique experience which offers an immersive, all-inclusive “gentle voyage of discovery” that focuses upon the culture, history, fine wine and gourmet cuisine of the region. With a 6 to 20 person capacity and 1:2 crew ratio, European Waterways is able to provide an impeccable level of on-board service and can transport their guests on the intimate inland waterways that are inaccessible to larger vessels. This fascinating network of smaller canals allows for flexibility, spontaneity and ample opportunity to hop off and explore the beautiful surroundings via bicycle or on foot. In addition to this are daily, chauffeured excursions “off the beaten track” to a wide variety of enthralling locations, from exquisite wine tastings to private tours of stately homes. With over 40 years’ experience and a fleet that spans nine countries, European Waterways is the largest luxury hotel barging company in Europe. For more information, call our Australian Toll Free 1-800-828-050 or visit europeanwaterways.com.
On board, there is a relaxed, intimate ‘house party’ atmosphere, whether you choose to cruise with other like-minded people, or charter the whole barge as a family or group of friends.
Each day as your ‘floating boutique hotel’ glides sedately along at walking pace, you can relax on deck and take in the passing countryside, then perhaps get off at the next lock to stroll along the towpath or enjoy a little exercise on one of your barge’s bicycles. You may come across some locals playing a game of boules, or a charming canalside village to explore and then rejoin your hotel barge which will never be far away.
During your gentle voyage of exploration, your hotel barge may negotiate a truly impressive feat of engineering, such as Gustave Eiffel’s Aqueduct across the River Loire at Briare, the amazing Boat Elevator at Arzviller in Alsace, or the world’s oldest canal tunnel at Malpas on the Canal du Midi. Each one is an unforgettable experience in its own way.
After perhaps a light al fresco lunch on deck accompanied by a glass or two of chilled rosé, there is an escorted excursion, maybe to a bustling local market where your chef shops for the evening meal, to a château, or a vineyard for a private tasting. Many of our visits are to places ‘off the beaten track’ that larger groups cannot access, so that we offer you full immersion into the culture, history and gastronomy of the region.
The Wining and Dining After a day of cruising and sightseeing, there is time for an aperitif, or maybe a relaxing soak in the on-deck spa pool, before a gourmet dinner prepared by your chef with the freshest local ingredients. To enhance your immersive dining experience, the hostess will explain the characteristics of each accompanying wine and cheese as she serves them. A perfect end to the day as you relax in conversation and share the day's experiences with your fellow passengers.
Our hotel barge cruises offer a balanced daily blend of gentle cruising and fascinating excursions. Whether your interests lie in gastronomy and wine, local history and culture, or just relaxing on deck with a good book and a glass of Chablis, a “slow boat” voyage with us offers the ultimate in experiential travel.
Where to Cruise in France and Europe
Discover the fascinating world of barging, through the vineyards of Burgundy, on the shady Canal du Midi in Southern France, the historic Po Valley in Italy, or the River Shannon in rustic Ireland. Navigate the Royal River Thames, through the stunningly rugged landscapes of Scotland, picturesque Alsace & Lorraine, or the colourful tulip fields of Holland.
Happy Cruising with Cruise at Leisure