By Emilie C. Harting
“I’ve seen pictures of river cruises where you can walk along the side while the boat is moving,” said my friend.
“What you actually want is a hotel barge. Very often you can walk or bike along the side because the boat goes through canals, and there are often paths alongside. On a river cruise you cannot.”
“But I like luxury,” he said.
I pointed out that hotel barging is different from river cruising, but is often just as luxurious. The barge is a floating luxury hotel with a trained chef who cooks the meals, often relying on quality produce, fish and meats from markets along the way. The cuisine is paired with fine wines and cheeses.
Hotel barges are much smaller. While river cruises often have 100 passengers, the average hotel barge has eight to twelve. Since there are many fewer people, and the water on canals is extremely calm, you hear the sounds of birds, the wind blowing the trees, and the tiny waves lapping along the side of the boat. Most have minibuses that make daily excursions into villages, vineyards, castles, archeological sites, and artisans’ shops.
I told my friend to search the European Waterways site (Go Barging in the U.S.) because the company travels to nine countries and has guided tours of castles, chateaux, Vineyards, and markets along the way.
The Scottish Highlander cruises on the Caledonian River, passes Lough Ness, the lake with the purported monster, and has a Scottish cuisine featuring salmon, game, and venison. At certain times they have cruises focused on fishing and golf.
The largest vessel, La Bella Vita, begins with a tour of Venice and travels up the Venetian Lagoon and along the Bianca Canal to Lombardy, with stops at the Adria, an ancient archeological town, and Ferrera, a walled Renaissance city.
In England, the Magna Carta sails on the Thames with stops at Hampton Court, Windsor, and Henley, and offers a number of themed trips: antiques, families with children, golf, and English Christmas.
Francophiles often argue about which area of France is the most picturesque. At various times in the spring, summer fall season, European Waterways hotel barges explore the Loire Valley, often called “The Garden of France” for its historic towns and vineyards. The company has multiple barges operating in Upper and Lower Burgundy, the most popular barging area in the country. In the southern Languedoc wine region several barges cruise on Canal du Midi, which is known for the biking and walking. There’s also a barge that cruises on the Canal Lateral à la Garonnein in the southwest. Other trips go to Champagne, Provence, Paris, Alsace Lorraine, Northern France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland, and Ireland.
Check out the enticing choices on www.gobarging.com and www.europeanwaterways.com, which has a number of photos and maps. Historic Canals of Europe http://www.worldcanals.com/vev/uk/canaux.htm is helpful for understanding the routes and the canals.