The Allure of the Luxury Barge- River Cruising in France, Belgium, Germany, Scotland, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Southeast Asia

 

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France Cruises luxury barges visit the lovely french waterways. Image courtesy of France Cruises.

Originally designed to carry wine, grain and other products from farms to market, hotel barges now carry affluent passengers on the rivers and canals of France, Belgium, Germany, Scotland, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Southeast Asia. They vary in size, configuration and the quality of their accommodation, hosting anywhere from four to 100 guests.

Though the term “luxury” is used to describe the hotel barges, travelers should know that the cabins may be small, with basic furnishings, tiny bathrooms and few amenities. Regardless, the overall experience remains similar throughout the barges. Service is attentive and personal, with a high staff-to-guest ratio, and the food, sourced locally whenever possible, is prepared à la minute by a skilled chef who is attentive to guests’ dietary needs and wishes. The meals consist of several courses, all accompanied by good quality regional wines and cheeses.

Pricing on these cruises skews toward the high end, with an average cruise running around $5,000 per person in a twin/double cabin for seven days. Fares generally include all meals, wines, an open bar, excursions and local transfers, but not gratuities.

Typically, the barges sail on narrow canals, often passing through several sets of locks. They usually stop during meals and tie up overnight. The pace is slow … so slow you can opt to walk or bicycle to a future stop and be picked up again.

European Waterways has 18 ships in the fleet to explore the rivers of Europe.  Image courtesy of European Waterways.

European Waterways has 18 ships in their fleet to explore the rivers of Europe. Image courtesy of European Waterways.

“We were on a barge cruise in France and one evening after dinner they ran out of my husband’s favorite scotch whiskey – Glenlivet – and one of the crew members jumped on a bike and was back with a bottle in about 20 minutes,” recalls Cynthia Boal Janssens, editor of AllThingsCruise. “I have no idea where they obtained it in that tiny village at that hour but we were certainly impressed!”

For first-hand reviews of visiting Loch Ness, island castles and taking a hike through the highlands while on a Scottish Highlands luxury barge trip, see Will Garrett’s blog  travel diary here.

Hotel barges are a popular choice for group sailings – they can be chartered for family or business gatherings, and the voyage can be customized to special interests, like golf, tennis or wine. When considering a hotel barge cruise, your most basic determination is deciding what size ship will work best for your needs, because although they are relatively small in comparison to other ships, there are still several distinct ship size categories.

Be aware that many of these barge companies charter the same vessels, so you may find the barge you want offered by several different companies.

Here are the companies and ships they offer, according to size (to read more about the lines themselves, please click here):

French Country Waterways vessels have the gracious ambiance of a fine country inn.  Image courtesy of French Country Waterways

French Country Waterways vessels have the gracious ambiance of a fine country inn. Image courtesy of French Country Waterways

Luxury Hotel Barges of an Intimate Size  (4-14 passengers)

Abercrombie and Kent: Alouette, Fleur de Lys, Meanderer, Roi Soleil, Saroche, Amaryllis, Anjodi, C’est La Vie, Elisabeth, Hirondelle, L’Art De Vivre, Magna Carta, Prosperite, Scottish Highlander, La Belle Epoque, Napolean, Panache, L’Impressionniste, La Nouvelle Etoile, Shannon Princess

Afloat in France: Alouette, Fleur De Lys, Amaryllis, Hirondelle, Napoleon

 

European Waterways: Clair de Lune, Nymphea, Absoluut2, Anjodi, Enchanté, La Nouvelle Etoile, La Renaissance, Magna Carta, Rosa, Scottish Highlander, Athos, Shannon Princess II, La Belle Epoque, Panache, Savoir Faire, L’Impressionniste

French Country Waterways: Horizon II, Princess, Adrienne, Nenuphar

France Cruises: Alegria, Alouette, Bonheur, Colibri, Libje, Randle. Apres Tout, Caroline, Codecasa 28, Emma, Esperance, Fleur de Lys, Golden Odyssey, Claire De Lune, Meanderer, Niagara, Nymphea, Papillion, Randle, Roi Soleil, St. Louis, Saroche, Who Knows, Wine and Water,  Absoluut2, Amaryllis, Anjodi, C’est La Vie, Elisabeth, Enchanté, Hirondelle, L’Art De Vivre, Magna Carta, Prosperite, Renaissance, Rosa, Scottish Highlander, Athos, La Belle Epoque, Napolean, Panache, Savoir Faire, L’Impressionniste, Luciole, La Reine Pedauque,  Savoir Vivre, Shannon Princess

The Barge Company: Alegria, Alouette, Caroline, , Emma, Esperance, Fleur de Lys, Golden Odyssey, Claire De Lune, Meanderer, Niagara, Nymphea, Papillion, Roi Soleil, St. Louis, Saroche, Who Knows, Absoluut2, Amaryllis, Anjodi, C’est La Vie, Elisabeth, Enchanté, Hirondelle, L’Art De Vivre, Magna Carta, Renaissance, Rosa, Scottish Highlander, Athos, La Belle Epoque, Napolean, Panache, Savoir Faire, L’Impressionniste, Luciole, La Nouvelle Etoile, La Reine Pedauque, Shannon Princess II

Luxury Hotel  Barges of a Small Size  (15-49 passengers)

Abercrombie and Kent: Le Phenicien, Caprice

CroisiEurope: MS Anne-Marie, MS Jeanine, MS Madeleine, MS Raymonde, RV Indochine

European Waterways: La Bella Vita

France Cruises: Le Phenicien, La Bella Vita, Caprice, Anne Marie, MS Jeanine, MS Madeleine, MS Mirabelle, MS Raymonde

Grand Circle Cruise Line: M/S Chardonnay, M/S Provence

The Barge Company: Le Phenicien, Estello, La Bella Vita, Caprice, Soleo, MS Mirabelle

Luxury Hotel Barges of a Medium Size (50-99) passengers)

Abercrombie and Kent: River Cloud II

CroisiEurope: MS Lafayette (April 2014 debut)

 

Grand Circle Cruise Line: M/V Arethusa, M/V Artemis, M/V Athena, M/S River Allegro

Lueftner Cruises (Amadeus cruises): RV Irrawaddy Explorer, RV Mekong Navigator

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