The history of barge cruising in Europe

The barge has a long and dignified history, starting out as a ‘modern’ improvement on commercial transportation in the 1800’s. Often pulled by horses, sometimes by men, barges were used to transport goods along the miraculous system of canals and locks that traversed France.

Their importance waned as other faster forms replaced them, but in the early 1960’s they were reborn as a form of floating vacation home by people who fell in love with the boats and wanted to preserve them. Many became small floating hotels. When American writer Emily Kimborough published a book “Floating Island” in 1968 about the glories of a barge cruise in France, the idea took hold and barge cruising developed into a serious and enduring vacation option.

Today there are hundreds of barges available for booking, ranging from four person small ones to 20-passenger luxury barges that sail the canals of France, Holland, Ireland, England, and Germany.

The big draw for a barge cruise is that it is, by necessity, a slow passage. Sometimes passengers can walk along the sides of the canals faster than the barge can move. They drift past small villages, stopping to visit the markets, picking up bread, great fresh food and wine to enjoy on board. Often there are bicycles on board for excursions, and in the evening, the barges tie up by a village, where a lovely dinner in a good restaurant is a short walk away.

This was a cruising experience that I had to try, so when I found the small ad in the Globe and Mail national personals, I felt it was the perfect way to celebrate my big anniversary.

It’s going to be a lovely adventure!



1 thought on “The history of barge cruising in Europe”

  1. Hello,
    I was interested to read your article. Hotel barging is celebrating 50 years in 1966. Richard Parsons began cruising all those years ago with a barge called ‘The Palinurus’. In 1985 the Palinurus was bought by our company and is now called the luciole.

    I thought you might like to see our new video, its hot off the press:

    If you scroll down our facebook page, there are some great pictures of the Palinurus in the early days:

    The Luciole as you will see in our video is a family run business. You are welcome to come and see for yourselves!

    Please do not hesitate to get in touch directly
    Wtih my best wishes


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