Clair de Lune motoring its way along the river

As vessels get smaller, logically so too do the rivers and waterways on which they can travel, even down to the point where you are meandering down a tiny canal or conduit no more than a few metres wide – easy to swim across in many cases. A roaming meadow may exist either side of your boat or perhaps you’re gently floating through a quaint township served by a small river. Welcome to the world of European Waterways hotel barge cruising.

It’s a growing segment of the industry but one which is generally neglected from the natural mindset when people think of cruising. But for people looking for a holiday with a difference, seeking for a more hands-on sailing experience or just keen eager to escape the cities and enjoy the peaceful existences that come in the rural parts of Europe, a barge may be for you.

European Waterways is the largest such barge line in the continent, operating in nine countries – France, Italy, Scotland, Ireland, England, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg – and welcoming thousands of passengers onboard each year. Their experience is self-labelled a “gentle voyage of discovery” on Europe’s inland rivers. Barges cater to between six and twenty people.

Before you think barging requires some sort of marine qualification, extensive experience on boats of similar sizes or a desire to be constantly working hard piloting a vessel is far from the truth. European Waterways vessels are fully crewed with a captain at the wheel and often doubling as the tour guide, a Master Chef taking care of all meals onboard, a host or hostess who also doubles as the housekeeper and a deckhand keeping everything clean and in order.

Barging allows travellers to explore some of the narrowest rivers in Europe.
French barge La Belle Epoque meanders through the French countryside.

While they tend to remain in the background to ensure travellers spend quality time with each other, a group’s host also serves as a guide onshore, ensuring guests don’t get lost and see all the local sights while still making it back to their barge for the onward journey. Shore tours take guests to local castles, vineyards, farms and houses significant to the culture, history and gastronomy associated with the region.

Accommodations onboard are quite luxurious if space is somewhat compromised in some cases. But for many seasoned cruise travellers, this is par for the course on a sea voyage. A recent $700,000 investment by European Waterways into its 17-vessel fleet cruising lochs and inlets of Holland, France, Italy and the British Isles refurbished and modernised.

Works carried out included the reconfiguration of the eight-passenger Anjodi, which sails in southern France, to permit either twin or double bedding in all cabins. A new bar was added to two other vessels, the eight-passenger Renaissance and the 12-guest Panache which both also operate in France and Holland. A new observation lounge was installed on the Scottish Highlander, which cruises on the Loch Ness, while the bathrooms on Ireland’s Shannon Princess were upgraded. Wi-fi connectivity will also be upgraded on all vessels.

“We carry some of the most discerning passengers in the cruise industry, so we pay attention to every detail, from replacing linen, glassware and fine china, to more extensive upgrades and refurbishments to enhance their experience,” European Waterways managing director Derek Banks said.

Captains are in control of luxury hotel barges at all times.
The eight-guest Anjodi narrowly fits under a bridge under expert guidance of a trained captain.

For more information on European Waterways including prices and schedules for its entire fleet, see www.gobarging.com.

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