Our adventurous spirits have enjoyed travelling throughout Europe for centuries, and more recently as tourists, for decades. From the backpacking era in the 60s and 70s, to bus tours (remember “If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium) to the sleek and efficient train systems of today, land travel has always been popular. Now with the ever growing number of river cruise ships (with as many as 30 on a river at any one time), the inland waterways have seen huge growth in numbers looking for the “unpack once” type of vacation. Not to be overlooked, are for the value conscious traveller are barges which cruise throughout the inland canal systems of Europe.
River barging appeals to all ages and styles, from the casual globetrotter to the ultimate experience in canal cruising. Whether you choose high-end or low, the majestic scenery of Europe is there for all to enjoy. Beyond its famous cities lies a bounty of rustic countryside with vast farmlands, lush vineyards, scenic valleys, forested woodlands, and picturesque villages. Europe has many dynamic cultures with timeless romance, inspiring architecture and gourmet cuisine at every bend in the river and some which can only be accessed through the smaller canal systems.
Cruise routes will vary depending on country and topography. A bike and barge tour will generally go no more than 30 km in a day, where as a stay aboard barge will go up to 80 km. Cultural immersion is always at the heart of any activities, including a stroll through a local market, lunch in a family’s home, walking the grounds of an ancient chateau, or visiting an artisan in their shop.
One cannot think of Europe without wanting to experience the culinary aspect of the region. Be it freshly baked pastries, or homemade pasta, to gastronomic celebrations of local cuisine, you will not be disappointed. Demonstrations and hands on cooking classes can certainly be a part of your dive into all things gourmet. The option is always yours as you put together the experiences that make your perfect vacation.
Most barges cruise 3-4 hours each day so you can sit on your balcony, in a panoramic lounge or on the top deck of the ship and simply watch the world go by. The other half of the day you’re free to join in on guided excursions or to meander at your own pace. Visit a vineyard or brewery, stroll around the village, find that precious memento while shopping in a boutique store, explore a church or just sit in an outdoor café and breathe the fresh country air.
Barge ships now have an array of activities to enjoy onboard as well. Be it a relaxing spa treatment or sauna, sitting at a panoramic bar, playing cards and parlour games in the lounge, reading in the library, sunning on the top deck, dancing the night away, or unplugging and actually conversing with your fellow passengers – the time is yours to spend as you wish.
Barges tend to be smaller than river cruise ships so you may find yourself enjoying company with 20 to 100+ passengers. Catering to a smaller group means the European excellence of service standards are generally high. Some ships cater more for North Americans, while others attract the European and Australian markets. Your travel advisor should be able to help you discern which barge ship is best suited to you.
Let time stand still and relish the peace and tranquility of a canal barge cruise!
PHOTO CREDIT: Abercrombie & Kent