Luxury barge cruising---Family biking Canal du Midi

Vacation Option – Luxury Barge Cruising in Europe

Are you a fan of smaller ships, perhaps river cruising, but these days even those options seem more impersonal than you’d like? Or perhaps you seek a family get together and adventure without the stress? Luxury hotel barge cruising may be the answer.

Small & Intimate

Like a river cruise ship, these custom barges are sized to fit through canals and locks. The majority are not very large, some are actually very small. They are not river-going as are their “cousins”, the river cruise ships.

Most barges have guest limits ranging from 6 to 12 though a few can accommodate upwards of 18 to 20 passengers. Immediately this brings to mind a multi-generational family sharing a vacation, or perhaps a small group sharing the same interests. These ships do charter but there are opportunities to book on many departures as a solo traveler or a couple.

The Amenities

Again, there is a range but don’t expect the amenities found on river cruise ships due to the smaller size. Your stateroom can vary from compact to more luxurious but there will be no balconies or floor-to-ceiling windows. In some instances, the lounge may double as your dining room. On the other hand, a few barge holidays boast hot tubs, king beds or even a pool (eg. Belmond). There’s no on-board entertainment – you provide your own. Enjoy the company of fellow travelers over complimentary drinks (no designated bar usually), or you can retreat topside with a book. Food is locally sourced and excellent. As the bank of the canal is “right there” and as the barges moor overnight with no one to open/close the canal locks during that time, there are opportunities for you to explore local restaurants, cafes, or pubs too.

Don’t assume you will be in “barge”-like surroundings. Most barge “hotels” are touted as luxury with fine furnishings, and all the comforts you would expect from such a label.

Luxury Barge Cruising - Footpath

Footpath next to the Caledonian Canal, Scotland
Image: Bigstock

Luxury Barge Cruising - Bike near canal Bruges

Complimentary bikes for exploring
Image: Bigstock

Barge Cruising Advantages

The smaller size and guest limitations lead to intimate cruising. You quickly become acquainted with fellow passengers (and the crew), an ideal situation for solo travelers and sociable couples. Excursions on charters can be tailored (for children on board or special requests), and for non-chartered, there are also themed cruises if you wish to explore your interests (hiking, antiques, golf, wine or whisky, culinary, & more).

As the barges travel slowly (4-5 mph), it is almost a hop-on-hop-off situation. Stroll the footpath alongside the barge or bike. Most barges have complimentary bikes on board. If you get side-tracked by local sights, it’s always easy to catch up at the next lock or beyond. Barges travel slowly and not far- even during a 6-day cruise. 

Excursions are included. Because there will never be a “crowd” due to the limited numbers of passengers, you do not have to wear ear sets or struggle to keep up with your guide. The tour guide(s) may be part of the crew, well-versed in the local sights and sites, so you get truly knowledgeable background information. Depending on the region, you could be visiting castles, wineries or breweries, chocolatiers or other artisans, World Heritage sites, quaint villages, film locales (eg Downton Abbey), historical battle sites, and more. If you can’t walk to the tour property, some cruises furnish rides in private limousines.

And for those of you who have to stay connected, there is always free Wi-Fi, though quality is dependent on the locality. But we bet little time will be spent “connected” except perhaps to post photos and brag on social about your vacation choice!

Luxury Barge Cruising - Locks on Canal du Midi

Canal Locks, Carcassonne, Aude, France  
Image: Bigstock

Luxury Barge Cruising - Highclere Castle

Visit Highclere Castle on a “Downton Abbey” cruise  
Image: Bigstock

Planning Your Barge Cruising Vacation

There are now several cruising vendors offering this unique type of vacation and surprisingly, these vacations are not overly pricey. From those companies specializing in this type of cruise to larger tour & cruising vendors which offer barge cruising as a vacation style choice amongst many, you are spoiled with options. Cruise the canals of the British Isles, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, and Italy.

France is the most cruised. Check out CroisiEurope, Belmond, or French Country Waterways with your travel expert. If you wish to go further afield, European Waterways and Abercrombie & Kent both offer other destinations in Europe. Imagine cruising the Caledonian Canal & Loch Ness in Scotland, the River Shannon in Ireland, or the Thames in England, just to name a few. Don’t expect a 4-counties-in-6-days cruise, but do expect a memorable, relaxing and in-depth visit to experience one very small area of one country. It is a soul-enriching break many of us need in this busy and impersonal world.

Luxury barge Cruising- Cruise alongside vineyards

Cruise canals through vineyards
Image: Bigstock.

Feature image is a family biking along the banks of the scenic Canal du Midi, France, courtesy of Bigstock. Article first appeared on Real Travel Experts.