What is a barge vacation? It is an amazing cruise vacation and adventure along the smaller waterways and canals of Europe. There are two main types of barges: hotel barge, on which professional crew members take care of every detail, or a self-drive barge, on which you act as the captain and crew. Either option allows intimate exploration of the countryside in ways no other vacation can.
HOTEL BARGING: Upon boarding the hotel barge, you’ll enjoy a Champagne toast and meet the captain and crew; perfectly beginning a relaxing, worry free vacation!
Touring the hotel barge, you’ll find the salon area with a small library of books, games for entertainment, and room for relaxing. Adjacent to the salon is the dining area with seating for all passengers to enjoy the freshly prepared, gourmet meals together. Plenty of windows in the salon and dining areas allow the slowly passing countryside to provide the backdrop for your activity. Down the hall from the salon, the crew will show you your assigned cabin each with private bath and shower and ensure your luggage is placed inside.
Up on deck, you’ll find comfortable chairs for relaxing and reading in the sunshine, as well as an alfresco dining area where many lunches may be enjoyed. Also on deck, you’ll find bicycles available for your use. It’s easy to disembark with your bike while the barge passes through one of the frequent locks. The boat moves at such a leisurely pace, it’s easy to meet and climb aboard again at another lock farther down the canal.
Each day there will be a chauffeured, guided excursion (or two) offered to local areas of interest, including many historical destinations. Your guide will provide the history and significance of the areas along the way. Your camera is a must for all the scenic photo opportunities.
Returning from the excursions, as dinnertime approaches, you’ll find it the perfect time to relax on deck or read a little. Your favorite aperitif along with a selection of delicious appetizers will begin the nights’ dining. The dedicated onboard gourmet chef will use the freshest local ingredients to entertain your taste buds three times a day during your barge vacation. A guest favorite is the cheese course accompanied by the “cheese chat” explaining the region from which the cheese originates, how it is made and its distinguishing characteristics. Each dinner is accompanied by fine wines from the surrounding appellations.
After dinner, stroll into town, enjoy an after dinner drink or just relax on deck. It’s a perfect time to reflect on the days’ fun and prepare for tomorrows adventures.
Hotel barges may be booked by cabin or the whole hotel barge may be chartered for just friends or family. When chartered, a hotel barge vacation itinerary can be catered to your specific interests. Hotel barges accommodate as few as two and up to twenty-two passengers. Booking by the cabin will give you the opportunity meet everyone onboard. You’ll find most hotel barge travelers have a lot in common: traveling, wine tasting, gourmet cuisine and historical exploration, to name a few.
My Experience aboard Hotel Barges: Like fine boutique hotel, each barge is decorated in its own style and develops its own atmosphere and personality. Some barges are more casual and quaint, while others more deluxe and equipped with all imaginable amenities. The cuisine, wines and cheeses have been extraordinary on each. The largest selection of barges is in France. The canal system is extensive and traverses many distinctive region.
Since taking my first barge cruise in 1996, I have been hooked and what drove me to specialize in barge cruising holidays. When beginning The Barge Connection in 1998, many people had never heard of a barging vacation. The large lumbering barges of the US came to mind when a barging vacation was mentioned. No one would want to vacation on that! Fast forward to today, barge vacations have increased in popularity, vessels are more varied and more itineraries are offered. Now most people have heard of barging and many have friends who have gone. The word is out – hotel barging is easy, relaxing and fun! Unpack once and travel the countryside.
When my family and I go barging, we will usually spend a few days in a larger, more active city like Paris or Dijon taking in the museums, shopping and attractions before retiring to the comfort and ease of a hotel barge. With the limited number of passengers, you usually become acquainted with everyone onboard. The intimate setting of the barge cruise encourages conversation amongst the passengers and I seem to meet wonderful people each time I enjoy a canal cruise.
I love the VIP feeling of having a guide and driver taking the group on all excursions and providing tours. Since the barge cruises in the country, you many times get to visit areas not commonly toured when visiting by other means.
Professional and accommodating crew is the standard on all the boats. They all seem to truly enjoy the job. Of course, no hotel barge cruise can be talked about without mentioning the food. Each boat basically has its’ own fine dining restaurant. Each meal seems to outdo the last and the chefs are pleased to cook to your preferences. It is hard to not over indulge and sometimes I find the need to take a bike ride.
For me, a day of barging is filled equally by anticipation of what’s around the bend and simple enjoyment of the inner calm only barging seems to bring. Hotel Barge Vacations Include: Six night accommodations, all meals, all beverages, all excursions with guide and driver, all entrance fees, use of bicycles and other onboard items and transfer to and from barge
SELF DRIVE BARGING: On the other end of the spectrum from hotel barging is renting your own self-drive barge. They are similar to the lake houseboats Americans are familiar with. They come equipped with bedding, as well as the necessary kitchen utensils, refrigerator and cookware. The rest is up to you!
A self-drive barge is easy to navigate and there is no license required. Your safety is assured, as they cruise only about five miles per hour. Many have duel steering so that you remain comfortable captaining the boat in all weather conditions.
A canal map comes with each booking showing points of interest along the route, as well as places for supplies. The Captain’s manual explaining the rules of the canal and instruction is provided when picking up your vessel. Bicycles can be reserved and rented in order to explore the areas surrounding the canal. Each village you pass will have places to purchase supplies. If you’re in France, of course there will be the local boulangerie for your daily bread.
Self-drive barge pricing is very reasonable and is a favorite among families. Kids of all ages enjoy assisting in passing through the locks. Cycling and walking are always available and there are plenty of fun things to do and see along the routes. If you don’t feel like cooking lunch or dinner each day, you have opportunities to check out a local bistros and restaurants in the villages along the waterway.
My Experience aboard Self-Drive Barges: At first, the thought of captaining my own vessel through the locks was intimidating. After instruction and successfully navigating the first one, our intimidation was replaced by enjoyment. We found it was fun to pass through the locks as people have done for centuries before. Mooring along the canal when and where we wanted, allowed us to pick just perfect backdrop for our al fresco meals. There is no cost for mooring along the canal. Mooring provides convenient “parking” for enjoyable trips to town, exploring and shopping. We loved shopping for local ingredients and dreaming up the nights’ dinner. Ending the evening with a glass of fine local wine discussing the adventures of the day is near perfect. I love the freedom of a self-drive cruise vacation. You navigate and plan as you wish. Next time, I’ll invite friends to come along and share the experience. It is the only thing that was missing. Self-Drive Barge Includes: Seven night accommodations, kitchen utensils, bedding, canal map and Captain’s Handbook.
Whether you want a fully crewed hotel barge or a self-drive, barge vacations are great way to explore, relax and have fun. It’s the best kept cruising secret.