For the uninitiated, the idea of a barge holidaymay seem like an odd way to see a country. However, ask anyone who has travelled the waterways of Europe and they will explain with gusto the beauty of cruising through foreign landscapes, tasting gourmet food and wine and learning about local culture and customs.
A barge holidayoffers an intimate and immersive way to explore a new place. Not only will you get a novel perspective of the landscape from your position on the water, you will gain inimitable insights from experiences catered to your own tastes and interests.
Though a barge holidaywith European Waterways is always meticulously planned, the gentle rhythm of travel allows plenty of time to become acquainted with some of the more unusual aspects of a country or region. Of course, we enjoy showing guests iconic architecture and famous landmarks, we know that they equally appreciate unplanned, authentic moments where they can truly connect to people and places.
This is what we call an ‘insider experience’: an experience possibly unique to the small group of people travelling on your hotel barge creating a memory you will cherish forever.
We love spontaneous moments in which our guests can form relationships with people they meet along the journey. For example, one memorable afternoon our guests were treated to a private tour of a Burgundian lock-keeper’s immaculate garden and cottage before being asked to share a glass of Pastis. They bravely joined him in a game of boules and though our guests played valiantly they were thoroughly beaten by the locals! In the past, our holiday-makers have received a tour of the beautifully tended grounds of a Scottish castle and given a knowledgeable talk by the head gardener.
As many of our guests are wine connoisseurs, we often seek out interesting wine-related adventures. One fortunate group were shown round a beautiful Renaissance castle by the owner himself. The count then took his fascinated visitors down into his excellent wine cellar – we were all very envious! There is also a certain wooden boat on the River Loire well-known to our guests. The hospitable owner is very happy to share a carafe of crisp white wine with his passengers.
We try and lead our guests away from the typical tourist haunts and introduce them to locals whenever possible. From master clockmakers in Holland to builders in a Thames-side boatyard, these craftsmen always have stories to tell and are a fantastic way to tap into the rich history of the waterways. We encourage an appreciation of traditional values and skills – whether the job is the manoeuvring of delicate cogwheels or the creation of an entire vessel, you’ll be impressed! Meeting and learning from locals is one of the best ways to gain a comprehensive cultural knowledge of a region that a guide book just couldn’t deliver.
If you crave a real understanding of the places you visit then maybe a barge holidayis just what you’re looking for.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge holiday itineraries. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.