In the world of luxury cruising, hotel barging is a niche concept, but one where passengers can glide through secluded landscapes in style
Although the term ‘barging’ may conjure up images of narrowboats or coal lighters, hotel barging is a world away from these scenes from our industrial past. Indeed, this sense of gentle evolution and moving forward is at the heart of this style of river cruising. Having been painstakingly converted to offer luxury boutique accommodation for small groups of passengers, these hotel barges, which once started life as cargo vessels, offer their guests a relaxed, indulgent pace of life – with a six day cruise often covering little more than 50 miles, as they wind their way through some of the most beautiful waterside scenery in Europe.
It is this access to the tranquility of smaller waterways, which the larger cruise vessels cannot reach, that offers those with carefree peregrinations in mind a much more intimate and relaxed atmosphere which, combined with a higher level of personal service, keeps the habitués to this little-known form of holiday escape coming back time after time.
One such company to offer these excursions is European Waterways, who have been offering guests exclusive facilities and accommodation aboard their floating hotels for almost 40 years. They have seventeen vessels in their fleet, the best-known of which is probably the Anjodi, star of Rick Stein’s television series, French Odyssey, which saw him transported along the Canal du Midi across southern France on a voyage of culinary discovery.
Their hotel barge, L’Art de Vivre, is one such vessel that offers its guests the chance to explore the sights, sounds and deliciousness of France. Built in England during World War One as a supply vessel to the allied troops of the Somme, she has now been carefully transformed by skilled craftsmen into a floating celebration of the ‘good life’ of the Burgundy region.
Featuring well-appointed cabins with modern en-suite facilities, comfort aboard is a paramount consideration, just as is relaxation. Guests can stretch out on the sun deck with a glass of wine as they glide through the pretty Burgundy countryside.
The route of the L’Art de Vivre takes you south-east of Paris through the enchanting town of Auxerre, noted for its production of Burgundy wine, including world-famous Chablis, and allows you to explore its magnificent cathedral and even attend a wine tasting of Chablis and Petit Chablis in the cellars of a renowned Domaine. After leaving the du vin behind (for now!) guests can then move on to a tour of one of the most beautiful villages in Burgundy, Noyers-sur-Serein.
The cobbled lanes and picturesque, petite squares made of local stone means this village still has its original, medieval appearance. Many buildings date back to the 16th century and beyond, which surely makes the local residents very proud their village has been officially designated by the French government as one of the most beautiful in the country.
This popular tourist destination features several restaurants, art galleries and a museum, with the village also holding two large truffle fairs every November, where locally dug, fresh truffles are sold to buyers and food enthusiasts from across the world.
Further down the stream and you will arrive at the charming town of Vezelay and its famous 11th century Romanesque Basilica of St Magdalene, both designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The local wine appellation is Bourgogne Vézelay and the area’s vines of Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Melon de Bourgogne cloak the town’s surrounding slopes, with some of the vineyards having been believed to have been established by Benedictine monks, who lived in the town’s Monastery in the 9th century.
After this patrons will have chance to meander a way through the grounds and rooms of the elegant Château de Bazoches. This feudal château, built by Jean de Bazoches in 1180, is built on the site of an old Roman post and is classified as a listed Historic building. Featuring an intriguing trapezoidal layout and four lookout towers surrounding an inner courtyard, there is more than just historical significance for visitors to take in.
NOT JUST A RIVER CRUISE
Luxury river cruises can offer guests full immersion into the culture, history and gastronomy any one of a number of fascinating regions of Europe such as Burgundy, the Midi, Alsace, the Italian Veneto and even the Scottish Highlands. And, for those guests looking for a little more excitement on their trip, there are often optional extras they can undertake, such as hikes and towpath cycle routes – and even hot air ballooning excursions are available.
Catch it just right and on a misty morning you might find yourselves lucky enough to be soaring high above the French countryside just as the sun rises.
Every day, when not cruising, there is an escorted excursion, perhaps to a vineyard for a wine tasting, a market where the chef might buy fresh local ingredients for the gourmet evening meal, or a visit to a unique “off the beaten track” location that you would probably never find on your own.
These could be perhaps to still-inhabited troglodyte cave dwellings, a private château, or to see an olive oil press at work and sample its produce.
Whether you charter or book a cabin on one of these hotel barges, you will enjoy gourmet meals, fine wines, an open bar, escorted excursions in a chauffeured minibus and local transfers – all included in the price.
Whether you fancy a soak in the on deck spa pool, a game of boules on the bank or just to sit and watch the sun go down over the countryside with cocktail in hand, a “slow boat” European Waterways hotel barge cruise offers the ultimate in experiential travel.