Barging through Europe
Barge cruises and barge rentals to cruise the rivers, canals, and inland waterways of Europe
You needn't go to the French countryside to live on the water. London's "Little Venice" neighborhood is threaded with canals and lined with houseboats.
As you watch the countryside slip by, you sip a fine burgundy you picked out the the cellar of the vineyard yourself just yesterday and nibble on some cheese and salami you bought at the daily farmers market in that medieval village to which you biked this morning.
On your own barge, you get to lounge around your lodgings while Europe is slowly scrolled past you, and you can stop this slow-mo film strip any time to get in closer on something that catches your fancy simply by tying up, grabbing your bike, and pedaling off to explore some hilltown, city, vineyard, or ruin.
Prices vary greatly depending on location, size of the boat, and sailing season (the highest rates are, as you'd expect, in summer), but for a ballpark estimate:
- Rates for a two-person barge start at €700 per week ($910) in low season, rising up to €2,300 per week in August.
- Boats sleeping 4-7 people start around €970 ($1,261) in low season, up to €3,600 in high season.
To those rates, expect to add about €40 to €60 ($50 to $70) for fuel, insurance, cleaning, the fee to park you car while you barge, and one bike (additional rental bikes usually run about €5 per day).
There are endless rules and tips for barging the canals and rivers of Europe, but here are a few top ones that have less to do with the technical aspects (that info's widely available), rather more to do with the experience:
- Arrange to have bicycles on board. Nothing is more painful than to float past a tie-up that's within view of some great medieval hilltown or vineyard terraced up a hillside only to realize it's just too far away to get to on foot.
- Plan to lunch. Europe's canals are chock-a-block with locks, and the lock keepers tend to take lunch between noon and 2pm. That means you aren't going to get very far, anyway, so you might as well plan to be getting some nosh of your own at that time (either a picnic aboard ship, or at a restaurant in some town along the way).
European Boating Holidays (Europeanboatingholidays.co.uk)
Le Boat (www.leboat.com)
Luxury river cruises through France, Holland, Belgium, Scotland, England, and Ireland (self-drive barges available as well).
4Winds Tours (www.4windstours.com)
A tour company that runs trips mixing barging with biking throughout Holland, Friesland, Belgium, France, Austria, and Germany. They also do barge rentals.
Small Ship Cruises (www.smallshipcruises.com)
Loads of links, tips, and resources for all sorts of boating and sailing trips around the world—including, yes, a good selection of barging resources.
French Country Waterways (www.fcwl.com)
One of the premier luxury barging outfits, with high end barge tours of France's most famous rivers and regions: the Upper Loire, Burgundy, Champagne, and Alsace-Lorraine.