The Panache cruises in Holland and France. // © 2015 European Waterways
Feature image (above): Because European Waterways' barges hold six to 25 people, they are a popular choice for full-ship charters. // © 2015 European Waterways
If you distill the essence of cruising through the inland waterways of Europe, you get barge cruising on very intimate ships, with amazing gastronomy and unusual, authentic experiences. And European Waterways’ luxury hotel barges, with capacity for six to 20 passengers, sail the waterways of France, Holland, Italy, Scotland, England, Ireland, Germany and Luxembourg, carrying passengers deep into the culture of the places they visit.
Because of the small size and great luxury of these cruises, half of European Waterways’ business consists of full-ship charters — an excellent opportunity for travel agents. With ship charters, multigenerational families can enjoy what European Waterways president John Wood-Dow describes as floating private villas.
Guests find unusual experiences onboard European Waterways’ barges, such as on the Panache, which cruises Holland and then Alsace, France, where it is raised on one of the world’s few boat lifts and travels through long tunnels, where guests are served a candlelit lunch.
Private wine tastings, tea with a countess in a stately home and opera stars performing onboard are among special guest experiences, and the company’s culinary side is as flexible as it is famous, accommodating dietary restrictions and preparing guests’ favorite dishes.
Because the company is seeing younger cruisers, it provides bicycles and laminated maps in port so they can explore on their own, feeling secure that they can call a number if they get lost and someone associated with European Waterways will come and get them. These jaunts are arranged so they don’t conflict with group excursions.
Among the new itineraries are two opera cruises on a Venice to Mantua, Italy, itinerary, during which guests have a hotel night in Padua, Italy, and attend a performance of “Tosca” in an open-air amphitheater. On the ship itself, guests can expect to experience scaled-down opera as well.
European Waterways is celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta — the document that heavily influenced the American Constitution — with two themed cruises in June onboard the boat of the same name. The Magna Carta will take guests to England’s Salisbury Cathedral to see the best preserved of the four remaining original documents.
For military history aficionados, commemorative centenary World War I cruises will sail right through some of the battlefields of the Great War. Ports of call include excursions to the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium; the battlefields and museums of the Somme in France; and the forest clearing in Compiegne, France, where the Armistice was signed. The program has built in some flexibility to allow, when possible, guests of different nationalities to visit sites of particular significance to their own countries.
In related news, European Waterways is investing $600,000 in polishing and upgrading barge interiors during the winter layovers for the next two years. Next year, the company will introduce the new Finesse, an eight-passenger barge with spacious staterooms and public spaces, as well as itineraries in Southern Burgundy.