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As legendary vineyards stretched from quiet riverbanks into the far distance, CroisiEurope Cruises’ Raymonde glided gracefully through the tranquil inland waterways of France’s Champagne region. And, to my delight, I was at the helm.
I’ve been onboard more than 100 cruises, but only as a passenger. I never expected to navigate a passenger vessel, but the intimate size of the barge and the low traffic of its route give guests a safe opportunity — under the supervision of the staff, of course. It’s just one of the many things that made me instantly fall in love with barge cruising, which does require a unique understanding to sell.
Before setting off on my first barge sailing, I predicted the experience would be the river equivalent of what expedition cruising is to the ocean market. In other words, I thought it mainly served as a chance to see things not available on mainstream routes. For the most part, my assumption proved to be accurate — down to bicycles available for journeying ashore. However, the pace of barge sailing is much slower than that of an expedition cruise.
European Waterways has even launched a campaign to promote the barging lifestyle and explain its differences from a traditional river cruise. It’s about “taking the path less traveled,” according to European Waterways’ director John Wood-Dow, in a press release. The line operates 17 vessels in destinations including France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands and the U.K., and capacities range from just six to 20 passengers. The focus of each itinerary is on small groups taking experiential excursions; enjoying fine dining and wines; and visiting castles and royal residences.
Similarly, on my CroisiEurope cruise, there were only 11 cabins for a maximum guest count of 22. While you can always escape to your private stateroom for some alone time, it helps to be outgoing — you’ll be seeing the same fellow passengers frequently.
This is also the case on European Waterways’ trips, which, in a press release, Wood-Dow describes as “a very social atmosphere."
Barging is an ideal setting for solo travelers, and as such, European Waterways has waived its single supplement on more than 40 departures in 2019.
Alternatively, barges make for great multigenerational or group charters. In either case, demographics skew older, specifically clients in their 50s.
On CroisiEurope, we were told the same even though our press gathering was considerably younger, including several millennials. It’s proof that the product can easily appeal to travelers of any age seeking a genuine glimpse of the region.
European Waterways’ campaign reflects barge cruising’s versatility.
“They want to experience a majestic display of falconry, for example, or dine with a baroness at a 12th-century chateau, and enjoy exclusive wine tastings throughout the cruise,” Wood-Dow said in a press release. “Although, the fun doesn’t stop there. When they return to the barge each evening, there’ll be pre-dinner aperitifs and fabulous gourmet meals, personally prepared for them by their onboard master chef.”
I, for one, can’t wait for my next barge cruise.
The DetailsCroisiEurope Cruiseswww.croisieuroperivercruises.com