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All About Canal Barging

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All About Canal Barging

story by: Tom Ricketts

Canal barging is a fantastic and increasingly popular way of seeing Europe. Gone is the stress of trying to understand foreign driving rules (not to mention driving on the other side of the road!). Gone are the hassles of unpacking and repacking daily. And perhaps most importantly, gone are the busloads of tourists! Instead, how about drifting down an old canal in beautifully restored 80 year old wooden barge? Oh was that a vineyard I just spotted? Let’s get off and try some of their wine. Or should we explore that old castle up on the hill over there? Or perhaps cycle into the village and check out the markets? It all sounds like a wonderfully blissful way to explore Europe doesn’t it?

As we all know with its thousands of years of history, Europe has been carved up quite figuratively and literally. Whether it be by war, industrial revolution or simple farm development, canals now criss-cross much of Western and Central Europe. Locks, lifts, bridges, aqueducts, and tunnels, you name, you’ll find it in Europe’s canal system. While the large rivers such as the Rhine or Danube accommodate many large cruising vessels, the much smaller canals cannot, and instead you have a canal barge.

So what exactly is a canal barge? In days of old they were the primary use of transporting goods and people all around the countryside, however those uses have fallen by the wayside with the development of roads and rail. Today the beautiful old wooden barges have been lovingly restored and converted into luxury canal boats. We’re not talking dozens of passengers here. Most are small, with 4-6 cabins taking a maximum of 8-12 guests. The rooms have large panoramic windows, full ensuites, TV’s, twin or double bed configurations, and even wifi! Facility wise, you won’t find ice skating rinks or movie theatres onboard. The boats feature intimate lounge areas, outdoor or rooftop sun lounges and sometimes even the odd jacuzzi.

Your days can be spent doing as much or as little as you like. Your crew can tell you the options available to you each day. Of course there’s plenty of vineyards, cute towns, historic castles and cathedrals, and stunning scenery to be seen. Onboard there’s a full supply of bikes and the crew will happily put together a backpack for your chosen day out. Sometimes for must see attractions a little further afield, the vans are brought in to whisk you here and there. Or maybe you’ll just pick a sunlounger and set in for day in the sun enjoying the scenery as you quietly drift by.

Of course, one of the biggest parts of any holiday to Europe is the culinary experience, and you won’t be disappointed on your canal barge. In the mornings freshly baked breads, pastries and fruit are brought in from the local villages. Lunches are a casual affair with salads, quiches, baguettes and plenty of cheese to graze on. Dinner is of course, the highlight of the meal offering and again uses plenty of local ingredients for a good hearty meal. Let’s not forget the drinks! You can’t go anywhere in Europe and be far from a vineyard, so look forward to sampling many of the local wines, as well as regional favourites. Beer, spirits and non alcoholic drinks are all readily available, in the all day, all inclusive, open bar. That day on the sunlounger suddenly became much more appealing! So important is the food, that you can actually get a list of the cheeses, wines and some of the mains before you leave New Zealand.

The itineraries vary in length but usually last around a week. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you doing more than one during your European adventure though. There’s everything from a week in a French wine region such as Champagne or Burgundy, to the rugged green landscapes of Ireland or Scotland, and cruising north from arguably Europe’s most famous canals in Venice. 

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