Hotel barging: exclusive, intimate luxury cruising

Angela Youngman


Discover wine secrets and unusual excursions while enjoying small house party style cruising along the rivers and canals of Europe. This is hotel barging – exclusive, intimate luxury cruising with a difference.

What is Hotel Barging?

Forget any image of conventional cruise ships, hotel barging offers an experience unlike any other type of river cruise. Hotel barges are low slung vessels specifically designed to travel along shallow inland waterways, accommodating up to 8 passengers. Most are former cargo barges that have been converted to provide luxury accommodation complete with sun deck and hot tub. European Waterways Art De Vivre, a hotel barge operating on the canals of Burgundy, actually began life taking munitions to soldiers on the Front Line in World War One.

When travelling on a hotel barge, the pace of life is slow. There is no rushing from place to place, and you have time to enjoy the countryside, get to know an area and its traditions while enjoying gourmet food and wine in good company. This is stress free travel from start to finish. Each day there is time to relax on board, enjoy a walk or cycle along the towpath while the barge cruises to its next destination. There is no travelling at night, and the barge is always moored in a quiet, peaceful location so you can watch night fall over the water or go for a stroll. There are opportunities to visit artisan food producers and sample their wares, which might range from oysters to olive oil, unusual wines and cider. Guests are collected by minibus, taken to the barge and given friendly, guided excursions each day. At the end of the cruise, you are taken to your chosen location within a specific town.    

Exploring the Canal du Midi

Anjodi is another European Waterways vessel, and is based down in the south of France on the Canal du Midi. I took a trip on Ånjodi from Narbonne to Marseillan, on the edge of the Mediterranean. From start to finish, it was pure relaxation and fun. My fellow guests included couples from Australia and the USA. There was entertaining conversation and a lot of laughter. Although small, the cabins never felt cramped and were extremely comfortable and well maintained. At least three wines were served at each meal, and special diets were no problem for the inventive chef who made the most of the superb local produce purchased from local markets en route. There was a steady supply of snacks and drinks constantly available and the excursions were fun and interesting. Wherever we were moored, there was always time to explore the locality, discovering pretty villages like Capestang and Le Somail.

The daily excursions included the opportunity to visit vineyards and an oyster farm. We explored the beautiful walled city of Carcassone, discovered the spectacular hilltop village of Minerve surrounded by limestone gorges, Roman remains at Narbonne, and Pezenas – a sixteenth century town with links to French playwright, Molière.

Along the way, Anjodi travelled through nature reserves offering sightings of flamingos, across the fresh saltwater lake of Thau as well as the River Orb Aqueduct and through unique flights of seven locks in succession allowing the Canal du Midi to descend slowly to the Mediterranean. It was easy to see why the Canal du Midi provided so much inspiration for impressionist painter Henri Matisse due to the constantly changing patterns and reflections in the water.

Locations and activities

Hotel barge cruises can be enjoyed across nine countries. The widest selection of cruises can be found in the UK and France, with routes that include the River Thames, the Loire, Canal de Garrone in Bordeaux as well as the Great Glen and Loch Ness in Scotland. Other tours cover the River Shannon in Ireland and the canals of Holland and Belgium. One of the more unusual tours is the opportunity to cruise through Venice and the Po Delta, reaching as far as the renaissance city of Mantua.

Each cruise follows the same formula – a half day cruise, together with a guided excursion for the remainder of the day. All meals are served on board, except for one evening during which guests are taken to an intimate restaurant to experience the cuisine of the area.

The daily excursion is led by a member of the crew and takes you to places you might not otherwise discover such as local markets, wine cellars, chateaux and private stately homes such as the haunted Leap Castle in Ireland. There are opportunities to experience something different like the Aalsmeer flower auction or the troglodyte cave dwellings in the Loire Valley, as well as exploring historic places like the hilltop town of Vezelay with its pilgrim associations. Some locations offer insights into arts & crafts such as the Faience pottery in Gien, or the René Lalique Collection in Alsace.

Even the overnight moorings can be spectacular. In Burgundy, the Art De Vivre travels down the River Yonne and Nivernais canal from Auxerre to Chevroches, which includes an overnight stay under the stunning cliffs of Le Saussois where birds of prey fly overhead. A path leads up to the top of the cliffs providing incredible views of the surrounding countryside. 

Group or solo – no problem!

Book as a group or go solo – the choice is yours. The small numbers and friendly environment ensures that solo travellers never feel left out. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. Immediately on arrival there is an introductory drinks and canapé session on board allowing you to meet your fellow guests and the crew. During the cruise you can opt to stay on board while the barge is travelling, walk the towpath or take a bike and go for a ride.

Groups of friends can charter a barge for an exclusive cruise. For larger groups of up to 24 people, two barges can work in tandem along a specific canal route.


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