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A Barge Cruise in France

La Renaissance, from European Waterways

La Renaissance

ABOVE: La Renaissance cruises on the Canal de Briare while two passengers keep pace on the towpath. INSET BELOW: The first lock of the voyage, the Château de Nemours, the European Waterways logo, and the barge emerging from a lock.

Canal lockBarge cruising has come a long way since the first modern hotel barge was built on the hull of a French cargo carrier in the late 1960s. Today, there are dozens of barges cruising the canals and rivers of France, Britain, the Low Countries, Germany, Ireland, and Italy, providing a vacation experience that might be described as point-to-point freshwater cruising on a roomy (and very slow) inland yacht.

Nemours chateauOver the course of a week or so, a barge's six to 12 passengers cover less distance than a fast car can drive in two hours, with plenty of time to explore the villages, towns, and towpaths along the way. Although the occasional distraction can be thrown in (hot-air balloon rides are popular), the emphasis is on relaxation and low-speed sightseeing. Barge cruising is the touring counterpart of the "slow food" movement, and it may be the best treatment for high blood pressure since Lisinopril.

European Waterways logoEuropean Waterways Ltd, which has a Web site at, is among the largest (and is certainly one of the most experienced) operators of hotel barges in Europe. The company's first barge, the Anjodi, began cruising in the early 1980s, and its owner--a former yacht captain named Derek Banks--now presides over a fleet of luxury hotel barges in eight countries.

La Renaissance on the Canal de BriareLate in 2007, European Waterways acquired its most luxurious barge to date. The former Bonne Humeur, rechristened La Renaissance, began operations on the canals of Western Burgundy and the Upper Loire in May, 2008. (Passengers are picked up and dropped off in Paris, which is a great convenience for guests who are flying in from abroad.)

We were on the barge's maiden voyage in its new European Waterways livery, and this article describes both our experience and what you can expect from a six-night cruise on La Renaissance.

Next page: The barge

In this review:
The barge
Food and wine
Activities, excursions
Cruises, private charters
Practical information

Also see:
Day-by-day barge cruise photo diary - La Renaissance
Satellite-photo maps of towns along the route
Canals in France: printed maps and guides

About the author:

Durant Imboden photo.Durant Imboden is a professional travel writer, book author, and editor who focuses on Europe.

After 4-1/2 years of covering European travel for, Durant and Cheryl Imboden co-founded Europe for Visitors  (including Europe for Cruisers) in 2001. The site has earned "Best of the Web" honors from Forbes and The Washington Post.

For more information, see About Europe for Visitors, press clippings, and reader testimonials.