A Barge Cruise in France
La Renaissance, from European Waterways
B 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.
Over 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 Ltd, which has a Web site at GoBarging.com, 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.
Late 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.
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