During a recent visit to North America, European Waterways’ director John Wood-Dow talked about the canal versus river cruising experiences.
As Wood-Dow explains it, when it comes to the European barge cruising experience, it’s all about “aking the path less travelled.”
And he should know as European Waterways offers the largest fleet of luxury hotel barges in Europe, with 17 vessels cruising the canals and inland waterways of the rural countryside far from the bustle of major cities.
In fact his visit to North America was part of the company’s expanded campaign to educate the travel world about the unique joys of this niche market. Hotel barge cruising, he noted, was all about experiential excursions, gourmet dining, fine wine, visits to castles and royal residences — and sharing it all with a small group of like-minded fellow travellers.
European Waterways has seen an increase in bookings of more than 30% over the past three years, which Wood-Dow attributes to the growing popularity of experiential travel.
“Our boats hold from six to 20 passengers, all sharing a similar love for exclusive experiences that allows them to really get to know the culture, history, and gastronomy of the regions — all while cruising in utmost comfort,” Wood-Dow said.
“It’s a very social atmosphere, meeting friendly locals along the towpath, chatting with the amiable crew, dining as a group around the same table, and talking happily about the afternoon excursions,” he noted.
Everyone is welcome
The convivial nature of the small barges makes them ideal for solo travellers, who are increasingly discovering this unique form of cruising. It has led European Waterways to waive the single supplement fees on more than 40 departures throughout Europe during the 2019 season.
Conversely, the barges are also attracting multi-generation families and groups who charter the entire barge to themselves to pursue their favorite pastime. Whether it is a family reunion, a cycling or hiking club, or wine appreciation society, they all have in common a desire to experience a different kind of vacation that is in direct contrast to the larger river cruises, where one can easily become “lost in the crowd.”
In 1982, Wood-Dow joined his close friend Derek Banks, who is now the company’s managing director, to buy their first barge, Anjodi. They subsequently spent almost two years transforming the former Dutch Luxe motor into one of the first luxury hotel barges on the Canal du Midi. Since then, he has been a passionate advocate of hotel barging, with the evolving nature of experiential travel giving European Waterways a huge boost in name recognition.
As for who are European Waterways’ customers, Wood-Dow observed that they are often sophisticated, seasoned travellers, 50-plus, who enjoy intimate, exclusive experiences and V.I.P. treatment.
“They’re gastronomes and oenophiles, lovers of gourmet cuisine and fine wine, who are eager to explore and discover some of the finest regional specialties across Europe,” he said. “They’re often ‘landlubbers,’ who prefer the slow-paced ‘voyage of discovery’ on the placid canals, where they never have to worry about choppy waters or unpredictable water levels. They’re spontaneous, and they love the fact that they can hop on and off the barge, almost at will, and walk or cycle along the ever-present towpaths.”
And he added: “European Waterways’ guests have a distinct sense of adventure and exploration, plus a taste for luxury. They want to experience a majestic display of falconry, for example, or dine with a baroness at a 12th century Château, and enjoy exclusive wine tastings throughout the cruise. 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.”
European Waterways operates in regions that include France, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, and the U.K.
For more, go to www.europeanwaterways.com .