River cruising in Europe is a more authentic and slower way to experience Europe’s major cities than traditional cruising. However, not many travelers know that there’s a style of cruising that goes even slower than your standard river cruise, one with even fewer people on board. Instead of major rivers like the Seine and the Danube, you travel down canals and small rivers and instead of a ship, you travel by barge.
What are holiday ships today, were once working barges that transported goods along smaller European waterways. These renovated hotel barges offer travelers a more intimate and much slower-paced style of cruising. Typically, you’ll find these ships on man-made canals or less busy rivers, which allows you to explore the nooks and crannies of a destination’s countryside, not just the big cities.
In Europe, barge cruising began on French canals and often has an emphasis on gourmet dining and wine tasting, but France isn’t the only place where you can hop aboard a barge. Here are some of the dreamiest destinations in Europe that are best seen by barge cruise.
Canal du Midi, France
The Canal du Midi might be unheard of to travelers who are unfamiliar with cruising in France, but in the world of barge cruising, it’s one of the top destinations. Winding through the Languedoc region (now a part of Greater Occitania) from Toulouse to the Etang de Thau, this canal is the perfect way to experience the sunny side of France, located just north of the Pyrenees mountains. The region is the largest wine-producing area in the whole country, which means you’ll be passing by plenty of vineyards, with abundant opportunities to hop off for a tasting. You’ll also be able to experience many of the unique villages nearby, including the ancient-walled city of Carcassonne, the small town of Capestang, and Pezenas, a haven for shopaholics.
Caledonian Canal, Scotland
When it comes to appreciating the wild beauty of Scotland, it doesn’t get any better than an easygoing barge cruise along the Caledonian Canal. Along the route, you can visit iconic castles like Eilean Donan, walk through highland battlefields and stop by the Glen Ord distillery for a whiskey tasting. Certain barge ships like the Spirit of Scotland even offer specialized itineraries for golfers to play on famous courses in the region, including the Royal Dornach, which dates back to the year 1616.
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