The first thing you need to do is remove the typical image of a "barge" from your mind. True, these vessels were once used as commercial barges hauling firewood, coal and other commodities. That was back in the day when they were pulled by mules...you can still see the footpaths along the way, although they have now been converted into walking or biking paths.
And speaking of conversions, these barges now rival many luxury hotels in terms of settings, service and especially food. Private cabins with en-suite bathrooms, deluxe furnishings and amenities will put the word "barge" in an entirely new light.
To describe the pace as leisurely is an understatement, as the joggers along the way are going faster than your barge. The average speed is about 5 mph/ 8 kph. But that is exactly what barging (or hotel barging to give its proper name) offers that you won't find anywhere else. Barging provides you an opportunity to relax, without the urge to rush from one place to another in order to check another item off your bucket list (a term we dislike anyway). And for sure there is an ambiance on most of these barges that you will find hard to duplicate anywhere else.
Another wonderful thing about barging is the delight of enjoying regional specialties, usually prepared on board. On a typical barge cruise you will enjoy your meals in the luxurious dining room, or perhaps outdoors on the deck. The gourmet menu typically will consist of local delicacies, cheeses, wines, and some of the best desserts you have ever tasted.
A typical cruise with 6-12 passengers will be staffed by a crew of up to six, comprised of an experienced Captain, Master Chef, Tour Guide, Deckhand and two Hostess/Housekeepers. Each hotel barge will vary depending upon the size of the barge. Most cruise from about mid-March through October, depending upon their destination.
As far as cost goes, well if you’ve been following us for any length of time you know that we try to emphasize value over price. Whether ocean cruises, river cruises or barging, you need to look at the overall cost: with barging, there are almost no extras. Five-star dining (no extra fee "specialty restaurants" on these cruises), all bar and soft drinks, guided shore excursions, special events on shore, bicycles you can use and so much more.
If you charter the entire barge...remember, we are only talking a few cabins...then you can usually work with the operator to design the shore excursions around your preferences. There are many Catholic sites of interest on any of these stops along the way.
We did a brief search and found a 6-night cruise in the Champagne region of France on the hotel barge "Pinache" with European Waterways. The cost to book the entire hotel barge is $55,000 for 12 people, or about $4,583 per person.
Their brochure states that all the following are included: "Local transfers to and from the hotel barge, a luxury 6 night cruise, all meals on board catered for by the on board Master Chef, an open bar 24/7 with a large range of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks, all wines served throughout the cruise, excursions and admittance fees as per the itinerary, the services of 6 crew and use of barge facilities, which include bicycles and spa pool".
And how about inviting a priest to go along? It can undoubtedly be arranged for your priest to celebrate Mass at some of the wonderful churches and Cathedrals along the way, and he would get some much-needed vacation time as well. It will only cost a little more per person to cover his fare and is bound to make your trip even much more enriching.
As we pointed out there are barges of various capacities, itineraries of various lengths and some family cruises that are suitable for children.
A unique vacation? You bet!
Photos courtesy European Waterways Ltd.