According to the latest industry surveys, the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine worldwide is helping to restore confidence in travel and drive new bookings for 2021 and beyond. However, with health and safety still important concerns, travellers are seeking out natural attractions and rural settings over the traditionally crowded ‘tourist hotspots’.
The result is a greater demand for immersive, experiential travel away from the crowds that also provides a safe ‘travel bubble’. It’s a unique combination that makes luxury hotel barging specialist, European Waterways, the perfect vacation choice, said the company’s managing director, Derek Banks.
“Our vessels hold just six to 20 passengers and cruise the gently rolling hills and ‘paths less travelled’ of the European countryside, where the bigger river vessels often can’t reach,” said Banks. “They’re perfect for families and small groups of friends, who can charter the boats for themselves and enjoy activities and private excursions tailored to their special interests. Guests travel together the entire time, with an attentive crew that observes all health and safety protocols, keeping their wellbeing top-of-mind.”
A canal runs through it
Among the hotel barges enjoying a surge in bookings for 2021 is European Waterways’ eight-passenger Anjodi, which cruises the Canal du Midi in Southern France. A bonafide “star” in the company’s extensive fleet, Anjodi earned praise from celebrated chef Rick Stein, who features the vessel in the book that chronicles his “gastronomic journey of discovery,” French Odyssey. The 330-year-old Canal du Midi itself is a star in its own right: a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of France’s most renowned architectural achievements.
As part of Anjodi’s classic itinerary, guests are treated to a private wine tasting at the Château Pech-Celeyran, which has been in the Saint-Exupéry family for five generations. They also visit the hilltop village of Minerve, which produces its namesake wine, as well the town of Carcassonne, one of the best-preserved examples of medieval fortification.
Themed charters can focus on a range of family activities or on sports, such as golf. “Wine Appreciation” cruises, for example, include private tastings at the 14th Century Château de Perdiguier and pre-dinner wine tasting at Chateau de Guery, a 500 year old canal-side vineyard.
As good as life gets
Cruising through the Veneto region between Venice and the Renaissance city of Mantua, where hospitality is gradually reopening for residents, European Waterways’ 20-passenger La Bella Vita takes guests on a fascinating journey along the Po River and the Bianco Canal. Along the way, guests are treated to the sight of colorful lagoon islands, peaceful farmland, and marshes full of waterfowl that include flamingos, heron and other wading birds. The vessel features a spacious dining and living area, as well as an upper-level sundeck that offers unobstructed, front-row seats to the ever-changing scenery, with a 10-member crew that includes a master chef.
Cruise highlights include a guided walking tour of Venice’s less frequented historical Castello District, a tour of the coastal town of Chioggia on a traditional wooden boat, and a private wine tasting and tour of the cellars of Villa Widmann-Borletti. Hosted by the owners, guests will also dine at the 17th century Venetian Villa Ca’Zen – a private stately home where Lord Byron courted the Countess Giuccioli and wrote some of his finest poetry.
Book with confidence
European Waterways’ ‘Book with Confidence’ policy provides flexibility in rescheduling future cruises, should they be impacted by government restrictions. The health and safety of guests are also top priorities, with strict protocols in place that include crew and passenger temperature checks as well as deep cleaning and disinfecting of all cabins and public surfaces on the boats.