View From the Bridge - DEREK BANKS

Derek Banks and European Waterways LtdDEREK BANKS
European Waterways Ltd

Derek Banks of European Waterways Ltd, whose luxury hotel barges cruise the inland waterways of nine European countries, along canals, rivers, lakes and lochs, talks about the last 30 years of barging in Europe.


By Derek Banks

Luxury hotel barging has been around in Europe for over 30 years and yet today the whole industry, which covers some nine European countries, has gradually grown to less than a 1,000 barge beds. Compare that with even the Big River Boat industry and you will quickly notice that “barging”, as our niche world is generally called, is little known, and still remains pretty much undiscovered by the vast majority of even the most sophisticated travellers. Perhaps that’s part of our success.

What is a barge? Or more precisely, what is a luxury hotel barge? Most hotel barges today are old trading vessels which have been converted into floating hotels. Usually carrying 6 to 15 passengers, they have 4 to 5 crew comprising a Captain/Host, Master Chef, tour guide/deckhand and housekeeper(s).

Every cabin has its own en-suite facilities, twin or double beds usually and a saloon and dining area and sundeck, most have jacuzzis. What is extraordinary is just how we navigate these vessels, which only just fit in the locks and around the corners at about walking pace, allowing plenty of time to enjoy the surrounding countryside, step on and off at the locks and perhaps bicycle along or off into nearby villages.

I have often heard from our passengers that it felt like two weeks’ relaxation in one; barging really is a great way to relax and soak in the culture and scenery of rural Europe. All of our vessels have daily excursions, usually a small minibus and a tailored selection of visits. Barging is a slow cruise, 4-5 hours a day of daylight meandering, plenty of chance to walk ashore or just chat on the sundeck and no chance to be seasick or get cabin fever.

About 300 years ago, in Europe anyway, the hydraulic engineers of the age knew that by capturing and holding back water, they could move vessels carrying cargo on the inland waterways. A vast network, some 10,000 miles long was created linking the major rivers and seaports, towns, cities, vineyards and forests. Basically, wherever there was a strong commercial requirement to move freight, a deal was struck between landowners and state, and a canal was put in. If you can lay your hands on a canal map of Europe you will see that it is possible to barge from the Mediterranean to the North Sea and from the Black sea to the Atlantic. Small is beautiful and all of our barges venture where the much larger river boats simply cannot navigate.

The majority of hotel barges cruise France and mainly the backwaters and smaller canals of Burgundy and the South of France’s 300 year-old Canal du Midi. That said, barging as a vacation experience, allows the perfect insight into some of the most delightful, out of the way, places in Europe which portray the local culture in a non touristy way, at a speed which is only a notch above “dead slow”. Barging is alive and well in the beautiful smaller canals and rivers of the following countries: Scotland, England, Ireland, Holland, Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic. In all fairness, it really doesn’t matter where you barge, the ingredients are basically the same, you are well looked after and in the 6 nights/7 days you are generally aboard, you will experience the finest the region has to offer in food and drink. is the only barging company which is totally vertically integrated and offers clients a unique opportunity to experience barging in these nine countries.

Imagine Scotland’s Highland scenery, castles, the Scottish Lochs including Loch Ness, single malts and fine cuisine aboard the 8-passenger Scottish Highlander; in Italy, from Padua to Venice along the River Brenta, the 6-passenger La Dolce Vita is the only vessel there; admire Holland’s tulip fields aboard the 12-passenger Savoir Faire; view Ireland’s river Shannon, folklore, celtic sites, and country homes from the 10-passenger Shannon Princess.

And of course France, where the Nivernais canal bordering the Chablis wine country reaches deep into Burgundy. The 8-passenger L’ Art de Vivre and 12-passenger La Belle Epoque have been designed for the sophisticated traveller who understands what the word “service” is and who appreciates French cuisine, fine Burgundy wine and amazing daily excursions. In the South of France, from Provence to the Canal du Midi, are the 12-passenger L’Impressionniste and 8-passenger Anjodi, star of a recent BBC cuisine series “French Odyssey”. In the Loire Valley the 6-passenger Nymphea is the first vessel to navigate for 50 years below the Chateau of Chennonceau’s fabled arches across the river Cher.

I started barging in 1977, some 30 years ago, fresh from a year’s sailing in the Mediterranean and full of enthusiasm and excitement for the French canals and barging generally. What a ride! 30 years on, at the helm of one of the travel industry’s best kept secrets, I wonder if perhaps I haven't done my job properly: we are still educating the world about barging! No matter, I see barging as having proved herself, our passengers are best witness to that. It’s a pleasure to be involved and I know there are several small rivers on the map which are just waiting to be discovered by our clients, in Portugal, Spain, Norway, Finland, eastern Europe ............. this is all part of the fun!

For more information about European Waterways visit:


• Naomi Kabak
Senior Vice President
Group IST

• Guy A Young
President & CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

• Larry Pimentel
President & CEO of Azamara Club Cruises

• Cdr Mark Gaouette
Maritime Security Consultant
Department of Homeland Security

• Rick Sasso
President and CEO
MSC Cruises

• Diane Moore
Windstar Cruises

• Paul Strachan
Pandaw River Cruises

• James Rodriguez
Senior Vice President, Marketing
Oceania Cruises

• Colin Stone
Managing Director
Swan Hellenic

• Mike Deegan
Managing Director
Hebridean Island Cruises

• Derek Banks
European Waterways Ltd

• Ken Carver
International Cruise Victims Association (ICV)

• Terry Dale
President and CEO
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)

• Lawrence Dessler
Executive Director
Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance (NCMA)

• Ross A Klein

• Bob Levinstein
Cruise Compete

• Alan Lewis
Grand Circle Corporation & Grand Circle Cruise Lines

• Albert Peter
Chief Executive Officer
Silversea Cruises

• Dietmar R Wertanzl
President and Chief Executive Officer
Cruise West