Intimate, leisurely, and indulgent, the vessels of Britain-based European Waterways ply off-the-beaten-path canals and rivers on six-night sailings throughout Europe in places such as Burgundy, France, the Netherlands, and the Scottish Highlands. The line's fleet of 17 unique barges — former cargo vessels refitted for passengers, with plush, country inn-style appointments (many have whirlpools) — accommodate no more than 20 passengers and come with an attentive European staff that includes a tour guide, chef, hostesses, deckhand, and captain.
What We Love
Bicycles: Complimentary bicycles allow you to leisurely pedal along towpaths and into local villages before rejoining the barge — which putters along at a speed of about 3 mph — at its next stop.
Novel Itineraries: On these cruises, you get to explore the local culture, gastronomy, and attractions (chateaus, markets, wineries) of less-visited locales, such as France's Canal du Midi and Italy's Po Valley.
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R&R: The pace of barging — as well as the scheduled activities — is slowgoing (you might cover just 50 miles on a six-night trip), allowing you ample time to relax as you slip from one small European village to the next.
All-Inclusive Pricing: Rates include everything upfront, with regionally inspired gourmet meals paired with fine wines, open bar, ground transfers, bicycle use, and daily guided excursions bundled in. (Gratuities, however, are extra.)
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Who It's Best For
Mature Couples: Sophisticated couples ages 55-plus will appreciate the relaxed and pleasant pace of a barge vacation and find the most camaraderie on board.
Group Charters: With such a small capacity (six to 20 passengers), it's entirely possible — and quite popular — to charter one of the line's barges for a private cruise with family and friends.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Private Types Needn't Apply: If you're not a particularly social person, this isn't the cruise for you. You'll share close quarters with fellow passengers (it's the luck of the draw who you get), as well as all excursions and daily meals (at a communal table).
Exclusivity Comes at a Price: Rates for this type of upscale journey run close to $10,000 per couple — not including airfare.
Elissa Garay is a Brooklyn-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.