Printer Friendly

What's it like to cruise through Europe by canal?

Enduring remnants of a bypassed technology, Europe's canals offer a leisurely, walker's-pace way to see some of Europe's most unspoiled countryside. Families, especially those with older children, will enjoy cruising the lovely waterways of Britain, France, and the Netherlands--on their own or with a larger group. (Belgium also has a few canals.)

Last year, five different groups of Sunset staff members cruised European canals on boats from 27 to 106 feet long. A twosome had mostly picnics and cafe meals; two groups cruised with friends and occasionally ate ashore; still another group traveled with friends in a companion boat and ate together aboard one of the boats. One couple enjoyed the luxury of an eight-passenger hotel barge. All agreed on one point: it was one of the pleasantest and most relaxing vacations they'd ever had.

Britain's canals once served as links between industrial areas. Narrow, horsedrawn boats transported raw materials and finished goods along these waterways, and narrow, hand-operated locks moved the unwieldy vessels along the unnatural watercourses. European canals were built on a larger scale to transport agricultural goods. The Canal du Midi, from the Mediterranean to the North Atlantic, was first conceived in Roman times.

Modern transportation systems forced many of the old canals into disuse. But they've been revitalized for recreation. With a sense of humor and some stamina, even the clumsiest and most inexperienced boatman can maneuver a rented boat. You will probably scrape bottom a few times. If you work the locks yourself, your first few tries will be inefficient and lengthy ordeals. You'll bump your boat into bridges and perhaps even fall overboard, as one of our editors did.

Fortunately, at 3 to 4 mph, you can't cause much damage to yourself or others. The canals are generally shallow, and you are never more than 15 feet from shore. And there's no current, so the boat won't drift very far if you fail to tie up securely.

Which canal should you cruise?

It probably doesn't matter.

Canal cruises are popular summer vacations for Europeans and are almost fully booked by May. Few people we know were able to reserve a rental on their first choice of canal. But you'll find it's the experience of cruising, the contact with local people, and the pace that make a trip so memorable--not the canal's location.

Your choices include, among others, Scotland's Caledonian Canal; the Llangollen Canal in Wales, with spectacular Pontcysyllte aqueduct; the Trent & Mersey in England, which takes you past small villages, farmlands, and potteries. In France, Brittany's Canal de Nantes a Brest takes you by farms, orchards, and centuries-old stone villages; the Canal de Bourgogne passes ancient vineyards; and the Canal du Rhone a Sete goes through the Camargue and its regional wildlife park. The Netherlands' Frisian Lakes region boasts lovely old towns: Hindeloopen, Sneek, and Franeker. Here you'll cruise by pastures and woodlands.

What's provided; what you bring

At the boatyard, you'll be instructed in the operation of the barge and its appliances, as well as the use of locks.

On board, your galley includes a propane gas range and oven, a small refrigerator, and a good complement of kitchen utensils. You might find a roll of paper towels and some toilet paper on your boat, but plan to bring your own kitchen basics: salt, pepper, flour, butter, dishwashing detergent, scouring pads, foil, plastic wrap, matches. Some rental companies will shop for you so such items can be placed aboard before your arrival. A cabin heater will be provided, and some boats may have a radio or small black-and-white television set.

You'll have a fresh-water flush toilet, a small shower, and limited hot water. Carry enough water on board to last two days; you can fill tanks at well-marked watering spots along the way.

For more comfort, consider booking a boat with two to four beds more than necessary: the extra room will allow breathing space in otherwise tight quarters. Bedding and sleeping bags and bath and kitchen towers are furnished.

You maneuver the boat either from a cabin or from an outside tiller. In either case, it's a good idea to bring rain gear (often provided for skipper only). Also bring shoes appropriate to slippery decks or gangways, and sturdy gloves for pulling on roles and cranking up lock gates. Otherwise, keep luggage at a minimum--you'll have little space to store it.

A day on board

You'll want to get up early; morning mists rising from the water and surrounding fields are a lovely sight. Someone in your party can cook breakfast while others shower, check the engine oil, and do other shower, check the engine oil, and do other boat maintenance (the boatyard tells you what needs doing). During breakfast, you might plan the day's activities. Maps and guidebooks, for sale at the boatyard, are very detailed and helpful. While dishes are being done, you can start the engines and cast off.

You may pass by plowed fields or farmers harvesting their crops. Here and there, you may see a fisherman trying his luck in the canal. Keep your speed slow to avoid disturbing anglers and degrading the canal banks.

For lunch, stop for a picnic or have a meal on board. Or try a pub or cafe along the canal; these are usually delightful spots, frequented more by boaters than by automobile travelers. Buying your own bread, cheese, fruit, and other supplies from a small village market or from a lock-keeper's garden can be a pleasant experience. You can walk or bicycle into nearby villages (in France, you can arrange to rent a bicycle with your boat).

An afternoon cruise may take you past country homes or through urban areas with home gardens that back on the waterway. Manufacturing areas have relocated since the canals were built, so you will not see much urban blight on these routes--just an occasional unused factory or warehouse decaying quietly alongside the canal from which it once drew life.

You may want to stop cruising in mid-afternoon so you can go ashore for dinner--though some groups decide to take all meals on board. Plan on covering no more than 15 to 20 miles a day.

As light fades, you'll catch graceful reflections of curved bridges in the still waters. Most nights, our reporters hit the sack shortly after sunset (as late as 9:30 or 10 in northern Europe). Away from urban areas, there is little evening entertainment.

Operating the locks is the challenging part of your day. Since locks are often set up staircase-fashion, your technique improves rapidly. In England, if you work your own locks, you'll drop one or two people (and their lock keys) on shore as you approach each one. Locks are simple mechanisms, but you need some muscle to wind their gates open. Throughout France and on some wider canals elsewhere, a lock keeper directs the procedure. You'll send someone ashore to hold the lines of your boat taut so it won't be buffeted about when water rushes into the lock.

Turning corners, turning around, and meeting another boat may seem difficult at first. The V-shaped canals aren't very deep, and there is always a chance you'll scrape bottom or, worse, get stuck. A gaff on board helps you push yourself back into the channel, and reversing engines to create a rocking motion helps; if you're in a real fix, another boater can tug you free.

It's reassuring to remember you are never far from your home boatyard (and from help) should mechanical problems arise. On day four of one trip, we awoke to find the boat's batteries totally discharged ndue only to incompetence). By the time we walked 1/2 mile to the village, made a telephone call, bought a few groceries, and walked back to the barge, a repairman was there, undoing our damage.

In France, lock keepers are on duty from 6:30 A.M. to 7 P.M. (except lunch hour), so evening cruising is limited to lock-free runs. You can tie up almost anywhere, so long as you don't block other traffic. It is illegal to cruise after dark.

Prices and booking information

The boats accommodate 2 to 10 people. For a six-day rental, including all equipment but not necessarily fuel, you'll pay $400 to $1,000. Write to the addresses below for current listings of self-drive boat-hire companies. Inquire soon, since peak-season bookins go fast--or plan ahead for a 1987 visit.

British Tourist Authority, 612 S. Flower St., Los Angeles 90017. Ask for a "UK Waterway Holidays" booklet and other boats-for-hire brochures.

French Government Tourist Office, 9401 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, Calif. 90212. Ask for the tours and packages brochure and houseboat information.

Netherlands Board of Tourism, Room 401, 605 Market St., San Francisco 94105. Ask for water sports brochure.

Skipper Travel Service, 210 California Ave., Box 60309, Palo Alto, Calif. 94306. This travel agency represents many European boat-hire companies.

Hotel barges: the no-work approach

If you want to enjoy the same waterways as a self-drive cruise without the work of operating the boat, consider a hotel barge. This is quite luxurious, with a staff of 4 or 5 to serve 8 to 10 guests. Rooms have private baths, meals are gourmet quality, and a vehicle following the barge takes guests on excursions, which may include private visits to country homes or small wineries. A few large boats can carry up to 24 guests. Smaller, narrow boats may have shared baths.

Cost for a six-day cruise can range from $400 to $2,500 per person; shorter cruises may also be available. The sources listed above have price details and other information on hotel barges--or see your travel agent.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Sunset
Article Type:Directory
Date:Mar 1, 1986
Words:1614
Previous Article:Four new trails open sheltered beaches in Sonoma County.
Next Article:L.A. breakthroughs.
Topics:


Related Articles
ROYAL CARIBBEAN ANNOUNCES 1993 PROGRAMS
ROYAL CARIBBEAN REVISES 1993 ITINERARIES FOR TWO SHIPS
ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES INTO 1993 WITH A NEW AD CAMPAIGN AND NEW ITINERARIES
ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES INTO 1993 WITH A NEW AD CAMPAIGN AND NEW ITINERARIES
NEW SHIPS AN ITINERARIES ADD UP TO CONTINUED SUCCESS FOR CRUISE INDUSTRY IN 1993
FAMILY PROGRAMS, THEMES AND DIVERSE ITINERARIES HEAD LIST OF CRUISE INDUSTRY TRENDS
ROYAL CARIBBEAN'S NEW LEGEND OF THE SEAS TO OFFER ALASKA, PANAMA CANAL AND HAWAII CRUISES IN 1995 INAUGURAL SEASON
ROYAL CARIBBEAN TO SELL ITS CRUISE SHIP NORDIC PRINCE FOR APPROXIMATELY $55 MILLION WITH DELIVERY IN MID-MARCH 1995
Company Watch - Celebrity Cruises.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters