A cruise can be many things; large bulky ships with casinos and cabarets, making multiple stops in bustling ports; small luxurious barges chugging along inland waterways serving up gourmet meals and an experience of a lifetime, or families can take to the waters choosing their own pace and path through stunning natural landscapes, masters of their own ships.
In the past, taking the boat across the Atlantic or through the Mediterranean was not seen as a holiday, but rather a means to an end. With aircrafts yet to be invented, the only means to cross the ocean was aboard hulking ships made of wood. Canals were built to transport commercial goods through inland areas, before the railway emerged.
How things have changed. These days, the slow pace of a ship, moving from city to city, or a journey along a canal in a barge, offers respite from the fast pace of life. Cruises offer an alternative to highways, runways and railways, allowing the traveller to watch the water lap against the bow as they sail through the fjords of the north, around the islands in the Mediterranean, or into the unexplored territories of the Antarctic and Arctic. Ah yes, a cruise can be many things.
I went on my first proper cruise this year, choosing a barge, built for the purpose of shifting commercial cargo along Burgundy’s waterways, which had been miraculously converted into a luxurious barge hotel. We pottered from one village to another, passing countless locks, motionless herons, crumbling castles and imposing chateaux over the course of seven days.
It was a holiday of pure R&R, of over-indulgence in delicious wine and food, a holiday of a lifetime. When you move at such a slow pace with nothing to worry about, except what time to have your next drink, your body begins to relax, your mind slows down and you experience life as it should be. One moment at a time.
Tomorrow, Thursday 5th July at 8:35AM on Ireland AM, I will be talking about my cruise through Burgundy and some other options for families or those wanting to explore the cities of the north.
INFORMATION FROM SLOT:
Built over 200 hundred years ago, the Burgundy Canal has changed its role from a commercial transport route to a major tourist attraction, becoming one of Europe’s most popular barging destinations. Stretching over 250kms, the canal passes through a region of charming villages, open fields and rolling hills. It is a land of magnificent Châteaux and locals with a passion and love for fine food and wine.
The waters have become home to many luxury barges, sleeping up to 12 guests, on what are essentially, luxury boutique hotels. You can choose from a number of routes in the area, I chose Upper Burgundy, meaning we would pass through Chablis, famous for its exceptional white wines. However, if you prefer red wines you may want to travel south near Beaune, home to some of the world’s finest red wines.
Trips are generally 6 nights, and the distance covered tends to be quite short, however, after a few hours you realize that around every corner, through every lock there is a quaint village, stunning countryside and peace and quiet.
The pace of life on a barge slows you down like I’ve not experienced before, time has no meaning and you can sit on the deck watching otters swim ahead, herons motionless on the waters edge waiting to scoop up a fish for hours, cycle or walk the tow path through the beautiful countryside. Veering off the tow path will lead you to sleepy villages and remote dilapidated castles and there’s no fear of losing the barge, which moves at the pace of an injured turtle.
I traveled on a barge with European Waterways, who Rick Stein traveled with during the making of his French Odyssey series. The barges are luxurious, spacious, yet relaxed with friendly staff. Their food is legendary with gourmet chefs serving up delectable meals three times a day. The moment you board the barge you know you are going to leave a stone heavier, but it’s well worth it. The day starts with a delicious continental breakfast, while lunch is served on the deck if sunny, or around a large mahogany table in the living area, where guests dine together enjoying sumptuous dishes, served with complementary wines and a range of cheeses all from the region. Dinner is an even more salubrious affair with up to four or five courses of the finest food and exceptional wines served by candlelight.
There are hostesses on board to take care of all your needs and a tour guide who takes you out on daily excursions giving you a real insight into the area.
It was the food and the wine, the scenery and the people we shared the barge with that made it one of the most wonderful holidays and changed my mind, that I did in fact like cruises!
It is possible to explore the region on your own, hiring a barge or small boats with cabins for 2 – 8 people, but going with a company means they will arrange daily trips into the region to see the local sights and all your meals are prepared for you, leaving you to simply sit back and watch time go by.
Boat Rental Self-hire From €1,130 (sleep 5 in September) per week
European Waterways special offer for Ireland AM viewers €500 discount per person on a 6-night cruise on the 12 passenger hotel barge ‘La Belle Epoque’ on the Aug 19 or Aug 26 2012 departures.
When booking, they should state that they are Ireland AM viewers and are resident in Ireland. That is based on two persons sharing a double/twin cabin.
BALTIC CAPITAL, BALTIC SEA
This cruise sets sail from the beautiful city of Copenhagen and travels around the Baltic Sea taking in a number of the capitals including Kiel, Stolkholm, Tallin and St Petersburg over 8 days and seven nights. The cruise ships are large with all the facilities, including swimming pools, up to 5/6 restaurants, bars, gaming rooms, children’s area, sporting centres and lots more.
The cruise would appeal to those with an interest in seeing the cities of the north, giving a fantastic variety, from the beautiful city of Copenhagan in Denmark, sailing up along the Scandinavian coastline to Stolkholm and across to the Gulf of Finland visiting the stunning city of Tallinn in Estonia and then St Petersburg in Russia.
The trip would appeal to those looking culture and history, with Tallinn intriguing visitors with its impressive 14th century town wall, of which nearly 2kms still stands, 20 imposing towers and portions of the old town gates. The old town square is buzzing in the summer, surrounded by brightly coloured merchant houses and during the summer months it hosts a number of outdoor concerts and markets are set up where you can buy traditional souvenirs to take away.
St Petersburg is obviously a major attraction for doing this cruise, appealing to those with a love of art, architecture and history with its glorious museums lay out the finest art displays. A trip to remember.
Cruise Costs From €799 per person per week
Special Offers Topflight From €699 inside cabin for departure in August (7 nights/8days)
The Norfolk Broads are Britains largest protected wetland area and while once used to move cargo in the 1800’s it is now one of the most popular boating destinations in the UK. With over 130kms of navigable waterways, the banks are dotted with pretty villages and wide expanses of green.
You can pick boats at a number of centres such as Wroxham, Horning and Potter with companies catering for all levels of budget and boating experience. Even if you’ve never sailed, you can hire a boat that would fit the whole family and has all the creature comforts of home.
Cycle tracks and walkways allow you to jump off at different points to explore the area by land, visit the nature reserves and be sure to bring binoculars to spy the wildlife that is abundant on the Broads.
A week on the broads will allow you to unwind and is perfect for families with children, with plenty to keep the children entertained both on board and on land.
There are over 40 broads, interlinked by over 200kms of rivers, one of the most beautiful being the River Bure which was where was the birthplace of Broads cruising. The River Ant is narrower and marginally quieter than River Bure, but no matter which Broad you choose they are all beautiful, offering ther pefect family holiday.
Boat Rental From €945 for seven nights
Special Offers Emerald Star are offering Ireland AM viewers 25% off holidays in the Norfolk Broads in July 2012. Just visit www.emeraldstar.ie to book and mention that you heard about it on Ireland AM.
Terms & Conditions of offer: Valid for departures between 1st and 31st July 2012. Not applicable to the Royal Mystique, Royal Mystique II, Minuetto, Mystique & Vision boat models. Subject to availability.