There are a lot of ways in which one can take in a country: a city break, exploring the charming streets of medieval Europe, discovering the cultural gems and food on offer. Or perhaps a long road trip through the countryside, seeing vineyards and castles and other wonderful treats of the continent’s less populated areas. However, few vacations offer quite as much as the barge holiday. There aren’t many transport methods that allow you to stop in a metropolitan capital one night, and be in the countryside the next.
Truly, the barge holiday is a fantastic way to explore a country and see both its famous sights as well as hidden gems. It’s also a great way to meet like minded people, all while in luxury and comfort. But how exactly did the barge holiday come into being, and what got us to the fantastic place the industry is in today?
Origins on the Water
The narrowboat was first introduced as a useful and convenient mode of transport through towns that allowed large quantities of goods and materials to be moved around. Far from the leisure they are associated with today, they were once almost exclusively used by manufacturers and factories where the goods in question were too heavy to be moved by horse or manpower.
Since the eighteenth century these boats have been in use, and you might even spot some of them still acting as working boats in major cities throughout Europe. James Brindley was the engineer credited for standardising their size to allow for an easier route through the landscape.
Barges have been in use for even longer than the commonly seen narrowboat, with evidence of them going back as far as ancient Egypt and the early days of the Roman Empire. More than anything else, what connects ancient barges with those of the modern day is their ability to work in shallow water, rather than out on the open seas.
Progress Makes Perfect
Originally, boats that worked on the canal were drawn along by horses travelling the tow paths, but with the advent of the railroad, goods were less likely to be moved a long distance on the water. This proved difficult for those that worked on the boats, until they started developing engines to power the boats – making them much more efficient. Different engines were tried and tested until they found the right sort, which are often still in use today.
The Future of the Barge
The popularity of these types of boats, and barge holidays in general, has skyrocketed in recent years. Indeed, the canals are often treasured by people who live nearby – a far cry from the disrepair they fell into following World War 2. With it being an increasingly popular type of trip, the future of the barge holiday will likely develop into greener technologies, to allow people to continue this fantastic pastime for generations to come.
Now that you know a bit more about the history of the barge holiday, you might be that much more tempted to go ahead and book one! It’s a great way to spend your leisure time and learn more about a particular country (or countries). Why not book an Italian river cruise and see what the fuss is about? It’s always a good idea to book with a reputable tour operator, as they know the best routes and best sights on the way, and can make sure your trip is tailored to your needs.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury hotel barge holiday itineraries in France and other great destinations. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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