By Stephanie Scott
Bike & Barge holidays are all the rage in Europe these days, and with good reason. Today’s “floating hotel” barges, which can sleep between 6 and 36 passengers, offer plenty of convenience and comfort for today’s active traveler. The accommodations are cozy and the included meals are tasty without being calorie chart toppers like you might expect on a cruise ship. With such a small group of travelers, there’s time and space for comradery.
The daily cycling options on many bike & barge trips are rated “easy”, averaging between 15-30 miles per day. Most tours offer a short ride and a long ride, led by experienced guides. Because the barge-able corners of Europe are fairly flat, and the traffic-free bike path network is extensive, a bike & barge trip is not only perfect for novice cyclists, but also ideal for a couple traveling together who may not share the same level of fitness (or enthusiasm) for cycling. Another plus: if you wake up and decide you don’t feel like riding a bike, you can stay onboard and enjoy an intimate view of life along the centuries-old canals of Europe from the comfort of a deck chair. You’ll arrive in the next town feeling refreshed and ready to site-see on foot.
One of the best features of a bike & barge trip is that you’ll only have to unpack once. When you exercise daily on your vacation, managing dirty laundry can be a challenge if you have to unpack and repack your luggage daily. And who wants to drag around a suitcase full of damp, not-so-fresh cycling clothes? On a barge you can rinse out your cycling apparel in your cabin and leave it dry overnight in the shower. If it isn’t dry when you wake up, it will be by the time you return at the end of the day. You might get away with packing as few as 2-3 jerseys and 2-3 pairs of shorts for 6 days of riding. (More room for souvenirs!). If you pack a small container of detergent that’s made specifically for technical apparel, you’ll extend the life of your cycling wardrobe, too. (I’m a fan of Nathan’s Sport-Wash® and it’s available in most sporting goods stores).
What will you ride on your barge trip? Most European tour operators invest and maintain fleets of hybrid touring bikes (with cushy saddles!) that will be ready for you when you check into the barge. Guests are urged to leave their bikes home and there are practical reasons for this policy. Tour operators wants to ensure that all of the bikes are in good working order and there’s no guarantee yours will be when it arrives. If you bring you own fancy road bike, and it gets damaged in transit, or during the tour, it’s not practical (and often not possible) for your tour guide to make repairs on the fly. If you break a spoke or a derailleur hanger and a replacement isn’t readily available, you may end up sitting out a day or two of riding while parts are located. Also, there’s only so much room on the barge to store bikes, and there’s simply no room for the bike box that your bike would have to fly in.
With the strength of the US dollar against the Euro, your money will go farther than it’s gone in a long time so this summer will be a perfect time to visit Europe. There are plenty of affordable destinations to explore by bike & barge. Among the most popular are France’s many wine regions, Germany’s picturesque Danube or Mosel Rivers, Belgium for fans of fine brews and bonbons, and the Netherlands, especially during Holland’s flower season.
Stephanie is the owner of Stephanie Ventures LLC, a Fairfield CA tour company that will offer a bike and barge tour from July 4 – 11, 2015 in Holland. An avid cyclist and passionate bike tourist, Stephanie has also worked extensively in the sport of pro-cycling as a team sponsorship and race sponsorship manager. She’s a seasoned event and travel planner who specializes in active, affordable, and custom small group travel. Learn more about her upcoming bike and barge trip here. https://stephanieventures.wordpress.com/.