Anyone familiar with taking canal or river cruises in Europe will know that as a guest on a canal or river boat you have the advantage of seeing a part of Europe hidden from most of the tourist crowds. Through unspoilt countryside you can travel at a leisurely pace and see countries like France, Britain and Holland in an entirely new light.
With guides and captains who know the waterways they travel inside and out, you can be sure that they will point out not just the major sights but also the fascinating local places which add a richness to your experience of the countries you’re travelling through.
Here are five of our favourite unusual excursions from canal and river cruises in Europe, that most tourists won’t get to see.
Traditional Boat-builders on the Thames
Step back in time to the Peter Freebody & Co Boatyard. The Freebodys have been working on and around boats on the same section of the Thames since the 13th century and their tradition for creating hand-crafted wooden boats continues today. Set in the beautiful surroundings of Hurley on the Thames, a trip to the artisan boat-builder’s yard reveals craftsmen working with traditional methods to create today’s elegant modern river boats.
The World’s Largest Flower Auction
Gardening enthusiasts and flower-lovers alike will love the vast, bustling flower auction at Aalsmeer in Holland. The biggest flower auction in the world, Aalsmeer sees an estimated 20 million flowers pass through the doors of its auction building every day. Species from around the world are traded here, making a visit to the sight an eye-opening experience for anyone who has ever stopped at their local florist for a bunch of flowers.
Modern French Cave Dwellings
It might be hard to imagine anyone in modern Europe actually choosing to live in a cave but the troglodyte (‘cave dwelling’) houses along the Loire Valley might make you change your mind. These pretty French houses have literally been carved out of the soft tufa stone rock faces of the area. With the advantage of great insulation in the winter and cool interiors during the summer, these houses have been maintained over the centuries and are still lived in today.
L’Oulibo Olive Oil Press
Have you ever wondered how those little green fruits from groves of twisted olive trees are transformed into the rich, smooth olive oil with which you dress your salad? Well there’s no better time to find out than when you’re on one of the many canal or river cruises in Europe, the home of olive oil production. Stop off at olive oil producers L’Oulibo on a cruise of the Canal du Midi and the owners will talk you through the entire process, even letting you witness the pressing of the olives and, of course, sample the delicious oil.
Haunted Castle in Ireland
Not for the faint-hearted, a visit to the notoriously haunted Leap Castle in Ireland will have your pulse racing as owner Sean Ryan guides you around the spooky 13th Century keep. Take a trip down the Shannon river and stop off for the Leap Castle excursion to discover the story behind the ghostly sightings. Castle legend has it that long ago two brothers set against each other in the ‘Bloody Chapel’ and one was killed, and it is he who still haunts the castle today.
While it’s always great to see the famous sights and tourist spots that litter the European continent, make sure to take advantage of your time on canal or river cruises in Europe to really explore the hidden stories and sights that make these places so special.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury river cruises in Europe, with 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.
This article is copyright free.