10 Reasons to Take a Luxury Barge Cruise in Italy - By Johanna Castro
When I said we were going on a barge cruise in Italy, my friends said, “But why go on a barge?” I showed them the itinerary, and they were a little unimpressed. “A barge cruise, from Venice? And you only cruise about 200kms. Why don’t you hire a car or travel by train – you’ll see more.” they said.
But I had my reasons. And seeing more does not necessarily equate to enjoying more. I’m all for slow travel and immersive experiences these days.
I knew that this was not going to be an ordinary barge cruise. La Bella Vita only holds 20 guests. This was a luxury hotel barge with a large complement of crew to passengers.
And on this old, beautifully refurbished barge we would be visiting not only Venice but cruising the islands of the Venetian Lagoon, as well as the Canal Bianco and/or the Po River, all the way to Mantua stopping at quiet moorings, and discovering interesting places along the way.
There would be guided shore excursions to off the beaten track attractions, many of which we had little or no knowledge of.
We would be learning about centuries of Italian culture, from the Etruscan times, to Roman times, the golden age of the Renaissance, and on to modern Italy.
And we would be treated to the most gastronomic fare; meals prepared by an onboard private chef and get to try selected top wines and cheeses from different regions of Italy without having to organise anything.
That’s why we wouldn’t be hiring a car or travelling by train!
What to Expect on a Hotel Barge Cruise in Italy
Having cruised previously on Panache in France, I knew that a luxury barge cruise with European Waterways would be an all-encompassing experience with sensory overload.
The barge is much more than just a moving vessel on which to hop on and hop off at Instagram-worthy tourist spots.
The selling point comes down to exclusivity and gentle adventuring to places less travelled. Think of a smorgasbord of sights and experiences that you never quite knew you wanted, which all ultimately delight in an unexpected way.
Yes you can stay in Venice independently, but unless you know Venice well, would you know about Castello, the vibrant (much less touristy area) where many Venetians actually live? Would you be able to book onto a boat overnight that sits right on the waterfront in a quiet spot rocking gently on its own exclusive mooring?
Cruising on La Bella Vita we docked first in Castello, and instead of having to walk around oggling popular sights with hoards of selfie-taking tourists we had our first taste of Venice on a gentle evening meander around quiet streets and alleyways with Elisa, our knowledgeable Italian tour host. After a photographic ramble we hopped back on board for sundowners and of course an obligatory Aperol Spritz, as we watched the glittering lights of Venice shimmer across the lagoon before enjoying a fabulous dinner on board. We weren’t worried about restaurant reservations, or catching water taxis, or trying to find our hotel down a labyrinth of dark alleyways.
To say that everything is included on a luxury barge cruise with European Waterways is almost an understatement! Because everything includes things that you can’t possibly want, need or consume.
In Italy on La Bella Vita you will be spoiled with different Italian wines at both lunch and dinner, and plied with pick-me-up sundowners as soon as the big hand hits the yard arm. You might choose to help yourself to a soft drink, or bottled water, or an alcoholic beverage from the fridge when the main bar is not manned. Yes, it’s open 24/7, but that’s not to say that this is an alcoholic barge cruise with an all-fall-down vacation mentality.
For a barge cruise in Italy will most likely encourage tourists with an eye and an open mind for history, culture, food and wine. It’s like being at an exclusive house party for a week. Everyone gets to know each other really quickly and generally you’ll find that you are amongst like-minded travellers who enjoy the finer things on vacation, and because of the immersive nature of this type of action you are never lacking things to talk about around the dining table or the bar.
On La Bella Vita you can expect a taste sensation. At each meal the chef on board prepares different menus comprised of regional dishes of the local Venetian cuisine and national Italian dishes too.
Both lunch and dinner consist of three sensational courses and are complemented by two different selected Italian wines at each meal which means you get to discover not only the best wines of the region but also, more widely, Italian wine in general.
We also enjoyed fabulous cheeses from around the country, presented by the crew along with informed, often amusing stories about their origin and make-up.
Cruising rights in Venice
At the beginning of the cruise we motored along the Guidecca Canal towards Venice, knowing that large cruise ships are no longer allowed along these waterways. Mooring near the Naval Museum at Castello, we realised that very few boats are afforded the luxury of docking in quite such a convenient location for exploring Venice. Cruising through the mist of the Venice lagoon was like travelling towards magical mystery almost completely alone bar the occasional fishing boat.
La Bella Vita is one of the larger European Waterways barges and can accommodate up to 20 guests, but travelling at the tail end of the season our cruise had only 10 guests – and 9 crew. Did I mention exclusivity?! We felt as if we were living a dazzling jet-set life for 7 days being whisked ever-so-gently to interesting places off the beaten track.
Though while this is a social cruise you can always retreat to a space of your own if you want to recharge – the cabins are comfy, there’s a large deck with shaded seating areas, a saloon bar area with big squidgy leather sofas, and of course bicycles if you get to a destination and fancy a bike ride.
Solo travellers are welcome and will quickly be immersed into the small house-party atmosphere. You’ll never feel lonely or left out because there is always somebody around to talk to, and for down time you can retreat to the comfy confines of your cabin with its watery view.
Fine Dining and Regional Wine
Everyone dines together around the same big dining table, and while this might not be everyone’s first choice, it does make for a lively atmosphere, and you all get to know each other really quickly.
You’ll eat three meals a day together, around one or two tables, and enjoy unlimited wine and liquors, which definitely helps takes the edge off any social stiffness.
At lunch and at dinner there will usually be a choice of two wines, generally a white and red, or white and rose, accompanied by a gourmet three course meal and a selection of regional cheeses.
Why go on a Barge Cruise in Italy?
1. La Bella Vita is a comfortable, spacious, well equipped, and stylishly refurbished hotel barge operating in Italy.
2. You can expect an intimate and exclusive cruising experience.
3. You’ll most likely make new friends interested in similar topics.
4. You’ll be taken to, and learn about places off the beaten tourist track, plus you get to meet and chat to knowledgeable local guides about all things Italian.
5. You’re driven to local attractions in a comfortable, air-conditioned mini-bus.
6. A barge cruise in Italy is a feast for the senses, and ever-so relaxing – but it’s not sedentary. Shore excursions can be as energetic as you care to make them. And bicycles are available on board if you wish to go on a cycle ride at a mooring.
7. Food on board is gourmet, and prepared by a personal chef who tailors food based on the season. If you love Italian food, then this is the cruise for you!
8. Special food preferences or food requirements are catered for.
9. La Bella Vita cruises in a well known wine region and wine-lovers will enjoy visiting the stately Tenuta Ca’Zen for dinner, and Bagnoli Estate for a wine tasting.
10. You might be treated to an entertaining, private, Italian Opera Night on board!
For more information on our itineraries, and the rest of our collection of luxury hotel barge cruises, why not order a free copy of our brochure or speak to a member of our team directly using our handy Contact Form.
Johanna Castro is a veteran freelance writer who’s lived in 11 different countries and written for over 40 publications. She now writes two blogs, Lifestyle Fifty (https://lifestylefifty.com) and ZigaZag (https://zigazag.com) and lives in Western Australia. Her cruise was complimentary but opinions are her own.