By Derek Banks, Company Founder
It was sheer fascination with this amazing 17th century transport network which captivated my imagination back in the mid-seventies when I moved to La Maison Eclusiere de Fleury on the Nivernais Canal in Burgundy, and barging life on the European waterways began.
After qualifying as a yacht master at early age, I spent time delivering motor and sailing yachts around the coasts of Europe. I then had a year sailing in Greece in the Sporades islands in 1976 with a flotilla cruise specialist setting up their base and having lots of fun! At the end of 1976, I moved to Burgundy to start up a self- drive cabin cruiser business on the Canal du Nivernais.
Whilst the self-drive business flourished, I had an immediate attraction to the larger barges which were still carrying wine and freight. I had a complete fascination as to how these skilled barge masters threaded their huge vessels into locks with about enough room for a credit card on either side! This was the direction I realised we were heading towards.
In 1982 I was joined by long standing friend John Wood-Dow and we decided to buy our first barge “Anjodi “, in Holland. An original Dutch hull from 1929, she had been retired from hauling grain for 10 years and was then lying, looking rather forlorn, in an Amsterdam backwater.
After surveying and negotiating with the Dutch owner, Anjodi was purchased, and I cruised across the Ijsselmeer and up the Rhine in Germany to Strasbourg, before crossing the heart of Burgundy and sailing down the Rhone River to Agde in the south of France. A trans-European journey taking via 5 countries over three months… recommended to everyone as a life time experience!
After a painstaking but thoroughly enjoyable two years transformation, employing a whole variety of skilled craftsmen and characters, Anjodi as she fundamentally is today was created. She became the premiere luxury hotel barge on the Canal du Midi and is still the most beautiful! Extensive use of hardwoods, polished brass and her graceful sheer combine to make a beautiful small ship which has proved a great success. No doubt helped along the way by appearing in the BBC’s cooking series French Odyssey hosted by celebrity chef Rick Stein. The creation of Anjodi led to successive other purchases and new builds with the fleet gradually evolving into the most extensive line up of luxury hotel barges cruising the inland waterways of Europe.
Today we operate our sales and marketing head office from Waterways House in Datchet near Windsor. Our online reservation system connects us to the world’s travel industry, we print a gorgeous brochure and our staff share the same passion for barging as the directors.