It’s morning and the crew of the Panache, one of the fleet of European Waterways’ luxury barges, has just departed Amsterdam on its way to Alkmaar. This will be the first stop on its slow-moving voyage through the Dutch countryside along Holland’s canals. On board, guests revel in the experience as they enjoy great food, fine wines, and million-dollar views along the way.
The Panache is a floating luxury hotel and completely redefines the term “barge.” It includes 12 comfortable guest cabins with in-room double sinks and oversized showers, a lounge with large panoramic windows, a sun deck with a spa pool, and a dozen bicycles for exploring. Add to that a crew of six attending to your every need, daily excursions, wine and cheese presentations, and a chef who delights in preparing delicious, international cuisine, and you begin to understand why these sorts of vacations are widely popular.
April is tulip season and visitors eager to view Holland’s colorful flowers have booked months in advance to visit the most popular destinations in the Netherlands. After the Panache docks, Alkmaar guests can explore this typical Dutch maritime village of colorful windmills, traditional shops, and a museum. Here, you’ll see how Gouda and other cheeses are made, browse thousands of wooden shoes, and watch as local artisans show you how the clogs are created.
Back on board, chef Frank Schaart, as much of an artist as he is a chef, is preparing lunch for his guests. Today’s offerings consist of Asian shrimp salad, avocado and mango compote, and poffertjes with honey. Dinner is more extravagant — light spicy carrot and coconut soup with salty peanuts and lobster meat, and filet of fish with purple potato and salty sea leaves with cognac and lobster sauce. These multi-course menus are meant to be savored slowly, accompanied by fine wines and good conversation.
On day three, the Panache glides into the historic town of Haarlem, past picturesque waterfront homes and landscapes. Dating from the thirteenth century, Haarlem has a large shopping area and historic center that will be visited later. The featured excursion for the day, however, is the Keukenjof Gardens, known as the “Garden of Europe.” Set on 100 acres, this garden is the pièce de résistance with more than 7 million flowering bulbs. You will want to bring your camera to capture the vibrant hues of red, yellow, orange, and blue flowers in eye-catching designs.
If you came to Holland to see tulips and flowers, you won’t be disappointed, as another day’s activities include a trip to the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, the largest in the world. Blossoms from all parts of the world are traded here and then sent off to their various destinations. The showroom looks something like the aftermath of pouring water on an anthill as workers driving palettes carrying colorful floral boxes zigzag across the floor with what appears to be purposeful, organized chaos. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and should not be missed.
While the barge is moving through the locks to its next destination, passengers can enjoy a cocktail on the sundeck, read a book, take a nap, or just watch the pastoral scenes unfolding around every bend in the canal. Life on board is meant to be enjoyed in small groups, which is one of the biggest contrasts to ocean cruising.
The final stop on the route is Delft, where you will visit the Royal Delft Factory. You will see master craftsman create these beautiful blue and white hand-painted, world renowned works of ceramic art.
The captain’s dinner is the last meal of the trip and one enjoyed with some of the crew as well. Chef Frank presents his culinary sensation of sirloin with red cabbage and potato celery pie paired with Chassagne-Montrachet or red Pommard wines.
The next day, passengers are taken by motor coach to the airport or to their hotel in Amsterdam, if they wish to extend their visit. The crew is lined up on deck, as always, with broad smiles extending heartfelt farewells. Many of the guests are repeat customers and are by now, already contemplating their next barging adventure.
Prices for a six-night cruise onboard the Panache start at $5,250 pp for a twin/double cabin. This includes all meals, wines, open bar, excursions, and local transfers.
FTC Disclosure: This was a sponsored trip. All opinions herein are the author’s.