As the idea of boating breaks become increasingly popular, it becomes harder and harder to find the calm and tranquillity you would expect from holidaying on a canal. But do not despair, those peaceful pockets of tranquillity are still there and just waiting to be discovered.
With a little exploration, you will soon find a number of sleepy little towns just off the beaten track where you can relax on a beach, or seek out adventure in a spectacular hiking location.
Whatever your plans, this guide is sure to offer some incredible suggestions to make your European boating holiday the most memorable yet.
The French Riviera
It gained fame for centuries of royal and aristocratic visits and continues that tradition to this day by housing the luxury yachts of the super-rich, but that doesn’t mean you should discount this incredible location as just a playground for the rich and famous. Of course, much of the beauty in the area can be found along the coast in places like St Tropez to Monaco, but if you are keen to find out about the real French Riviera, you will discover it in the delightful small towns and villages.
Ile Saint-Honorat, for example, is known more for unbelievable blue waters rather than wealth and glamour. Instead of nightlife, here you will discover the Cisterian abbey where the monks still produce local wines.
If you are a keen wine drinker, a visit to the fine vineyards at Bandol is essential, but the island offers so much more. Looking to unwind? Beautiful sandy beaches are waiting for you as the more adventurous in your group enjoy exploring the cliffs and pine covered hills surrounding the area. The fishing town of Cassis is located just east of Marseilles. This peaceful area is ideal for a rest day, not least so you have the opportunity to sample some of the finest white wines in the region.
Boating is synonymous with Holland and, as you would expect, the Dutch waterways offer an incredible way to discover the quieter side of a lively city like Amsterdam. The city canals will allow you through the centre but are restricted by permits. Luckily, there are a variety of lesser travelled routes just outside the centre.
To the west, near Haalem you will find Keukenhof Gardens, a stunning area, especially in the spring when it is estimated that more than 7 million bulbs are in bloom across 32 hectares, including 800 types of tulips.
As the River Vecht heads south from Amsterdam towards Utrecht, the winding waters will take you past seven beautiful towns, each filled with delightful old-fashioned culture. Be sure to discover the canal-side houses in Maarssen, a town nicknamed ‘little Amsterdam.’ For the history buffs among you, both Loenen and Vreeland offer plenty to explore including centuries old buildings, drawbridges and even working flourmills.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
Known for excellent fishing and the promise of an incredible view of the northern lights, the Lofoten Islands, located in the Norwegian Sea, are ideal for an unusual romantic break. The fact that a number of Lofoten’s finest beaches are located north of the Arctic circle should make it clear that this hidden gem promises an experience like no other. Don’t let the prospect of cold weather put you off, the temperatures are often much warmer than the island’s location might suggest.
The diversity of the surrounding area is astounding. Alongside hiking, sailing and kayaking, Lofoten is not only the most northerly site for surfing in the world, it is one of the best. However, it is fishing that the region is best known for. It is well worth spending a day exploring its many small fishing villages before trying the local food yourself in the evening.
If you prefer to see animals in their natural habitat, stunning sea safaris will take you close to the incredible animals that call these arctic waters home. A short ride out to the Vesteralen district, for example, offers the chance to see sperm whales in the summer – if you are brave enough to tackle the choppy seas.
The Norfolk Broads
When travelling down the biggest wetland in the UK, it is easy to see why the expansive Norfolk Broads are one of the most essential destinations for any boating holiday enthusiast.
Formed from a system of connected rivers, the seven main rivers and 63 broads make an ideal location for an incredible range of wildlife. In fact, the area, which is also in the Top 100 Sustainable Destinations in the UK, is also one of the most diverse wildlife areas in the UK. As a mark of its ecological benefit to the region, the Broads was awarded the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas in 2006.
In summer the waters in areas like Wroxham can become very popular so it is worth heading off the beaten track to spots like Barton Broad. At its southern end, you can explore a trail that leads through swamps and woodlands before revealing a stunning panoramic view over Barton Broad.
The Broads offer so much to explore that it is worth bringing your boots as you are sure to enjoy the numerous cycling and walking routes in the area. If you visit in August, be sure to visit the Norfolk Punt Club’s annual sailing regatta.
Starting north of Berlin, one of the most scenic regions of Europe can be discovered on the waters of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg. This incredible network of lakes and rivers is well worth exploring if you are looking to get back to nature. Within minutes you will be travelling the water alongside wildlife and an incredible variety of flora and fauna.
Not only will you discover a picturesque snapshot of rural Germany as you discover forests and fields, this area also has a large amount of history. From old towns, to palaces and castles, this area has everything you need for a peaceful retreat.
When boating in this area it is always worth remembering that nearby Berlin has more than 60 miles of canals and even more bridges than Venice. From there, the huge Muritz lake offers excellent fishing in idyllic surroundings.
You could head for tourist traps and spend your time shoulder to shoulder with countless likeminded holidaymakers, or with just a little extra planning, make a huge difference to your boating holiday. By heading away from the beaten track, you could turn your holiday into the trip of a lifetime.