Boat holidays are not, of course, restricted to the UK. The beautiful Irish waterways – the Shannon, Barrow, Grand Canal, Lough Erne – have long been popular with discerning British visitors; so too are the Dutch canals, with their charming windmills, lift bridges and characterful waterside towns and villages.
But the lucky French have a network of waterways much larger than Britain’s, and there is a long tradition of holiday hiring here. French canals are, in general, larger and more dramatic than those of the UK and the weather is better; and the further south in the country you go, the better it gets. You can choose between the Canal du Midi (probably the most popular waterway), the waterways of Burgundy and Central France, Champagne and the Paris Basin, Brittany etc.
There are numerous hire fleets and agencies, many with offices in the UK, but the following are good starting points: France Afloat (www.franceafloat.com) and Le Boat (www.leboat.co.uk). Further east, you can now hire boats in Poland (through Hoseasons) but one of the loveliest cruising areas in Europe is the Mecklenburg Lake region, north of Berlin in Germany. This is a wonderful land of lakes, canals and forests, popular with the Germans and Dutch, but at present receiving very few British visitors. Get there first!
If you’re seeking something even more exotic, how about the Clyde River in New South Wales or the Murray River in South Australia, where ‘houseboat’ holidays are on offer. But these are not houseboats as we know them, they are luxury river craft available for weekend and weekly hire. But the most fabulous boating we know of is to be found on Lake Tinaroo in Far North Queensland. This is a tropical mountain escape on the stunning Atherton Tablelands just an hour’s drive inland from Cairns. Awake to the sound of tropical parrots in the forest, catch a monster-sized barramundi from the deck of your boat and experience ‘heavenon- earth’ down under. For more information on Australian boating holidays visit www.luxuryafloat.com.au.
Photo: Hire boat on the Shannon-Erne Waterway (Riversdale Barge Holidays)