A Match Made at Sea

Relaxation and the rewards of slow travel go hand-in-hand on a barge cruise with French Country Waterways in Burgundy. You can grab a seat at the bow and simply take in the breathtaking scenery as you float from lock to lock.

When I asked what time we were leaving for our wine tasting and château visit, I was told “10ish.” “10ish?” “Yes, 10ish,” the captain replied. That set the tone for my leisurely barge trip through Burgundy. Everything had a schedule, but there was built-in flexibility to accommodate changes and unexpected discoveries and, above all, encourage relaxation.

And, as envisaged, everything operated on “ish” time. What a remarkable change from the precision of the daily grind and the relentless alarm clocks that besiege us. It was a wonderful way to reconnect with the joys of travel.

This is the philosophy espoused by the amiable staff aboard the Adrienne, the jewel of French Country Waterways. The multi-talented crew anticipates your needs, ensuring everything is perfect to encourage you to unwind and enjoy. The owner might be the one tidying up your room, while the first mate might guide you to the bridge for a lesson in negotiating the locks. At mealtime, the cheese presenter and sommelier may quietly disappear to take care of the evening turndown. All is done almost undetectably, with the goal of effecting slow travel bliss.

Slowing down and embracing the concept of slow travel has become something of a way of life for many, motivated perhaps by three years of stagnation. Rather than ticking off every little thing on a bucket list or hastily grabbing selfies before moving on to the next checkpoint, we now appreciate the indulgences that come with being more present and allow us to absorb the beauty and surprises revealed when we take our time.

Having navigated initial post-pandemic travel annoyances like massive flight disruptions, limited availabilities, and the interminable phone holds, we can now apply our newly acquired patience to good reward. Slow travel is a blessing. Slow travel will change your perspective as you take the time to smell the coffee or swirl and sip the wine on a leisurely float. It also recognizes that there’s no need to pack everything into one trip. Forget FOMO. Leave that to a different genre of traveler. Instead, enjoy the moment. Breathe. Savor. That’s the gift of slow travel.

I used to love walking tours as a means of decelerating when traveling. But with crowds playing catch-up, spurred into frenzies by Instagram shots and open boundaries, I’ve changed my mind. Cruising has become my new favorite way to experience slow travel. Cruising eliminates the hassles of packing and unpacking, unraveling travel routes and connections, or selecting where to be on a given day. Uncrowded comforts await onboard, and, as a vehicle for “travel sampling,” it’s a beautiful thing. The drill for this type of slow travel? Just sit back and revel in the experience. Choose or don’t choose what you’d like to do, and make notes for future immersions. But, above all, take it slow.

With memories of the pandemic moving more and more into the past, the world has welcomed cruising once again. Alaska is a dream destination for first-time cruisers, nature lovers, and even those with soon-to-expire passports. Small-ship cruises like Windstar’s “Alaskan Splendors” slowly drift by icebergs, orcas, and bald eagles, affording a sense of the country’s majestic beauty. Excursions can be leisurely or adventurous: you choose whether to explore the fjords on a captain-driven zodiac or use your own arm power to maneuver a kayak. Both will encourage you to pause and listen, to look through your binoculars to see the mother eagle feeding her brood in a treetop nest or to gaze into the distance to witness the thunderous calving of a melting glacier.

Kayaking on an excursion with Windstar Cruises in Alaska offers a chance for up-close viewings of the area’s fjords and glaciers.

Windstar small ships cruise to other stunning locales as well, perfect for leisurely exploration. Star Breeze moves to Tahiti early next year for a taste of laid-back Polynesian life. Or book a cabin on Star Legend or Star Pride to Iceland where spotting puffins and minke whales requires patience, an absolute test in slowing down. Still not sure where to go? Let Windstar lead you on a slow, curated trip to Japan where you can meditate in the country’s beautiful temples or take in the serenity and precision of Bonsai gardens while enjoying the best sushi in the world. The most difficult decision you’ll have to make is where to go.

Emerald Cruises river voyages are experts at showing off the castles and coasts in Europe. Here the Emerald Liberté travels by the sights of Avignon. Courtesy: Emerald Cruises

Traveling at an inherently slow pace, river cruises invite all ages to luxuriate in the beauty of their destinations. Especially popular are cruises along the Danube, Rhine, and Seine and through Bordeaux. Scenic Cruises and Emerald Cruises have mastered these itineraries, offering intimate, indulgent sailings through wine country, past castles, and picturesque villages with plenty of port stops to encourage cultural explorations. History buffs can reflect upon the D-Day landings in Normandy while art lovers can indulge their passion with visits to the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry, Monet’s garden at Giverny, and the renowned collections at Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen. Rhine cruising brings fairytale castles into view while both the Rhine and the Danube lead to the bright lights and festivities of Europe’s beloved Christmas markets. For those who can’t decide on a single country to visit, Danube cruises also offer a mix of stops including Budapest, Vienna, and Bratislava.

If your slow cruising fantasy involves a more intimate sailboat or a yacht, there are options for you too. In New England, the Maine Windjammer Association offers what might be the slowest of cruises on nine historical schooners. More appropriately dubbed glamping at sea than cruising, these striking multi-masted sailing vessels are helmed by a small crew adept at entertaining, managing changing wind conditions, and galley cooking. Slowing down here provides an opportunity to participate in the experience firsthand and learn some of the rudiments of sailing like hoisting the mast, reading the wind, or even steering among the islets of Penobscot Bay.

Adding luxury to sailing, Star Clippers’ three tall ships and Windstar’s sailing yachts offer relaxed voyages in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Central America. These graceful vessels evoke the romance of the sea and the vagaries of the wind without the “roughing” aspect experienced on a windjammer. Cultural immersions and personal connections are the attraction as the ships glide into smaller ports with fewer crowds or wend their way on a transatlantic crossing. On Star Clippers’ Star Clipper, Star Flyer, and Royal Clipper, wind power takes center stage and you’re invited to recline on the netting forward of the bow or their beautiful teak decks, cocktail in hand, and enjoy the sensation of the breeze while doing nothing at all. Windstar proffers motorized travel assisted by the wind, adding a touch of speed to the billowing sails overhead. You can cap a perfect day of Windstar relaxation on the Wind Surf, Wind Spirit, or Wind Star with a sauna or “cocooning” body nectar wrap in the spa.

A yacht of your own may not be in the cards, but you can pretend to have one for a week or longer by chartering a vessel from Goolets’ fleet. Based in Slovenia, the yacht and superyacht company crafts personalized itineraries in Türkiye, Croatia, Italy, The Maldives, and more. It’s the perfect option for a no-pressure holiday with your family, friends, or group of your choosing. Each vessel is fully crewed, with every detail considered, from dining to room comfort, excursions, and private stops that only a smaller boat can access. A variety of vessels from superyachts to wooden gulets are available to accommodate different budgets, with each boat having its own personality and amenities. The newly refitted Freedom is the pinnacle of luxury with 11 cabins (including one with a deep-soak tub), a cinema, gym, spa, onboard pool, and hot tub. Family-friendly Ohana has 14 staterooms, a children’s playspace, and a full complement of water toys. Your activity level is yours to determine. Spend the day lazing on the decks or floating in the crystalline waters, or explore the gorgeous coastline with a ride in a tender. Taking it slow translates to “life is good” in Goolets-speak, the company’s guiding principle.

Which type of cruise fits your concept of slow travel? I suggest you try them all. Each has its own merits and you may find that one suits you more than another. Regardless, take the time to slow down and embrace the moment. You might be surprised at what you’ll discover along the way.