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An interview with Derek Banks of European Waterways

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Over the past few weeks we've speaking to friends from across the cruise industry as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, many of them people that we've known for years, but none of them have been in their current post quite as long as Derek Banks.

Derek founded European Waterways in 1977, the same decade that Paul and Judith Mundy founded Mundy Cruising, and 43 years later he is still a passionate advocate of the luxury hotel barge concept that he pioneered. We caught up for a chat at the end of a summer that has provided both challenges and opportunities for a company that specialises in cruises on very small vessels indeed...

Q: Describe your company in no more than 50 words...

A: We have 17 luxury six- to twenty-passenger hotel barges with three to ten crew members each. We cruise the smaller canals and rivers of France, Italy, Scotland, Ireland and England. Daily excursions to private castles, vineyards, markets and local off-the-beaten track locations are included. Delicious cuisine, selected fine wines, a relaxing pace, and impeccable service are by-words of barging.

European Waterways - Nymphea sundeck

Q: What is your proudest moment as it relates to your company?

A: There have been many - the highlights relating to the times we have moved our barges to their operating locations. I took our first barge Anjodi (later featuring Rick Stein, the BBC French Odyssey star) from Amsterdam to Agde on the Canal du Midi, an amazing 900 miles, to start our barging adventures in 1982.

We craned and trucked Nymphea 100 miles across France to the gorgeous River Cher in the Loire Valley in 1996. We took Spirit of Scotland from Rotterdam to Inverness and the Great Glen (500 miles) in 2017. We reached the summit lake of the fascinating and delightful Nivernais canal aboard Art de Vivre, our 1917 built Burgundy boat, in 2017, its centenary year.

European Waterways - L'Art de Vivre

Q: Tell me something about yourself that most people don't know...

A: Deep down I am an explorer. My heroes are the Vikings and their seafaring voyages. The trading exploits and adventures made by the daring Vikings 1,200 years ago along and into the Iberian peninsula and onwards as far as Turkey via the Mediterranean and Russia make fascinating research and reading.

I rowed and sailed last month down the incredibly beautiful and remote Rio Guardiana from Mertola in Portugal, where I live, following an undocumented voyage I believe the Vikings made in 850 A.D. Technically I am an Old Viking, but that's another story.

Q: Tell me what, in your opinion, is the one most significant thing that makes your cruise line different from its competitors?

A: We cruise places other vessels cannot reach, and have a 40+ year old list of experiential excursions we only tell our passengers about! One example is a private lunch with a countess in the Champagne region in her vaulted 15th century kitchen during our Burgundy trip.

European Waterways - Spirit of Scotland on Loch Oich

Q: What is the next big thing to come from your company?

A: To get back to cruising full time for the whole fleet! This year we have managed to cruise Scotland, The Thames, Burgundy and Upper Loire and the Canal du Midi in Southern France. Fortunately, being able to accommodate just a family or small group of friends has generally allowed cruises to happen in these challenging times.

For years we have concentrated on charters for families and groups and individual "hotel" bookings for couples. We only discovered the singles market last year and I am surprised at the level of interest we are now receiving. So more singles promotions will be forthcoming.

Q: Why do you love Mundy Cruising and what do you think is the secret of their 50 years of success?

A: I think anyone that knows Mundy, recognises that they have an amazing, second-to-none depth of knowledge of the products they represent. This has generated a strong and loyal client base which is the envy of the cruise industry.

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

More about Edwina
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