ABOVE: La Bella Vita in St. Mark's Basin, Venice. INSET BELOW: A stateroom, and dinner on deck.
Venice is one of Europe's leading cruise ports, and you'll often see large ships cruising up or down the Giudecca Canal. If you're alert, you may also see another kind of vessel amid Venice's megaships, vaporetti, and tour boats: the luxury hotel barge La Bella Vita of European Waterways Ltd., which cruises in the Venetian Lagoon and the Po River Valley from early April through late October.
La Bella Vita is a 20-passenger vessel that was refitted in 2010 to the standards of European Waterways, which markets upscale barge cruises in Italy, France, Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Benelux countries.
The barge, which looks like a downsized river cruiser, has eight staterooms, two junior suites, a lounge, a dining room, and a large sun deck. Other amenities include a PC with Internet access, 10 touring bicycles, and an air-conditioned bus that follows the barge to provide transport for shore excursions.
The crew of seven includes a chef who prepares Venetian and other Italian specialties throughout the cruise. Fares cover six nights of cruising, meals, wine and other beverages, and shore tours in Venice, Chioggia, Ferrara, Mantua, and other locations in the Venetian Lagoon and the Po River Valley.
Note: We haven't cruised on La Bella Vita, but we did spend a week on the European Waterways hotel barge La Renaissance in 2008, and you can read our in-depth review here.
BELOW: This view of La Bella Vita shows the large sun deck, the upper deck (which houses two junior suites and the public rooms), and windows of staterooms on the lower deck.
Photos: European Waterways Ltd.