Waterway to go: Cruise France's Canal du Midi

Cruise report

Were you one of the half-million viewers glued to the surprise hit television programme, All Aboard: The Canal Trip? Filmed in real time, the two-hour programme followed the Kennet and Avon Canal from a camera fixed to the prow of a narrowboat. It had no presenter or commentary and moved very, very gently. The only sounds were of the lapping water, the occasional whooshing of a filling lock, birdsong and wind rustling the trees. Paddling ducks, walkers on the towpath and passing boats were as action-packed as it got.

It was utterly absorbing and restful to watch, but anyone who has hired a narrowboat or cabin cruiser knows that a canal journey can sometimes be anything but relaxing, what with negotiating the locks and avoiding other vessels, not to mention self-catering in cramped quarters.

However, by taking a full-board cruise on a "boatel", you're able to mitigate the effort and instead watch the scenery unfold at three or four miles per hour, hopping off if you fancy and strolling to meet the boat at the next lock, and the whole thing is punctuated by delicious meals that appear with no effort on your part.

Responsibility for the tricky and tedious stuff, such as steering, mooring, cooking and washing up, goes to the crew.

Two companies offering canal cruises in England and Wales on comfortable narrowboats for four guests (two single and one double cabin) are Ladyline Hotel Boats (ladylinehotelboats.co.uk) and Bywater Holiday Cruises (bywaterhotelboats.co.uk).

Further afield, canals cut a course through some of the most interesting and attractive landscapes in Europe.

* Three historic ships, each with 25 or 29 cabins, ply the Gota Canal linking Gothenburg in the west of Sweden and Stockholm on the opposite coast. Four-day cruises start at Skr9,995 (£777) per person through the Gota Canal Steamship Company (00 46 31 80 63 15; gotacanal.se).

* The Green Way, the part of the Marne-Rhine Canal from Strasbourg to Lagarde in eastern France, meanders across the plain between Alsace and the Voges through hop fields, vineyards and forests. A six-night cruise, departing on 14 August, costs from £1,070pp with CroisiEurope (020 8328 1281; croisieurope.co.uk).

* A cruise on France's Canal du Midi potters through Languedoc-Roussillon, with excursions to Carcassonne, the Roman ruins at Narbonne and the Noilly Prat vermouth distillery on a luxury barge. Six-night cruises cost from £3,150pp with European Waterways (01753 598555; gobarging.com).

All prices are exclusive of flights.