A Guest’s Adventure on the Canal du Midi aboard Athos
Thank you to our guest writer, Ginny Blackwell, as she tell us about her first barge cruise. I don’t think it will be her last! Ginny is the owner of International Property Shares, and provides opportunities for people to own fractional shares in charming homes in France and Italy.
As I stepped aboard the Athos barge a week ago, I looked forward to visiting the Minervois region of southern France again, but in the slower, more luxurious way that a canal barge offers, one lazy bend of the canal after another. My family always thinks of this corner of the world as “home” since our family spent a year here in 2003 so our children could really master speaking French.
You may know that life in the Languedoc very much follows the seasons. As April sunshine warms the vines and new green buds appear, the hotel barges which have been dry docked since fall, begin preparing for the summer season. All the wood work is sanded and varnished, the interiors freshly painted, and the hull gets cleaned, sorted and readied for the barging season.
With helpful travel tips from Beth Hanson, owner of CanalBargeCruises.com, I tried not to over pack but to come prepared for any kind of weather: 2-3 pairs of pants, neutral colored tops with a variety of scarves to dress things up, a dress up outfit for the captain’s dinner, and a good raincoat in case of grey skies. One good thing to remember is that the Mediterranean wind is fairly constant in southern France.
My first impressions
What a beautiful barge! The Athos is 30 metres long with 5 en-suite cabins and open dining area/salon with large windows offering plenty of light. It also has as a full kitchen, living quarters for the crew and, of course, the deck where we lounged about a good deal of time. As we entered to drop off our bags, I could appreciate all the special touches: fresh flowers greeted us in each cabin as well as specialty chocolates and toiletries, the walls were bright and freshly painted for the season, champagne was chilling on the bar with candles lit for our first meal together. “Hmm- this is going to be fun!” I thought.
So many surprises!
FOOD: Hang onto your hats here because I have NEVER had more inspired and 5-star meals, one after another. If our first day’s menu doesn’t leave you pining for more, then nothing will! Sunday, April 3rd: Scallops with sweet potato and pea puree followed by pork belly with braised red cabbage and star anise puree, a choice of two cheeses (Valencay and Cantal) followed by the most delicious lemon and almond tart ever.
Each of our meals was paired with wines from the Languedoc region and either Mariana or Joueja, our two hostesses, explained their features and why they were chosen. For the first evening, a Chateau La Voulte Gasparet was paired with the scallop entree followed by a Chateau Ollieux Romanis, Cuvee Classique 2012.
CREW: One of the barges moored right next to the Athos smiled over at us and said, “You have one of the best crews on the Canal du Midi.” I couldn’t agree with him more! Our two hostesses, Mariana and Joueja, our tour guide Mathieu, top notch cook Emma and Captain Julian, worked seamlessly together as only people can with a shared vision and purpose. It was easy to see that they genuinely enjoyed each other as well as their work.
KNOWLEDGE: I am not typically one of those people who enjoys guided tours, preferring to discover things on my own . . or to fall asleep on deck with a book in hand. That said, spending ½ day each day with our light-hearted and knowledgeable tour guide, Mathieu, was one of the Athos barge highlights. Each evening he would show up after cocktails and before dinner to let us know the program for the following day. Some of the must-see visits included Carcassonne and Minerve where we heard a graphic depiction of medieval life during the Cathar era. But we also learned about how to distinguish between Roman and Gothic architectural features, how one flood changed the course of the Aude river as well as the course of history for Capestang, a former port city. On a lighter note, we saw the secret mixing chambers of Nouilly Prat vermouth and learned some tactical moves to win a game of petanque (boules).
FELLOW TRAVELERS: I think my favorite memories in life are those where you’ve just plain had fun with those around you . . and laughed and joked a lot. This was certainly the case with our group of 5 passengers: Dan and Victoria from Sydney, Australia and Sophie and Dan from Denver, Colorado and me. We swapped travel stories and photos, played a wine board game after dinner, knocked down quite a few afternoon beers as well as enjoying the quiet and relaxing beauty of life along the canal.
THE ATHOS JOURNEY: from Argelliers to Marseillan (including the six locks of Beziers). If you are looking for a unique way to be pampered from the minute you arrive and yet still have plenty of time to quietly soak up a week of slow relaxing travel, don’t hesitate to book a French barge canal trip on the engineering marvel of the Canal du Midi, even as early as April. There’s something to be said for having the canal to yourself.
Take it from me, the Athos journey is really wonderful, an A+cruise.”
Does this whet your appetite for a barge cruise aboard Athos. Whenever you’re ready to consider a barge cruise, we would be happy to help.
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988