Category : Canal du Midi, Languedoc
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
Languedoc: Rich History of a Beautiful Destination
The peaceful vineyard clad countryside of Languedoc hides a turbulent history. In the thirteenth century, a bloody crusade was launched by the Catholic Church over a Christian heresy called Catharism. Castles that are now viewed as scenic were once the last defense of a minority that didn’t even speak French. At that time, southern France was a patchwork of smaller kingdoms and duchies with borders that shifted on a regular basis. One of them encompassing much of southern France was Occitania. The language of the area was known as “les langues d’oc”—which is the origin of the name for the region of Languedoc. Thus, the Cathars, in what is now France, were fighting not just for their religious freedom, but also for their independence as a cultural minority.
Visit Historical Treasures on Barge Cruise Excursions
Today you can explore this fascinating and disputed territory on the guided excursions included on our barge trips on the Canal du Midi. You will take an excursion to Minerve, the ancient hilltop village overlooking the confluence of two rivers where the peaceful Cathars were besieged by Simon de Montfort in 1210. A local museum re-creates the Cathar seige with a miniature diorama.
Whether you make your home aboard a charter barge with your own private party or join other passengers on a hotel barge, you will visit the city of Carcassonne, which is hailed as the most complete medieval fortified city remaining in Europe today.
From the deck of Anjodi or Athos as it passes through Beziers, you will have the opportunity to glimpse the hilltop city where all the townspeople were massacred when they refused to renounce their faith as demanded by Pope Innocent III and the French king Philippe II Augustus.
Aboard any of our Canal du Midi barges, you will have the opportunity to trace the footsteps of the Cathars as they peacefully and valiantly struggled to retain their independence.
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988
Daily excursions are a highlight of a canal or river barge cruise. When cruising in the south of France on the Canal du Midi, you are immersed in a region which offers natural beauty, a rich history, and many lovely villages and small towns to explore on foot or by bike.
Carcassonne – a Canal du Midi Barge Cruise Attraction
Carcassonne, a stunning fortified town that’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a highlight of the Canal du Midi barge trips. Though people have been living on this site for millennia, since before Roman times, Carcassonne is mainly known as a prime example of a European medieval fortified town – maybe the best of its kind in all of Europe. It is amazingly well-preserved and is yours to explore with all of its ramparts and towers.
What is there to see and do in Carcassonne?
- Transport yourself to medieval times as you explore the amazing fortifications with its double walls and winding streets.
- Find the bust of Madame Carcas at the Narbonne gate and learn about the legend of how she saved Carcassonne from a siege ending in the joyous ringing of bells (“Carcas sona”)
- Step into the ancient and majestic Basilica of St. Nazaire. The grand organ and colorful windows can’t be missed. Simon de Montfort, leader of the crusade against the Cathars of Languedoc, was buried in the basilica before being moved by one of his sons.
- Visit Chateau Comtal and walk the ramparts for beautiful views of the countryside.
- Brave a visit to the Torture Museum, which displays a variety of medieval instruments of torture.
- Try some of the local dishes, including cassoulet, which combines sausage, duck, and beans.
Be sure to bring a camera with you and take lots of photos of the architectural details. Soak in the atmosphere and get transported to another era. Your tour guide with the barge will give your visit more meaning, as you’ll better understand the historical significance of this very strategic site.
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988
There are almost a thousand UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and most of the cultural sites in France are buildings. However, deep in southern France is a UNESCO Heritage Site that you can enjoy in leisurely comfort from the deck of a canals of France barge – the Canal du Midi, an engineering marvel of the seventeenth century.
Canal du Midi: A Work of Art
The Canal du Midi was first envisioned by Leonardo da Vinci when he visited France in the early sixteenth century. The idea was to connect the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea via a link between the Garonne and Aude Rivers. The project, which was spearheaded by a Frenchman named Pierre-Paul Riquet, began in 1654 and ultimately completed in 1694, 13 years after his death. The total length of the waterway, including the river portions, is 360 kilometers.
Thousands of workers were employed (12,000 at the peak of the project), including 600 women when there were not enough men available! Together this workforce constructed 328 elements in this industrial work of art, including locks, aqueducts, bridges, spillways, and tunnels. The total cost of the project was over 15 million livres, and the result was a functional communications and transportation waterway that symbolized the power of seventeenth-century France. Its impact extended to the development of a number of canals across Great Britain and even America, where George Washington was involved in a number of canal development projects.
Canal du Midi Barging: The Languedoc Wine Region
The designers of the Canal du Midi were very aware of the impact of this project on the local landscape, creating designs that were both monumental and elegantly simple. Today it traverses the Languedoc wine region, providing a scenic and historic backdrop for ten of our luxurious barges. While no longer used for communications or commerce, you can still enjoy the beauty of this transportation marvel. From the intimate Emma to the ultimate Enchante, you can appreciate the charm of the Canal du Midi while also sampling the delights of local winery tours, regional cuisine and stupendous sightseeing opportunities in medieval abbeys and hilltop towns.
For more information and to arrange your own experience of this engineering marvel, contact us today.
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988