Blessed with historic rustic villages, seemingly never-ending vineyards, and relaxed unhurried canal life, barging on the medieval Canal du Midi in southwestern France’s remote Languedoc Region was the ideal escape after a long, difficult two years with the COVID pandemic.
Our tiny 8-passenger first class hotel barge, Anjodi, part of the European Waterways fleet, had the right combination of simplicity and sophistication for my slow journey, one lazy bend of the canal after another. It was a pleasure to spend 6 nights on board to enjoy local French dishes prepared by a private chef, visit villages dating back to the 17th century, and relax on the top deck with a panoramic view of canal life and lush vineyards.
It took mere minutes to be immersed into the natural beauty of the region, while embracing the freedom to do as much or as little as I wanted to for six nights. From the moment I stepped foot on the barge in Marseillan, the magic began.
(Prior to boarding, we overnighted in Narbonne, a small city rich in Roman and French history, and with many delightful shops.)
Canal Du Midi
Commissioned in 1666 by King Louis XIV, the Canal du Midi was built to connect the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. Our tiny barge cruised through 24 locks, from Marseillan to Le Somail, including a flight of staircase locks, known as the Fonserannes Locks near the city of Beziers. Navigating countless bridges, aqueducts, as well as the historic Malpas Tunnel was a once in a lifetime experience.
Cathar Villages and Medieval Towns
Our onboard guide shared his expert insights about the Cathar villages and medieval towns as we meandered down the canal. I enjoyed the views of fortified hilltop villages, ancient walled cities, and gorgeous fall colors of the vineyards and trees. For passengers wanting to exercise while exploring the French countryside, bicycles were available on the barge to cycle in the towpaths, and we were encouraged to walk or cycle alongside the locks.
Just minutes by foot from the canal we were able to explore the villages of Capestang and Le Somail, and a short drive away were the medieval fortified city of Carcassonne with its longest city wall in all of Europe, the ancient hilltop village of Minerve, and the city of Narbonne rich in Roman and French history.
My six-night cruise on Anjodi was a veritable study in French cheese, wine and food. The day began with a breakfast of croissants, baguettes, yogurt, fresh fruit, eggs any-style and cheese. The sun-filled salon’s dining table accommodated all of the guests and we soon began to feel like one big family, sharing stories and photos of friends, pets and past trips.
This was truly a moveable feast of fine French cuisine and perfectly paired wines. Our private chef, Mickail, masterfully prepared 4-course lunches and dinners complete with a cheese course and dessert daily. The highlight, however, was dining al fresco on the top deck enjoying the sun and warm breeze, sipping wine and splendidly chilled champagne as the autumn scenery changed throughout the day.
A highlight was accompanying our chef one morning to the art-deco Marche in Narbonne to choose shrimps, clams, oysters and other seafood for our dinner extravaganza upon returning to the barge. As on all days, our hostess presented red and white wines from the Languedoc region, explaining their qualities, vintage, and why they were selected for each meal.
Plus, a private wine tasting and winery tour at the Chateau Pech-Celevran, owned by the Saint Exupery family for five generations, they immersed us in the rich French history. Antoine Saint Exupery’s book, “Le Petit Prince” is a classic I read with my children when they were much younger.
Hooked on Barge Cruising
With seemingly endless romantic French scenery, over the top personal service, and fine food and wine, I’m officially hooked on barge cruising. With so many barge options along the canals in France, Italy, Holland, Ireland and Scotland, I will certainly be shopping for another barge cruise soon! Spring is just around the corner.