A wonderful boating holiday report from one of our clients . . .
“In May, my wife and I and our friends (all 55+) decided that it would be a good idea to spend my 60th in France (we’re all South African). I did a lot of research, and came up with the self-drive plan for the canals. The south of France was our first choice, and from there the rest was easy. We sailed with Le Boat, just one of the few boating specialists, and soon came up with a trip that suited our needs.
We planned our trip to coincide with the local village markets, starting out in Castelnaudary. We found the people to be extremely friendly and very helpful. We could not speak a word of French (except from the phrase book we had), and in general the locals could not speak any English, but with a lot of laughter and gesturing we got what we needed and a very good price. The only down side was that we got the boat on a public holiday, which meant that a lot of the shops were not open for business.
Our trip along the Canal du Midi took us from Castelnaudary (the home of the Cassoulet) all the way eastwards to Homps, where we were scheduled to give the boat back in 7 days time.
When we got the boat, we were shown how to operate it, but to be honest, nothing can prepare you for the first of the locks! It gets easier as you proceed, and then just when you’ve got the whole process in hand, you have to give the boat back! Bummer!
That first lock . . .
After getting the boat, we set off and had our first encounter with locks at the exit from the Grand Basin in Castelnaudary. We almost entered the lock in reverse, my piloting was so bad. But we righted ourselves and entered the lock properly. From there on, we slowly got used to the operation of the boat.
Our first night, we spent near the entrance to one of the locks, where we just knocked the pins (supplied) into the ground and lowered the gang-plank. There wasn’t a town nearby, but we already had all the provisions we needed (cheese and plenty of good wine) so it was not a problem for us.
The next day dawned overcast and with a wind that was pumping like you couldn’t believe. Being so windy, the town of Villepinte was almost boarded up, but we had a good stroll and bought a few more provisions – mostly those small things that you discover that you need – and some more wine! All along the way, and especially in the village of Villesequelande, we encountered warm and friendly people, who were keen to help out. Especially when they discovered we were from SA – rugby is big and a lot of South Africans play in France.
We spent two nights in Carcassonne, because of the size of the city and the many sights to see, especially the Medieval Cité. Our only disappointment here was that we did not realize that the Cité closes relatively early, for May, so we missed being able to walk on the ramparts. However, there is a lot to see and do without walking on the ramparts. It was hot (32 degrees C) and lots of water and beer was consumed. The Cité is a sight to behold as the sun sets, turning the whole area a rich golden colour. Because the sun goes down, don’t think it gets cooler! It remains hot right up until about 8:30 local time.
When we left Carcassonne we had brilliant, hot weather for the rest of our journey. Trèbes was great, with the shops and restaurants right on the side of the canal.
We had a great time, and what we enjoyed was the peacefulness of boating. The pace is a leisurely 7km/hr, even the cyclists were riding faster that we were! At the end of the 7 days, it was sad to hand the boat back in Homps. We left there for a few days in Paris, but the general feeling was that we should rather have spent that time exploring the canals further.
As a holiday, imagine being in a caravan (the boats are not massive, but comfortable) where the scenery changes constantly but your accommodation doesn’t. We fell in love with France, and are already planning our next trip for a couple of years time. It will probably be the Burgundy region, but definitely for longer.
A great cost-effective holiday!
Well worth it.”
Go your own way. Explore the pleasures and treasures of the French waterways.
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