There are about 60 boutique hotel barges that cruise along the peaceful and beautiful canals and rivers of France. They vary in size, comfort level and price – and they can be found in all the most attractive regions of France. Some can be booked by cabin (room) others are chartered complete by groups and families. Whatever the details of any particular barge, they all come complete with captain and crew who look after navigation; and professional chef and hostess to care for guests.
People often say that they feel they have been treated ‘like royalty’ and this is a very unique experience. Here is just one example of what that fabulous luxury hotel barge cruise in France is like:
Hotel Barge Savannah
Classic 6 Night Hôtel Barge Cruise: La Redorte (Homps) to Bram, Canal du Midi
Savannah is one of the more intimate hotel barges that ply the French waterways, hosting up to seven guests along one of the loveliest stretches of the UNESCO World Heritage Canal du Midi. With her superb mahogany interior, she has three king sized double staterooms and one single and the communal areas are decorated with elegance and sophistication throughout. When he is not running a flourishing South African Safari business during the winter months, your host Adrien Bramoullé is providing high levels of quality and professionalism for his guests aboard Savannah.
The Canal du Midi has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in acknowledgement of the astonishing feat carried out by its 17th century architect Pierre-Paul Riquet in linking the Étang du Thau in the south east with the River Garonne in Toulouse, effectively making it possible to convey goods from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Riquet’s audacity in engineering can be seen in the flight of nine characteristically oval-shaped locks at Fonserannes and if ticking off UNESCO sites is your thing, then you get two for one in Carcassonne, where the canal passes close to the ancient citadel that forms one of the most iconic skylines in the whole country. This unforgettable waterway wanders between the vineyards of Corbières to the south and the Minervois to the north and there is a diversion along the Canal de la Robine leading to Narbonne, which dates back to Roman times. Even today its covered market, supplied by local producers, is a kind of foodie heaven.
Relaxation is the keynote here. While away your mornings gliding along the liquid green canal and watching the lock keepers do the hard work: you can unwind on deck with a cooling drink in your hand and see the golden countryside unfold around you, and for those keen to explore the richness of the south for themselves there are bicycles available. After a delicious three course lunch, most afternoons will offer an excursion to a local attraction – for example a trip to Mirepoix, a magnificent medieval town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
The chef on Savannah is passionate about the food she prepares and takes sourcing ingredients locally to new heights: she can tell you that the fruit and vegetables come from Les Jardins de Riquet, the fish from the Poissonnerie Moderne in Trèbes and the tea from Damman Frères in Carcassonne. Vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan and non-allergenic dishes can be arranged given at least 8 weeks’ notice prior to departure.
After a champagne reception to welcome you on board, you can get a taste of life afloat during a short cruise to your mooring au natural in the countryside where the views are to die for. In the morning discover the 12th century Cathar fortress town of Minerve, which was besieged by the English under Simon de Montfort in 1210, then enjoy a guided tour of an exceptional Minervois vineyard for your first wine tasting of the week. After mooring for the night at Millepetit there is an excursion to Narbonne, whose prestigious past is evident in the remains of the Roman road ‘Via Domitia’, the Saint Just Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace (while the present is very much alive in its vibrant covered market) before tying up at the palm-tree lined mooring at Villedubert. The following morning begins with a tour of the UNESCO listed town of Carcassonne before cruising to another idyllic country spot for the evening. Day Five sees an excursion to the magnificent Château de Pennautier for a wine tasting and lunch in the domain before dropping anchor in another pretty rural spot for the night. On your last full day you will venture to the foothills of the Pyrenees to see the photogenic medieval town of Mirepoix, famed for its timber-framed houses and its overhanging arcades, then enjoy brief stops St Ferréol’s reservoir and the ancient Cathar stronghold of Saissac on your return to Savannah for the Captain’s farewell dinner on board.
These lazy days on Savannah, drifting through some of the most languidly beautiful landscapes and offset with just the right amount of cultural stimulation, will surely work their magic and leave you feeling renewed and replenished. The countryside, the culture and the cuisine really are the stuff of which dreams are made and when you surface at the end of a memorable week, you will probably find yourself wanting to dream again.
► Make an enquiry to get a firm quotation for this or any other hotel barge for the time of year that interests you.
Barge Cruising – Midi-Languedoc
– [below] In the region: Minervois, Minerve, Canal du Midi, Beziers, Narbonne, Carcassonne –
Hotel barges often collect and return guests to a pre-agreed Toulouse or Narbonne hotel. French international airports are at Toulouse, Bordeaux – and Paris-Charles de Gaulle. There are also European-flight airports at Carcassonne and Montpellier. TGV express train stations are located at Toulouse, Carcassonne, Narbonne and Montpellier; and many other towns in the region have railway connections.