Step out of your comfort zone, be brave and choose a barge adventure trip to the south of France. Fresh country air, out-of-this-world scenic views and classic French-style feasts is all you need to take it in, relax and watch the world pass you by.
While winter in the Mother City begins to batter away at our windows, the sun is shining in warm South France – a place of sophistication, fine dining and scrumptious wines. This year, however, we’re giving the usual waterside cafes and overly-busy boutique hotels a miss. Instead we’re going to take to the waters and discover a whole new side to this stunning part of the world.
Welcome aboard…your luxury barge! Back in the 1800’s barging was used by merchants to transport goods and while this sporadically still takes place, the idea of barging has moved towards a rather opulent mode of travel instead. Today your barging experience is one of absolute French luxury and can be completely tailored to suit your needs.
If you’re looking for a more hands-on, rustic experience and to have total control over your holiday – from the food you eat, to the places you stop at, opt for a ‘self-drive’ barge holiday. It’s really simple to hire a barge that is equipped for your needs taking into consideration the amount of people you intend taking with you on your travels. What’s more is that this opportunity is open to practically anybody, you don’t need to hold a special license to operate.
“It is the quintessential slow-paced escape that will allow you both the time to explore the wonderment you pass.”
For those wishing for a tad more luxury and like the idea of someone guiding your tour, a barge cruise is highly recommended. All your needs will be attended to with the utmost attention, and with a French chef on board you can be assured that just the dining experiences alone will make it a trip to remember.
Nothing will beat the truly gorgeous and rarely experienced scenery that’ll you’ll come across as you cruise down the canals of this region. Even the most seasoned of travellers have rarely seen this side of the Southern France region. It’s been likened to travelling through one of Monet’s water paintings. Each of the canals that you travel on will offer you their own delicate surrounds and a chance to visit the quaint villages and towns that are scattered along the way. Due to the slow moving pace of the barge there’s the opportunity to walk or cycle along the old tow-routes that run parallel to the water, and get a closer look and to explore the little towns and villages in more detail.
The area spans all the way from the Bordeaux region in the south west to the Mediterranean, Provence and up to Lyon so your pickings aren’t slim when selecting which route you’d like to venture down.
Regardless of the route you choose, you will end up on the enchanting and famed Canal du Midi – one of the oldest canals that operate in Europe. This ancient canal’s route has been harkened as possibly one of the best ways to see and experience the culture of the region.
The canal runs between Sete and Toulouse, is approximately 241 kilometres long, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In between there are a number of famous sites and locations.
Close to the start you will have the chance to see the Etang de Thau Lagoon that is famous for its many oyster beds. Harvested from the Etang de Thau, they are considered, by foodie’s world over, to be some of the best – and pair exceptionally well with a glass of bubbly.
For wine-lovers looking for something a little different than the usual French wines, make sure you take time to explore the Minervois vineyards. Covering roughly 50 kilometres from east to west, with over 220 independent producers, you’ll find some of the best ‘ready to drink right now’ wines from the Languedoc region. Minervois is well known for red wines that tend to be fuller than those of nearby regions. The estate also makes white wines, rosé, and more notably sweeter wines – including a Minervois Harvest. The incredible landscape of this area makes it well worth a stop – even if it’s just for the experience and scenery and not so much for the proverbial ‘drinking’. The vineyards climb the side of the Black Mountain, which offers incredible panoramic views to soak in as well.
Just a little further along the Canal du Midi you’ll come to the city of Carcassonne – a place full of incredible architecture and fascinating histories. As you approach the city its fairytale-esque Medieval Citadel will be the first to catch your eye. Situated on a hill above the younger city (often referred to as a town despite having ‘city status’) of Carcassonne, it seems to be larger than life. And so it should be; the fortressed city offers a spectacular display of ancient architecture, and it too forms part of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. While a visit is well worth the time, don’t forget to visit the modern city, or lower town of Carcassonne. It may not be as popular as its imposing sibling, but it does offer a refreshing taste of French ‘small-town’ life that few rarely have the privilege to take in.
The Canal du Midi ends in Toulouse, one of France’s more exciting cities. Here the old meets the new, in a mixture of astounding ancient architecture and an incredible alternative art scene. It is in both of these that the city’s history has been captured. Most of the key sights and attractions can be found downtown, and are close enough for you to explore them on foot.
No matter where you choose to start your route from along the canals, or where you wish to wander, a barging experience is hardly one you’ll ever forget. It is the quintessential slow-paced escape that will allow you both the time to explore the wonderment you pass, and time to relax in the delightful surrounds and warmth of Southern France.