The second instalment of luxury travel writer Rowena Marella-Daw's adventures on the French waterways...
Our adventure continues with a visit to Narbonne, a former Roman capital. The Archbishop's Palace and Cathedral are certainly worth a visit, but foodies should set aside plenty of time to peruse Les Halles, the indoor food market in the town centre, where delicacies abound: crepes, seafood, cheeses, charcuterie, breads, pastries, wine and fresh produce.
A lazy afternoon journey took us through the world's oldest canal tunnel at Malpas, then to Fonserannes, where we descended a staircase-like series of seven locks. The narrow walls didn't leave any margin for error, and Laurent, our captain, did a splendid job manoeuvring the barge. It was an unusual experience unique to this itinerary, and by the time we got over the excitement, we were crossing the aqueduct over the River Orb towards Bezier. Here, we dined at a high-end local restaurant that serves regional cuisine, although the pièce de résistance had to be the staggering choice of artisan cheeses on the trolley.
Heading towards the Mediterranean, next day we cruised to Portiragnes, where one could cycle to the beach in 20 minutes. There were no takers – we were all too chilled out enjoying the view, reading, daydreaming, while some even tried their hand at steering the barge. Cruising along the Canal du Midi wouldn't be complete without at least one wine tasting, and an afternoon spent at the 14th century Chateau de Perdiguier, famed for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, was a mellow finale to the day.
On our last day, we dropped anchor in the quiet fishing village of Marseillan. Boats and small yachts bobbed gently on the water, and tempting as it was to sip more wine in one of many laid-back restaurants lining the quay, we couldn't afford to miss Pezenas, the 14th century capital of Languedoc. Perhaps renowned for its association with the French playwright, Molière, it is the character of this place, its narrow cobbled lanes, medieval architecture, and a plethora of artisan and antique shops, ateliers and museums, that draw the crowds. Pezenas is the place to be during the summer months, when the town bristles with festivals, antiques and organic farmers markets, and the celebration of the historic event, Le Poulain.
Back in time for the captain's farewell dinner, our lovely hostess Karima created a special table setting, complete with linen napkins impeccably folded in the shape of a shirt and collar for the men, and a floral bouquet for the ladies. It's the finer details that stay in your memory. Our gentle journey along the Canal du Midi went far too quickly. It was a lesson in 'going with the flow', a moment to exhale, reflect and disconnect from life's distractions. A toast with the crew was a fitting end to our little romantic adventure.
The Anjodi belongs to a fleet of luxury barge hotels operated by European Waterways. A six-night cruise on board the Anjodi includes all meals, an open bar with a large range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, wines served throughout the cruise, excursions and admittance fees as per the itinerary, the services of four crew and use of bicycles and the spa pool. www.gobarging.com/anjodi-barge
The more civilised way to start your barging adventure is to head for Montpellier by rail. Take the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, and allow at least two hours to transfer by Metro to Gare de Lyon for the TGV to Montpellier Saint-Roch train station. Guests can be picked up here or at the Hotel Pullman Montpellier Centre www.pullmanhotels.com if they are staying there. For more information, visit www.voyages-sncf.com and www.eurostar.com
Posted: Thursday, 16 June 2016
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